Slowing Down With Children

by Nancy Monson

The other day I was in the hot tub after my swim at the East Boulder Rec Center. Along came a little girl, she must have just finished her swim lesson. Mom sat by the edge of the hot tub and waited. The child got in, played in the bubbles and jets, walked, swam, relaxed, smiled. I could see how much she enjoyed the feeling of the hot water on her skin, and playing with the foam, putting it all over her body. Then when I was taking my shower, there she was again. She stood for the longest time letting the hot water spray her body. Her mother stood and watched, but didn't rush her along. We ended up in the same locker section. She took a long time to get dressed, going at her own, slow pace. Her mom waited, without one word of, "hurry up." Two things stood out to me; how much that child was thoroughly and happily enjoying all the different sensations (the hot tub, the shower on her head and skin, and even the feeling of the clothes going on to her fresh, clean body), and how the mother was letting her go at her own pace, not rushing her or talking constantly. (Only once did the mother catch my interested glance and roll her eyes!)

WE NEED TO SLOW DOWN TO OUR CHILDREN'S PACE OF LIVING AS OFTEN AS WE CAN! Why, I hear many of you groan? First, do this exercise: go back to your childhood. Let go of your ideas about what your children need and should be doing, (or what you need) and try and remember your most vivid or precious times as children.

What do you remember: taking walks, playing in the mud, finding worms in puddles, sledding, riding bikes, reading stories or creating new ones, making forts, going in a small boat, fishing, catching bugs, playing house, cooking, sitting by a fire, sleeping in the back yard. It is the simple experiences that involve the senses and caring, sharing interactions that are the milestones of childhood. It is not the external activity that creates specialness, but rather a full engagement in the moment. This is how children live. This is called PRESENCE. Presence is having no agenda; it is giving yourself over to the moment and discovering all the fullness in that. One of the greatest values of children is that they offer us the opportunity to get us out of our self centeredness which so often manifests in our preoccupation with all we have to do, or everything else except what's going on right in front of us! When we enter our children's world the magic and endless fascination with life can once again be ours.

What does this mean in our daily lives? It means letting children play, letting them go at their own pace, letting them involve all their senses in a process of discovery of life, and providing them with opportunities to explore environments, art mediums, get dirty, get naked, get everything that you probably most remember from your childhood. It also means limiting the number of classes you put them in and how much t.v. or computer use there is in a day. Spring and summer are about being out of doors running, jumping, climbing, throwing, rolling, swinging, hiding, building, digging, creating, touching, tasting, smelling and wondering. For young children, this is what they most need, along with loving of course!
How do you slow down with children? Drop your agenda when you can. When you go on a hike, don't plan to "get somewhere." Kids are not interested in great spots, incredible views. They are interested in little bugs, rocks, caves, flowers, sticks, small spaces that they can crawl in. Let them lead. Don't talk a lot. Let the silence have a chance to penetrate you and your children. Let them be drawn to whatever is fascinating. It is this sense of wonder and awe that leads children into the mystery of creation. If you really HAVE to get somewhere, make it a game. Take turns leading, follow a butterfly, pretend to be bears, sing songs.

When you read a book, you don't have to finish. What comes up to talk about? Tell stories without pictures and use your imagination. Kids love it when you tell them made up stories. Light a candle and set an atmosphere, talk slow and quiet and let yourself create. They most likely will jump in and give their own ideas as you go.
Go on looking and listening walks. I used to walk with my dad in the summers after dinner around the block. We didn't talk much, but I loved those walks because I felt close to my dad and the summer air was so lovely.

One last thought. Why is it so important to slow down with our children? Let's look down the road into the future. Every 78 seconds a child tries to commit suicide. Stress related diseases are affecting more and more children (migraines, ulcers, obesity, depression). Why is this? Our children have become addicted to stimulation. They want food, movies, t.v., computers, games, loud music, constant entertainment. This means they get further and further away from their inner selves, where peace is, where quiet is, where feelings can be accepted, and finally where a sense of belonging, meaning and love is. If you want to understand what's going to happen to your children if they don't have the opportunity and encouragement for slow, quiet, simple experiences, look at your own life. Can you feel content with just yourself? Is there quiet time in your life? Do you feel depressed when your not busy? Is your worth based on what you do or on who you are? Can you accept your feelings? Do you know yourself and what you want from life, and do you have the courage to live your own truths? This fast paced, material swamped American culture does everything it can to "kill" our children's inner sense of calm and sensitivity. It's up to us to help them keep it. Perhaps if we can do that for them, by the time they are adults, the world will become a more peaceful place to live.

© Nancy Monson, 2005. All rights reserved.

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