Jemma Wayne Kattan
Bedtime is when it happens. When the stories have been read and the lights are dim and my daughter and I are cuddling under covers. Then, finally, the worries that all day have been tucked tightly into the recesses of her mind begin to weave their way to the surface and find words. There, in the almost dark, the nearly asleep, is when I hear of playground dramas, of fights between friends, of moral dilemmas, of vast, sweeping concerns about war and pollution, of questions about what happens when we die, of fears manifested from flickering screens or the pages of books. I try to answer, to reassure, to talk things through to their conclusion. It’s important, I think, for children to have somebody to hold their thoughts for them, to listen even if we can’t solve. And as we talk, my daughter has a beautiful way of describing what she’s doing. “I’m just putting all my thoughts away,” she says. “I’m just finding the right place for them in my mind.”
I remember doing this as a child too. I remember the worries growing with age. And I remember the nights when there didn’t seem to be a way to sort them into tidy order. On those nights, I had two strategies. The first was to concoct some sort of plan of action. It wouldn’t necessarily be enough to solve my problem, but it would be a resolution of one small thing I could do the following day to act on it. Understanding that we have agency in our lives, even at times when the world seems thrust upon us, can be an empowering thing.
My second strategy was less about solving and more about perspective – allowing myself to focus on something good, something positive that was going to happen despite the bad; nurturing my interests and realizing that the bad didn’t have to be all consuming. Very often for me, I found this distraction in sport. Perhaps the next day there would be a netball match, or a dance class, or I could just go for a run. No matter what else was going on, I could always go for a run, release my stress and those endorphins, feel a sense of accomplishment.
Sport is wonderful like that. Aside from the physical health and how that impacts mental health, it also provides children with a microcosm for life. In every sports match, there were nerves, there was competition, teamwork, camaraderie, there was a requirement to put oneself on the line, there was triumph, there was failure, and there was picking oneself up and trying again. There was the whole world laid forth within the safe borders of a court or a pitch where it didn’t really matter. What a wonderful way to learn the skills needed to deal with the challenges of life.
I’m always so grateful for having found sport young, for having had this way to develop those coping mechanisms, while simultaneously weakening the consuming power of adolescent anxieties. I hope my children, and all children, can find their own way to do this. Whether it is in sport or something else, we all need a way to release the hold of our emotions, to find balance, and to tidy our minds.
Sonal Sachdev Patel
I loved school. I loved learning about Greek mythology and solving mathematical equations and understanding how the world worked. However, as a grown up I now think it’s so strange that whilst we recognize the importance of topics such as maths, history and science in our schooling, we have not implemented any subjects into our mainstream education system that teach our children how to deal with the internal struggles they face. Of course, not having an insight into the history of your country or an understanding of chemical reactions would be a sad thing, but not knowing how to control our emotions is a far greater handicap.
When I think about the greatest gift I could give to my children, it would be a toolkit to deal with their internal struggles such as insecurity, anxiety and fear. This has never been more relevant than in our social media obsessed, fast-paced world where our children are under so much pressure.
We try our best, but we cannot control what happens to them. What we can do, though, is arm them with the weapons to fight their way through the battles that life brings them. For me, the greatest tool in this armoury would be meditation. A tangible technique that can be used to still the body and the mind. Once only relevant spiritual circles, meditation is now widely recognized as bringing about a multitude of benefits. It actually changes the grey matter in the brain, and I often tell my children about Buddha who summed it up well when asked, “What have you gained from Meditation?” He replied, “Nothing. However let me tell you what I lost: Anger, Anxiety, Depression, Insecurity, Fear of Old, Age and Death.”
We can give our children the best education, the finest holidays, but what they want and need the most, money can’t buy. Our children want to feel safe, they want to feel worthy and they want to feel in control.
The truth is that it isn’t only children that face internal struggles, we as adults do too. If we learn these techniques in childhood, they become part of our psyche and we have an instruction booklet for how to deal with whatever challenges might come our way. Parents and children have a wonderful opportunity to create a partnership where they can awaken each other.
In addition, learning to make healthy choices and living by age old-principles of positive actions is another strong strand I believe all children should be empowered with. Old has a tendency of being associated with boring, outdated and dull. Yet truth is truth, and old wisdoms can be the very jewels we are seeking, no matter how clouded in dust they are. The key here is to uncover those truths by rubbing away the dust to reveal the magic beneath. Insights such as how to regulate our own emotions, how to be kind to others and ourselves, are all written in the precious Bhagavad Gita. Far from being outdated and irrelevant, the Gita gives us and our children a modern-day guide for how to deal with the internal struggles we face.
Sonal and Jemma are the authors of Gita: The Battle of the Worlds, a book that brings children the key messages of the Gita in a fun and accessible way.