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In her book Reset Your Child’s Brain, Dr. Victoria Dunckley notes the high number of 11 year olds who feel stress over building a personal brand.

Yes, you read that right—11 year olds are feeling the pressure to brand themselves, to develop an “image” that sets a tone for their lives. Now, Dunckley is writing this from the angle of a psychiatrist concerned about the amount of time kids spend connected online, which isn’t my main focus. We share the concern, though, over the pressure for kids to spend time building an online presence.

People with successful personal brands, the personalities, writers, sports heroes, politicians, consultants who have strong “personal brands” spend an inordinate amount of time carefully curating what they post, responding to comments, using Instagram to drive traffic to their website and their website to drive traffic to their Twitter and their Twitter to drive traffic to their Instagram, all in the name of increasing engagement and thereby somehow “become known.”

And the goal of “becoming known?” Well, at the end of the day, it somehow ties back to money. There’s the hope of becoming known as an expert in the field with the goal of landing a dream job sometime in the future. Or selling advertising on a website or blog. Or developing a writing voice or a platform for future books. For many people, this is just a reality of the world we live in.

For 11 year olds, though, it’s not. When 11 year olds start developing a concern for a personal brand, it’s a strong condemnation of our culture. Developing a personal brand is essentially about being for sale. And while I’d wager that most kids don’t realize that this is what they’re doing, it is. The message has become so ingrained in us that we somehow believe that the only reason to be known is in order to make money.

Of course this isn’t at all the message of Jesus, who might have lived in a time before the struggles of online citizenship but still knew a thing about people vying for social position. His answer, always, was to remind people that the kingdom of God is upside down. Who you know, what you know, what you have—none of these things matter. In fact, they may even work against you—after all, the last will be first and the first will be last.

So what does all of this talk about personal brands and crazy social trends have to do with reclaiming Sabbath?

Our ability to understand our relationship with God is directly related to the time we set apart. We can’t immerse ourselves in a cultural push to always be “on,” and then expect to stay centered in the idea that our “on-ness” isn’t what matters. If we want to teach our children that their worth is grounded in their relationship with God then we have to give them space to experience this relationship. Not lecture them about it, not force them to join in family prayers, not even gently say to them “God loves you just the way you are,” but to experience the freedom that comes from just being them.

I’m afraid that for children these days, there’s very little antidote to the world’s constant push to prove yourself, to do more, to be better. This is a soapbox of mine and I could list examples for days—increased testing, diminished playtime at home and at school, lack of family time, competitive sports starting younger and younger, activities that fill schedules to the point where no one has time to breath, computer games built around addictive reward cycles, stressed out parents who don’t have time to connect…all of these things are teaching our children that they have to compete for status and attention.

I have a very real fear that true spirituality—the ability to listen to God through our internal selves—will disappear for many of our young people.

This is where Sabbath is important for children. Now, I know that the idea of enforced rest isn’t popular for kids. Remember my reaction to the idea of a Sabbath day? But there are plenty of ways to help kids learn a rhythm of rest that can form a basis for their spiritual development. Here are a few ideas:

  1. Build in daily family quiet times

We have so little silence in our lives. And the less we have, the more uncomfortable we become with it. There is actual noise everywhere—the radio in the car, the TV at home, chatter in group settings. Plus, there’s a draw toward mental chatter, the kind that comes from surfing the internet or even reading quietly. We are so afraid to be alone with our thoughts and we’re passing that fear onto our children.  A simple, counter-cultural practice is family quiet time. Set aside five minutes each evening before bed to simply breathe. If five minutes is too much, do three. Or one. You can always build up from there. The trick to making this work is to give kids something to focus on. I love the Calm app, which is just a visual of a circle expanding and deflated in a breathing rhythm. At a conference I attended a couple weeks ago, the presenter recommended giving kids a pinwheel to blow, which focuses breath and is fun.

  1. Play

Play meets many of the criteria of Sabbath. It’s purposeless. It’s countercultural. It deepens our relationship with each other. Build in times for family members to simply be silly together–no competitive games, no individual screens drawing your attention, just time for connection and laughter. Maybe it doesn’t feel “religious,” but as one part of a move toward reclaiming Sabbath time, it’s an important start.

  1. Designate a certain time each week as family time and stick with that schedule. It will be hard. It will also teach that it’s ok to say no. Tending to our families and our inner lives is every bit as important as attending BBQ’s, sports games, even homework or school events. Again, start small if you have to. Make it an hour on Sunday afternoons or a time when you’re already relatively free. (And if there’s no time when you’re already relatively free, then that’s an excellent reason to create one.)

While these are small steps, they are the beginning to building a culture of rest within your family. I’d love to hear how your family observes times of rest together!

