Archive for March 2010

The Secret Weapon For Overcoming Bullies *Part III*

March 31, 2010

The Nuts and Bolts of Mindfulness Meditation

  • Environment– A quiet place where there wont be any interruptions or disturbances (turn the telephone off).
  • Position and Posture– Kneeling. (In the Japanese Zen tradition, this is called seiza). Tops of the feet and shins are flat on the floor, and buttocks rests on the heels. Back straight, head up.  Hands can rest on the thighs or be folded in the lap.
  • Breathing. Through the nose.  Slowly and rhythmically, from the lower abdomen- not the chest or shoulders.
  • Progressive Relaxation. Starting from the top of the head and working down, release any unnecessary tension.
  • Focus.
    • Some people count their breaths. In is ‘one’ out is ‘two’. At ‘ten’, reverse the cycle and start counting backwards.
    • Some people visually focus on a point in space.
    • Some focus on nothing in particular, but try to keep their mind tranquil.
  • Attention.
    • Tune into your physical body. Balance and posture.  Breathing.  Heart rate. Temperature. Every internal sensation and every feeling on the surface of your skin. Experience all of them and do nothing.
    • Tune into your emotions. Don’t judge, just observe.
    • Tune into your thoughts. As they arise, imagine they’re like bubbles and watch them float away.
    • Tune into your environment. Notice the minute details, the faintest sounds and smells.

Do Not:

  • Fidget. Don’t adjust, don’t stretch, don’t scratch, don’t look around.
  • Wander. This is not the time to think about the future or the past. This is the time to think about here and now.
  • Obsess. Instead, practice letting go. Just release.

Goal
Just sit. Be still.

“Okay.  Eyes Open”
At the conclusion of your session, smile and take a deep cleansing breath. Exhale slowly and fully.  Say, “I feel fantastic”.     Take your time standing up.
For a lot of kids, a few moments of silent, still introspection are amazing.

Meditation For Kids *Part II*

March 29, 2010

Let’s take a peek inside the world of the average child. Growing up isn’t all ice-cream, rainbows and puppy dog kisses.  There’s lots of stress, confusion, fear and disappointment. Plus, virtually every aspect of their lives is regulated to some degree by adults- from the moment the alarm goes off to the moment they’re sent to bed. Not surprisingly, kids frequently ‘sleep-walk’ through big chunks of their day as they fulfill other people’s expectations.

Although there are many school of meditation, I’m going to over-simplify things a bit and divide this list into 4 (slightly overlapping) categories. All of them have their advantages. (I’m leaving out religious/spiritual meditations and ‘trance states’ brought about through chanting, twirling, etc).

  • Guided Meditation. This is kind of a hypnotic state (self-induced or led by another person). Guided meditation involves a quiet narrative, mental visualization and positive affirmations / suggestions.
  • Moving Meditation. Some examples of this are tai chi, yoga, swimming laps and even long solitary walks in nature. As breathing and motion synchronize, the mind opens and clears.
  • Focused Meditation.  This deals with focusing on something outside of yourself: rhythmic music, a candle flame, or some object.
  • Mindfulness Meditation. Mindfulness means deliberate awareness in the present moment, free of judgement.

For our purposes, I’m going to key in on Mindfulness Meditation.

But before launching into the instruction and application segments, please heed this warning: as an adult, teaching a kid, you better know what you’re doing. Reading this article is an excellent start, but it will not make you an expert.  Get some books. Take out a few instructional DVD’s from the library. Maybe even find a qualified,experienced and professional instructor and take lessons. Remember, kids are like sponges- if you’re involved in a personal development program, they’ll sense your credibility. (And besides, with so much to gain, it pays to do it right).  I strongly encourage you to participate with your kid; just giving instructions and holding a stop watch isn’t nearly as effective.

Preparation

Children (and a lot of adults) have pre-conceived and incorrect ideas about meditation, so its worth while to take a few moments and set the record straight.

  • Only holy men meditate.  Actually, meditation is for everyone.  You don’t need to be a guru or monk.  People from all walks of life do it: champion athletes, top musicians, respected professors, successful business people, and home makers.
  • You can get psychic powers.  Uh, no. It doesn’t give you the ability to read minds, see the future, move objects with brainwaves or zip around the universe in an astral body. Sorry.
  • You’ve got to do weird stuff, like sit in a lotus position and chant. In fact, you can meditate while kneeling or sitting in a chair.  And while some people do chant, many others don’t.  And we aren’t going to.

Another school of thought is to skip this step entirely. Don’t make it such a big deal.

Introduction
Like a lot of things in life, this is as complicated as you want to make it. Keep in mind- you’re teaching a child. Keep your expectations realistic.  Your kid isn’t going to sit still for half an hour.  Two or three minutes is plenty to start with – and for some kids, even one minute is respectable.

Keep your explanation simple brief. Tell them what they’re going to do, how to do it, and for how long. And set a goal- tell them what they’re trying to accomplish. Do NOT do a “brain dump” and overload them with a gazillion details. Provide a few points on posture,  one or two things they might focus on, and the guidelines (“When you get into position, take a moment or two and get comfortable. Once we begin, you stay still.”).

And answer the big question.  Why.  One basic and elegantly clear answer goes like this:
“Most people don’t realize this, but their mind is like a dog. Sometimes its lazy and doesn’t want to do anything. Sometimes it gets all excited, and runs around like crazy. Dogs will chase birds, bark at people, roll in the grass, run around, sniff everything, and make a mess. And most people spend their lives chasing after their thoughts like they’d chase after a crazy dog. What we’re going to do now is like training that dog to behave. So when you give your mind a command, it will obey.”

