Anxiety is normal response to the up and downs of daily life, for children and adults alike. It is neither good nor bad, right or wrong, it’s just a feeling and arises for a reason, it is information about one’s present experience in a particular context. How a child learns to process and relate to any and all of their feelings and emotions can determine their future emotional development and inner sense of well-being.
Here are five principles taught by The Buddha over 2500 years ago that offer guidance to developing emotional intelligence and how to manage the vicissitudes of life. I came to these late in life and often wonder how I would have been had these been the underlying principles of the environment that I grew up in. I hope that you may find them useful in your interactions with your children and as guidelines for fruitful parenting.
I have presented them in their pairs, as what to try to avoid and what to try to cultivate, emphasizing that they are an ongoing process of being and doing that can always be refined.
I used “try” because they are easier said than done! Sometimes they can seem almost impossible! But you never know until you try.
5 reasons why Buddhist principles can help with your kids anxiety
1. I will try to intentionally avoid harming living beings and try to cultivate loving-kindness
In terms of parenting this could more usefully be reframed as trying to cultivate non-violence or more positively compassion. Compassion in terms of one’s behaviour of body, speech and mind. How you interact with your child and the world teaches them something about survival. Trying to get what you want through hitting or spanking or by using harsh critical speech gets internalized by children and can become the guiding way of behaving and the inner voice a child hears for the rest of its life. It is difficult, sometimes impossible being a good enough role model! So it is necessary to model a heap of compassion for yourself, let them see you get it wrong but making mistakes doesn’t need to lead to violence or harm. Cultivating compassion for yourself and others is an antidote to anxiety and fear.
2. I will try to avoid taking the not-given and try to cultivate generosity
But of course I don’t steal I protested when I first heard this one. Stealing is obviously bad. But what about the things other than material possessions we can steal from one and other, from our children. We can steal their time, their energy, their creativity, and innocence. We can wish they’d grow up quicker or want them to stay our babies forever, thus stealing their individuality, their essence. We can want them to be what we want, thus stealing their uniqueness, their difference. Cultivate generosity, give of your time, turn off the TV or the mobile phone give your children undivided attention. Generosity is an antidote to anxiety, self doubt and fear.
3. I will try to avoid sexual misconduct and try to cultivate stillness and contentment
The third principle is stated in terms of sexual misconduct, this is because it is the strongest drive after our survival instinct. In terms of parenting it may be more useful to think in terms of not over indulgence. Over consumption of things, like excessive eating, ultimately leads to suffering for one and all. How many toys does your child actually NEED, many adults try to blackmail their children or demonstrate love through excess. This precept encourages us to be content with moderation, simplicity. Cultivating stillness, contentment and appreciation of what one is and has is an antidote to anxiety, restlessness and fear.
4. I will try to avoid telling lies and try to cultivate truthful speech
Our speech can be a very powerful tool for good or bad. When we lie, even when it is a little lie we create an atmosphere of mistrust, which gives rise to anxiety and fear. If we can endeavour to try to create an atmosphere of honesty, adults and children alike will not be afraid to say what is going on with them, safe to explore with you their experience, their dreams and their fears. It encourages self-exposure and empathy, we all need to feel safe to say who we are in any given moment. Having relationships where honesty is cherished and welcomed is an antidote to anxiety and fear.
5. I will try not to take intoxicants that cloud the mind and try to cultivate mindfulness or awareness
As adults we know life isn’t a bed of roses and at times of trouble and stress we reach for our various addictions to manage,: a glass/ bottle of Wine, the TV, staying late at work, we self medicate and medically medicate. And children watch our coping strategies. The most effective and scientifically proven tool available is now available from your GP.- it is called Mindfulness. By introducing your child to the practice of mindfulness you will help them develop emotional intelligence, reduce anxiety and depression, help them to become more focused and able to form deeper stabler connections with themselves and others. Mindfulness is a scientifically proven antidote to anxiety
The bottom line is as an adult, a parent or a child, whatever is freaking you out, pause and take a breath , if that doesn’t work…….. take another breath and pause.
May you be well, May you be happy, May you be free from Suffering.