Category Archives: Parenting

Learning to Breath

I have been working for the better part of a quarter century to learn to meditate.

I came to a curiosity about Zen Buddhism while in high school as I had the opportunity to travel to Japan one summer, and though I had never really left my rural upbringing in Vermont, I entered a Buddhist temple for the first time during that summer and found a sense of peace and feeling of being truly at home I had not yet experienced.

I have this memory rooted in my hippocampus after returning home to Vermont and picking up a book that gave instruction on meditation in the Buddhist tradition.

In this memory, I can still hear the rain falling as I sit in my Ford Granada stuck off the side of a dirt road between Hinesburg and Charlotte, Vermont. Unable to drive any further because of downed trees and washed out roads. While I waited for a rescue, I decided that now of all moments would be the best time to try meditating.

I found myself alone doing nothing curious about Zen and with a book about Buddhist practice in my backpack. I opened the book and began to reread a passage on meditation. I sat. I tried a chant. I worked on an open posture. I crossed my legs. I began to breath.

I was puzzled. I did not understand how to breath in this way.

That memory sits with me now 25 years later as I have come to finally understand what clarity feels like when you sit breath listen.

Many experiences in that time have added guidance and purpose to that earnest kernel of curiosity and drive that came with my first visit to Japan. What has allowed me today to actually find a consistent practice with breath and meditation is an app. I use it on my iPad and my android devices. Insight Timer.

There is a beautiful intro course on the app that is open to all learners. I also find deep commitment and connection to a daily meditation course for mothers. I found the app through a course listing free for teens to learn to manage stress and emotions through meditation.

I was compelled to pen this post because as fundamental as breathing is to life, it is hard to learn to breath with confidence, calm, and insight. I am hopeful that sharing a sense of struggle and purpose will light the way for others to explore opportunities for sitting in stillness and learning to breath.

How can I Keep My Child Safe at School? Relationships.

Recently a child who I care about shared that a friend had threatened him at school, saying he would violently kill him and his family in real life and then also harm him online as well. Both boys, aggressor and victim, are 6 years old. They are friends in the same classroom, and the incident happened at school.

As a parent how, I imagine the worst possible context for this bullying report. A child who is literally afraid for his life all day, too afraid to tell his teacher or anyone else what happened. As a parent I am relieved that the boy found an adult at the end of the day to confide in and who could help him feel safe and help him eventually reconnect to his friend who thought the boy knew he was only joking.

How do I keep my child safe?

This is what we ask constantly as parents. It is a paradoxical question. Every morning I confront the limits of my own agency as a parent. I say good bye to my child at the apartment door or in the school hallway as his teacher walks his class upstairs to their room, and I hope and trust that we will come back home at the end of the day.

Over time we have become a more anxious society. Bullying, shelter in place drills, and active shooter scenarios are all common place in schools now. And, we do have options about how to both navigate our own anxiety and keep our children safe while they are at school. We can teach our children to develop and use their relationships to keep them safe at school.

I cannot reliably predict what will happen to my son when he is at school, but I do know that one of the greatest resources I can give him is a deep network of trusting relationships. Some children relate to others more easily than others. My son is one of those children who relates easily to others and makes himself known in any community he joins. That, more than anything, keeps him safe. He is on the radar of many adults in the building, and he knows he can trust multiple adults at school to keep him safe.

What also keeps him safe is knowing what to do when he finds himself in harm’s way – suffering the aggressive behaviors of other children, being bullied by a group of kids, watching a friend harmed physically on the playground, or being alone with older kids who can threaten or harm him easily without adults immediately nearby – these are all common place circumstances for children. As parents, we cannot eliminate these dangers for our children; however, knowing how to navigate them is something we can consciously teach our children.

We can ask questions and guide our children to find answers that will keep them safe, even in our absence. These may be questions you use proactively when your child goes into a new community, reactively when you respond to an incident, or as a regular check-in to assess how healthy the school context is for your child.

Who are the top three adults you trust at school?

Make sure your child has multiple people they can go to when they do not feel safe. This could be the nurse, current or past year’s teacher, afterschool staff, cafeteria staff, guidance counselor, music teacher, crossing guard, or an adult in any professional role at the school.

What can you do if you see a friend getting hurt or bullied?

Help your child to identify multiple “right” things to do. See if they can think of a time when a classmate or friend was bullied at school. Ask them to think about what kind of thing did that friend need to feel safe. Help them consider a range of options that others could do to help: tell an adult, invite the friend to play with you, tell the aggressor(s) to stop or get an older friend to do so, check in with the friend after the incident, look out for the friend tomorrow – offer to play together, etc. It can be helpful for a child to focus on a recent incident they observed to generate ideas for how kids can help to safely interrupt bullying during or after an incident. After that kind of conversation, your child may find it easier to then think about what they would do themselves if they were being bullied or harmed by another child or group of children.

Do you feel safe at school? Where are the safest places at school? Where are the dangerous places at school?

Your child may not have the opportunity to share the answers to these questions unless you ask. It can be helpful to identify problem areas by asking about where your child feels safe and unsafe in the building. You may also ask where are kids in the class most likely to get in trouble or bullied as some children do not see their environments as unsafe, especially of bullying and physical aggression have been normalized in the school culture.

Helping our children to consciously choose and strengthen healthy relationships with trustworthy adults is something active we can do as parents in response to the anxiety we feel about how common place bullying, physical aggression, and harm are in our world and in our schools.

Inclusivity and Equity Resources – Set 1

Family and community resources for supporting public schools to engage in equity, inclusion, and anti-bias initiatives.

What equity framework might you/your group choose to operate from? – link to Equity Frameworks (Hammond, 2017)

Consider using comprehensive resource sets from organizations like:

The Equity Project Resources Link

Engaging families and community members in a school walk through with a focus on culturally, responsive teaching, school climate, and/or inclusion can be an eye-opening experience to launch an equity initiative in a school and then return to monitor progress toward school-wide goals. A few examples of these walk through tools are linked below.

Teaching Tolerance has been a foundational organization for school communities to engage in deep equity and anti-bias education. See a few highlights of their free online resources below.

One final idea – make it real with stories and short articles. One examples linked below.

How should we sing Happy Birthday? from Rethinking Schools

From Rethinking Schools – Photo Credit Olivia Wise

Anger and Advocacy

We have the opportunity to tap into the wisdom of our feelings.

When I feel angry, I have the opportunity to pay attention to what the feeling might be telling me.

What am I angry about? What important pathway is blocked? What closely held values are being violated or ignored? What conditions need to be changed? What danger do I sense and want to protect myself or others from in this situation?

I have learned over the past year to breath deeply, to pull back my shoulder blades and open up to a more relaxed posture when I sense that anger is present in my body, mind, and heart. My mouth may feel dry, my pulse quickening , and a feeling of heat or general agitation suddenly appear in my body. I am learning to condition my body to respond to anger with curiosity and openness so that I might learn more about the source of this very powerful feeling.

More often than not, the source of my anger is institutional, but it manifests in individual professionals and parents in city schools. I am often angry about the condition of schools, the mindset of adults who see children and families as less than, the insidious nature of privilege and our inability to see and value others who have radically different views and experiences from our own.

I am curious about how we can learn ways to see our anger as productive to justice-centered endeavors. A few starting points are linked below.

Buddhist Peace Fellowship U Mad? Wisdom for Rageful Times

Six Seconds Anger Archives

Blog header image from Getty Images