3 Ways to Make Prayer Beads with Children #wholemama

3 Ways to Make Prayer Beads with Children #wholemama

In an age when we have so much–so much entertainment, so much busy-ness, so much noise and bustle–it’s hard to find time for stillness. I know, because I fail at it all the time. Add in even a little bit of internal stress and we find ourselves completely ungrounded. We lose touch with the inner calm that would allow us to weather work stress, family stress or even just the evening news. And the ability to listen to that still, small voice? Completely gone.

Perhaps even more concerning is that our children are also missing out on this. Bombarded with stimulation from all angles, they lose the chance to simply sit in quiet.

Reintroducing children to stillness takes patience and skill. A no-holds-barred approach is likely to lead to rebellion and cries of “I’m booooored.” Luckily, there are many ways to incorporate prayer and quiet that provide guidance and focus. Prayer beads are one of these ways. Beads provide guidance for praying as well as tactile stimulation–great for fidgeters and people with active minds. Even better, children love making them. I’ve done prayer beads with two groups of children and adults in the past few months and all of them have enjoyed them. Here are three examples of prayer beads:

1. These beads are made up of the traditional sets of seven beads.  You can say a different prayer for each set of beads, as the folks at King of Peace suggest or use each set as a reminder to prayer for something in your life.  I like to use the sets to remind me to pray for things I’m grateful for, sorry for, people and a last set for anything else on my mind.  Here’s a version I use with kids and youth. Prayer Beads

prayerbeaddiagram

2. Over at The Little Ways, there’s a great tutorial for making “Good Deed Beads.”  They recommend using them to keep track of good deeds you’ve done through the day.  Because the beads stay in place once you slide them, they’re a great tool for counting throughout the day.  One teacher I know uses them to teach children to take calming breaths, sliding the bead along the cord with each breath they take.

sacrifice beads2

3. And there’s this set of beads, which is easy to make and features simple prayer reminders.

Prayer beads for protestants - great for Lent:

(Pic only.  The picture links to a private blog but it was too good not to share!  What a fun way to use some special beads and it could easily double as a bracelet.

 

I’m linking up this week with #wholemama prompt stillness.  Katie Faulk has a great post this week on stillness and loss.  I, on the other hand, am going with a list-style post because it has been a crazy 3 weeks.  Thanksgiving travel followed by starting a new job and getting a major writing assignment–due before Christmas, naturally.  All in all, I’m thrilled by everything but thank heavens I did my Christmas shopping early!

 

5 Children’s Books to Encourage Mindfulness

5 Children’s Books to Encourage Mindfulness

Are any of you nearing the end of school?  You know, with the field days and the field trips and the teacher appreciation and the volunteer appreciation combined with the “I’m so ready for summer I can’t stand it?”  This is what it’s looking like at my house:FB status

I’ve got the beginnings of 7 different writing projects and a few more blog posts but none of them are readable yet.  (However, the laundry is done and we haven’t had popcorn for dinner yet this week.  Small victories.)  With all that, it seems like a good week to share some of my favorite books for working on mindfulness with children.  Mindfulness is one of those deceptively simple ideas…it is exactly what it sounds like: paying attention to what’s going on in you and around you.  Easy, yes?  Except when it’s not, as is so often the case these rushed, crazy days

This is probably why I like the idea of introducing it to children.  First, there are benefits.  Children who learn mindfulness techniques are happier and less anxious.  More than that, though, I think that with all the distractions in our lives, the sooner we can start working on inner stillness the better.  I’m a big believer in the science behind mindfulness and love that it’s being incorporated into everything from school to therapy but for me it is primarily a spiritual practice. (Take a look at Sharon Salzberg’s post for a look at benefits and limits of measuring meditation scientifically.)

No matter how much we might like the idea of teaching mindfulness to children, it can be a challenge.  “Sit still and listen to your breathing” sounds like a punishment to most children and some adults.  This is where books come in.  I use books to introduce all kinds of ideas, at home and in the classroom.  Reading a story about something is often the quickest way to engage a child’s attention and introduce a complicated idea.  From there, we can build to personal practice.

Listening WalkThis is the first book I ever used to teach mindfulness and I used it with preschoolers.  Read the book, take walks, repeat

 

 

 

 

 

SilenceI checked this book out from the library with high hopes.  Then my daughter said it was boring.  I’m including it anyway because I think it has huge potential, the words are simple and the illustrations are lovely.  Plus it’s hard to tell whether it was actually boring or just more boring than Selena the Sleepover Fairy, which is what she was reading when I tried to get her to read this with me.  That’s probably a lesson in choosing your timing.

