The other day, my children and I were walking in New York’s Washington Square Park. It was a beautiful day and there were at least five different groups playing music.
As we walked through the park, all the competing sounds of instruments and singing voices felt jolting and loud. So I asked my children to stop walking and just focus on the one man in front of us playing the guitar and singing “Imagine” by John Lennon. When the three of us just put our attention on this man and his guitar, all we really heard was his fabulous music. It was a beautiful experience.
Then we took a few steps back and I asked the children to focus on the drummers several feet away. As soon as we put our attention on the drummers, that's all we heard. We did it several times over the course of 30 minutes, each time focusing on a different musical group playing in the park.
What was so fascinating was that as we pulled our attention away from one specific type of sound, we just heard noise again. But each time we focused our attention, the beauty of each musical group came forward and felt pleasant.
The children were amazed that just switching their attention could have such an impact on their experience. I turned to them and said, “Now try to do that with your thoughts in your everyday life.”
A few weeks later, my daughter came home, upset that she had felt excluded at a party. After half an hour of feeling anguish, she turned to me and said, “You know mom, those kids at school are not the only thing in my life. I have other friends at school, I have my family, camp friends, and this evening I’m spending with you! I feel better already. It still bothers me, but when I put my attention on the other things in my life it becomes more of the background and I can feel happy again.” I thought to myself, Yes, you got it!
The above exercise is one of many I've created for my children to help them discover all that's precious in their lives — even when they are struggling with other issues.
Here are a few examples you can use to help your own children be more mindful of the special moments they often miss:
1. Take them to a busy place and challenge them to shift their focus.
Just as we did in the park, take your children to a busy area or park in your town and let them experience what they see, hear, and feel when they shift their attention in their surroundings.
Encourage them to shift back and forth between hearing all the sounds around them and then focusing on one sound at a time. After a while, have a chat about it: How did they feel? What did they experience?
If you feel the time is right, ask them how it could apply to their life at school or with their friends. It won’t cause them to ignore painful parts of life; instead, it will teach them not to let one part of their life drown out the parts that are pleasant and joyful.
2. Teach them to have a "maybe" practice.
If your child is a little older, it can be effective to have him or her write down the problem that's consuming them. Then ask them to write the sentence, “Am I absolutely certain this problem won’t work out?” Usually the answer is no.
You can also help them challenge their problem with what I call "maybe" statements, such as, "Maybe my thoughts about my problem are not true." "Maybe what is happening can get better." "Maybe everything is still okay."
Review these statements with them a couple of times each day. With more hope for a better outcome or the realization that they're not doomed, their minds can relax and come back to the present to enjoy the good things happening in their lives.
3. Create a gratitude journal with them.
Buy your child a plain notebook and decorate it with them. Have them write on the cover “Gratitude Journal.”
Then, every night before they go to bed, sit with them for a few minutes and discuss the idea of gratitude. Ask them to write down a few things that happened that day for which they are grateful. Each day help them remember the good that happened, or just read what they wrote in the past.
4. Use small objects as visual reminders of the blessings in life.
Take your children shopping and buy them a few inexpensive trinkets, such as a bracelet, a toy car, or a key chain. Then explain that it's a symbol to remind them of the good things in their lives.
Tell them that when they see these objects to look for a blessing in their life no matter how big or small, even if it's just not having too much homework that evening or seeing a movie.
The more they practice this with the visual reminder, the more it will become second nature for them to appreciate the good in life.
If our children can embrace the idea of looking for the good in life when they're young, it will become solid perspective for them as they grow older and face new and ever more difficult challenges. And when our children are able to appreciate the beauty in life, they'll find more joy in the precious moments of everyday living!
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