“Kids these days.” How many times have you heard someone speak these words? How many times have you thought or spoken them yourself? We adults are perfect projection machines—chastising children for their behavior while at the same time forgetting it is a reflection of our own. Sure, each person is born with a unique temperament. Nevertheless, the environment of the home and culture radiates a powerfully influential force that molds them as well.
It might be helpful to think of children as biological recording devices. As such, they come into the world equipped to record and playback everything they experience. How do we imagine children learn to feel, sit with, and process their emotions? Clearly, it is through the process of modeling the emotional responses of those closest to them. Kids learn to speak kindly to others or not, depending on whether or not they hear kind words spoken to them. They may learn to respect others and their feelings, but only if their feelings receive respect first.
Likewise, by modeling the adults in their lives, children learn to become anxious, depressed, aggressive, distracted, impatient or disinterested. Unfortunately, most often our medical system treats these emotional issues as medical conditions. Pharmaceutical companies create pills for dampening all such “symptoms.” This misguided polypharmaceutical approach has no endgame. Lab testing our kids by pouring psychoactive chemicals into them is not the answer. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not implying in all cases. Sure, in rare instances medicine can be a solution. What I’m saying is that pills won’t solve problems related to an unsafe environment, or the unavailability of tuned-in, emotionally skillful caregivers.
Happily, there’s another alternative to taking our children to the doctor. Humans never exhaust the capacity for growth and evolution. Meaning, grace is embedded in the practice of parenting. But, progressing along the path towards positive change requires pulling yourself out of your routine, and then, learning something new. If you want to change your child’s behavior, start by working on yourself first. When you learn to experience your emotions more skillfully, speak more kindly and respectfully, be more compassionate, you’ll become perfectly enabled to model that skillfulness for your children. Then they’ll change.
Dr. Mark Pirtle is a meditation and mindfulness teacher who works in the recovery field. He contracts for Sierra Tucson, Miraval and is a faculty member of the Center for Integrative Medicine Fellowship Program at the University of Arizona. He teaches Skillfully Aware, a 6-week class that teaches the brain science of emotional literacy and the practice of meditation and mindfulness. For more information on classes go to www.skillfullyaware.com.