Tell Me the Day BackwardsWe love this book!  It’s not mindfulness in the sit-and-breathe way but it’s definitely mindfulness in the paying-attention-to-your-life way.  It’s also been a whole new way to asking about her day.  “Tell me the day backwards” gets answers and giggles. When I say “What did you do today?” She helpfully answers, “Stuff.”

 

I'm in chargeBack to the nature theme.  This is a classic, for good reason.  There is so much here!  It’s wordy so take it a little at a time with young kids but it’s an amazing meditation on simple pleasures and mindful attention.

 

 

 

The Angry OctopusThere are talking sea animals, a mermaid and an octopus who is angry about others ruining his toys, what’s not to love?  I borrowed this on CD from the library and renewed it so much we ended up buying our own copy.  The story is actually interesting and relatable for young kids plus it introduces breathing techniques that can be used to deepen relaxation and improve focus anytime.

 

I’m always on the lookout for kids books that tie into Deep Ideas.  I’d love to hear from you if you’ve found some good ones! (And seriously, if you’re feeling the end of the year pressure and this post hit you more like a to-do list than an inspiration, come back to it later. Have courage…summer is around the corner!)

5 books to teach mindfulness to children
5 books to teach mindfulness to children
We’re Not Enough

We’re Not Enough

Flowers on potteryIt is in the silence that it comes to me.  There is nothing to do here.  Nothing to be, even.  There is only stillness.  It is enough.

***

My day is carefully plotted out to maximize production.  This is a discipline.  I’m quite proud of my productiveness.  I recount my day’s accomplishments with glee.  Then the glee turns into frustration as I survey all the things I didn’t accomplish.

The downside of “discipline” is that it is closely related to pressure.  We never get done everything we want to get done.  We never do it as well as we’d like to do it.  No matter how we structure our to-do lists, schedules and other time-management techniques, some things fall through the cracks.

These things happen and we begin to beat ourselves up.  We wonder whether we’ll ever be successful, be meaningful, be beautiful.  We run around like maniacal wind-up toys, trying to accomplish something–whether it’s the perfect job, house, spouse, children or volunteer of the year award.  We are deflated and sometimes even hopeless because we never make the mark.

Look, I’ve read all the books and blogs.  I’ve listened to all the advice.  Heck, I’ve given all the advice.  And still, all this sneaks in.

I am actually tired of hearing about how we have to affirm that we are all good enough just as we are.  Not because it’s not true, not because it’s not needed, but because it just adds to the guilt and pressure.  Now I’m not enough and I’m not even enough of an enough to accept my enoughness.  The quotes about love and acceptance are always inspirational and I always want to print them all out and frame them in the hopes that somehow it will actually sink in but it never does.  I never spend a whole day happy and excited about “living the now!” and “feeling God’s love!” and “knowing I’m enough!”

    ***

I have been running this personal experiment with silence and stillness lately.  So far I’m very not good at it.  Sitting in stillness falls off my list quite often because I have all these things to do.  But I have done it more in the past 2 weeks than I did in the 2 weeks before that, and the 2 weeks before that, and so on, so I suppose it is progress.

Yesterday morning I arrived at yoga early.  I went into the studio and sat.  Quietly.  ( I have to admit, this desire to get there early was in part because for the past three weeks, someone has been taking my space.  It’s the one by the window, middle row.  Now you know.  Stop stealing it.)  So I claimed my space, got out my mat and sat.  I began to fidget after about 3 seconds.  I began to think of all the things I could be doing.  I realized this time could be better spent making a to-do list. I tried drawing my attention back to my breath, just like they say to do.

Notice the thoughts, then let them go.

I spent a lot of time noticing thoughts and then trying to let them go.  When that didn’t work, I tried to shove them out the door.  It became a wrestling match.  I lost.  And then…

And then I had a few blissful moments of actual, honest-to-God stillness.  In this moment of stillness it came…the realization that there was real life right here while I did nothing, thought nothing, was nothing.  There is meaning here, in a classroom filled with wanna-be yogis unrolling their mats and chatting about their weekends, right here in the too-loud mind of someone who thinks too much, right here in the very stillness.

I don’t know what all this means or how to put it in words that will help you find your own space for stillness.  I just know that in that space I found rest and grace.  In this silence, all my failures–for that matter, all my accomplishments–didn’t matter.  They would never matter and this a profound relief.  In this stillness, there was Enough.  More importantly, there was enough enoughness to make up for all that I lack.  I am not enough.  I never will be.  But in the quiet stillness there was Enough for me to soak in and soak up, enough to take with me.  Enough to share.

By 2:00 that feeling had faded and I was back to wind-up toy status.  It’s a work in progress.  But it was a nudge I needed.  I know it is there again–for me and for you, rest and grace and Enough, all waiting in the stillness.