In the next post, I’ll cover the actual nuts and bolts of how to practice.

Teaching Meditation To Children – Everything You Need To Know & A Lot More *Part I*

March 29, 2010

Mindfulness Meditation

In order to successfully deal with bullies, your child is going to need some effective strategies. Some of the most powerful weapons in your child’s anti-bullying arsenal can be developed through… meditation.

Meditation refers to a wide range of systems, techniques and traditions.  Meditating relaxes the body, calms the mind, brings clarity, aids creativity, promotes mindfulness, improves health and brings joy.  Which is all very impressive – But can “contemplating your belly-button” really help a kid who’s being picked on, ostracized or beat up?

Absolutely. In addition to the benefits listed above, children who meditate also develop two essential traits: self-control and acceptance. While these two characteristics seem to be on opposite ends of the strength scale, both are critical to overcome bullying (and immeasurable useful in riding out all life’s storms).
There’s an incredible sense of mastery that comes with being able to stay centered, consciously recognize and control your emotions, focus your thoughts and choose your actions. This is self-control.  Acceptance is being able to experience reality without resistance or complaint; understanding that some things are unchallengeable or inevitable and allowing them to be so.  Combine the two- magic happens.

My first wave of students are adults  now.  (And so is the second wave!  Aaarrgghhh!!!  I’m getting old!!!) Many of them have told me that the most valuable lessons they picked up didn’t have to do with devastating strikes or high-amplitude throws or sophisticated joint locks.  They were about what they discovered within themselves because I’d taught them how to meditate.

Part II will cover the different kinds of meditation, choosing the right method, and how to present it to your child.

Bullies and Self-Esteem

March 22, 2010

There’s a widely held belief that all bullies are insecure cowards who use aggression to cover their anemic self-image. Recently, psychologists have questioned their assumptions about self-esteem and reviewed decades of studies. Their findings?  Feeling great about yourself isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Baumeister, R., Smart, L., & Boden, J. (1996). Relations of threatened egotism to violence and aggression: The dark side of high self-esteem. Psychological Review, 103, 5-33.

For ages, pop psychologists have promoted the idea that developing your child’s self-esteem was a magic bullet that ensured mental health and future success.  And to be sure, it does have its up-side.  Kids with healthy self-esteem are more resistant to peer pressure, recover from failure and trauma faster, and are generally happier.  Note:  the operative word was “healthy” – not “high”.

Other benefits of healthy self-esteem include:

* Independence
* Responsibility
* Pride in accomplishments
* Openness  to challenges
* Willingness to help others
* Ability to  manage emotions

Beware the far end of that spectrum,though.  Loading a child up with undeserved praise, withholding appropriate criticism,  and avoiding difficult tasks that carry the possibility of failure in order to make a kid feel good are counter-productive strategies.  Feeding kids a diet of validation actually decreases their drive to work harder and improve themselves!

An inflated self-esteem is a key component of  narcissism and egotism. Those traits are decidedly unhealthy- for the person who exhibits them and for the people around them. While these kids think they’re smarter, better looking, more competent and more popular than their peers, they often alienate others with their their superior attitude. True confidence is achieved by demonstrating hard earned aptitude.  It is the effect, not the cause. (High self-esteem does not enhance performance).

High self-esteem is not an antidote to making destructive choices, either. Kids who believe they can do no wrong are actually more likely to steal, cheat and experiment with drugs than their counterparts.

Criminals are frequently brimming with self-esteem.  Their amplified sense of importance lets them feel justified in ripping-off or hurting other people.  And to get violent if they don’t get the respect they feel they deserve.

Not surprisingly, children who’ve been targeted for social cruelty  do not feel very good about themselves, and the longer they endure abuse, the worse they feel.  As a group, the kids who do the bullying feel just fine about themselves.

Another “Expert” Explains “The Only Thing That Works”

March 12, 2010

From the Levittown Tribune:

Trust Him To Protect Your Kid From Bullies?

I’m sure Barry McNamara is a well meaning guy.  He’s  a professor of special education at Dowling College and written a couple of books on bullying and ADD.  He’s right about a lot of things, including the fact that developmentally disabled kids need protection from sadistic peers.  He’s probably a really good guy.

In this article, he lays out his anti-bully philosophy:

“The only thing that works is a school-wide program.” McNamara said. Parents’ actions are ineffective without school action, he said.

That means getting everyone involved.  From the teachers to the bus drivers to the cleaning staff.

He cites a survey by the Department of Justice that claims that between 2003 and 2008, there was a 15% reduction in school bullying. They attribute the trend to anti-bullying programs.

OK.  I call B.S.

First, this blatantly confuses causation with correlation.  Come on, people… take a class in critical thinking.

Second – Government statistics for hard numbers like test scores are notoriously unreliable.  How accurate is a ‘survey’ of hard to quantify behaviors?  Who’s being surveyed?  Who’s in charge of auditing? Is it possible that schools just aren’t filing as many reports so they can keep getting program funding?

Another thing – what about all the bullying that happens off school grounds?  On the bus? At the park? Camp?

Does this expert have any more insights or advice? Well, there are these golden nuggets:

  • Kids should tattle on bullies, because its a “myth” that ratting on a classmate will make things worse. How do you work with kids all day long and remain oblivious to their psychology and culture?
  • Kids should project self-confidence. What’s this act based on? I’ll clue you in to what happens when a kid tries to fake it- they get busted and mocked.
  • There needs to be rules that not only punish bullies, but enforce acts of kindness.  “force” kindness?

Mr. McNamara wants to find a solution to bullying.  I just think that he’s going about it the wrong way.