A few days ago, I was talking with a mom of one of my students. She told me the story of how her son was in tennis lessons and he had recently moved up to the next level of difficulty. The day before, when it was time for him to go to tennis lessons, he broke down and started crying, refusing to go.
The mom listened to all his fears about playing against older and better players and all his frustrations about not being as good as them. But even after talking about all his feelings, he continued to cry and was quite worked up about it. Now, anyone who has worked with 7 year olds (or really any age, including adults!) knows that at a certain point, getting stuck in the emotion isn’t healthy. It seems to create a spiral of suffering, where the child doesn’t really know WHAT they are crying about, just that they are upset and are caught in the upset-ness.
Most people have the strategy of saying “Stop crying!” to their kids. Sometimes that directive works (and is usually the most efficient), but we miss out on a valuable teaching and learning opportunity if we stop there. This is a time that the child can practice finding the inner strength to stop themselves and consciously practicing equanimity.
Finally, the mom said to her son,
“Hey! Don’t you learn at school that you can choose how you want to be in the world? You know, ‘I am master of my body, I am master of myself’?” [This is a common phrase around Education for Life schools and the name of our newest curriculum book.]
Her son stopped and looked at her. He took a deep breath. And, according to this mom, “that was that!” They headed off to tennis calmly.
Here is Helen Gorman, our Kindergarten/Preschool teacher, teaching students about mastering their bodies and selves: