Teaching Kids To Run At Dogs

Posted: December 16, 2012 in All Roles, For Educators, For Parents and Guardians, For Teenagers, My Thoughts...
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When scary thoughts get planted in our heads, we want to look away from them… because they’re scary.

But like gravity, these scary thoughts have a way of methodically and irrepressibly pulling our attention towards them… gnawing at us and whisperingly calling to us until the seeds of self-doubt and fear begin to move us closer and closer to them.

Like driving in the outside lane of a high bridge on a black, stormy windy night… we grip tighter and focus on staying in the lane, fighting the pull of the image in our minds of that split second loss of control that could send us over the edge.

There’s a parable I read once about an old Buddhist monk, slowed and shrunk by his years. This monk, on a beautiful, crisp blue sky’ed day was walking a group of young apprentices through the impeccably manicured grounds of his monastery when they walked past an enormous dog tethered to the fence. As they continued on their walk, silently appreciating the subtle beauties and colors of the landscape, the collection of monks heard a loud snap. And when they all turned around they were immediately jarred away from the peace of their attention on the world around them… instantly drawn to the frothing dog bounding directly towards them. Reflexively, the group of young apprentice monks took off, running as fast as they could in their flowing robes away from the on-rushing dog… all except one… the old monk slowed and shrunk by years. Instead, this old, tired, worn man ran in a different direction… instead of running away with the other, younger monks, his instinct took him directly towards the ferocious beast hurling towards him threatening mayhem and injury. And as the distance closed to the point that he could see the brown of the dogs eyes and feel the heat of the dogs breath, the young monks saw what they never imagined they would see… they saw the anger and rage and hunger of the dog turn… and they saw this tiny, frail man standing still and tall above the dog… who was laying on it’s back, legs splayed, in it’s show of submission.

I actually tell this story to the students who come to me with fear or apprehension in their eyes… which is many, especially nowadays. With all the media attention focused on all things scary and ominous… teenagers committing suicide… mass killings in schools… stories of Mayan predictions of the end of days… with all these fearful thoughts pulling our children’s attention (as well as our own), like gravity, away from the details and simple realities and futures of their young lives, they need to know that they’re more powerful than their scary thoughts.

They, just like the rest of us, need to know that if we run AT the dogs… the ones bearing down on us in our thoughts… they will submit.

No, we don’t want to promote foolish or ignorant bravery, because there are times in our real, physical lives when it’s time to walk away, leave or run. But not when the fears come to us in our minds. These are the fears we can and need to dominate.

Our kids need us to show them how to stare down their demons.

Our kids need us to say the scary things that we know are on their minds.

They need us, the adults in their lives, to run AT the words suicide and school tragedies and failure and loneliness and pain and trauma. Because if we don’t, these fears become contagious and evolve into the driving forces of their behavior… which may be why we’re hearing of so many more stories of bullying and teen suicide and mass killings… and on and on.

They need us to show them that feeling brave and strong and confident come to them only AFTER they face the thing they’re afraid to face, and that being scared is normal but does not have to paralyze. And we do this by inviting conversation. By asking our kids to put to words their thoughts and fears and ideas… and by listening to them and showing them with our attention and our compassion that the things that scare us do not have to control us.

Our urges to protect our children from all things bad and scary are beautiful urges… but despite the strength of our convictions, these urges won’t prevent the barrage of negativity inundating the airwaves from imbedding themselves into the thoughts of our kids.

This is the world we live in, beautiful and ugly, and putting our heads in the sand, because we so badly wished the world were different for our kids, doesn’t stop the media from exposing the darker sides of humanity to them. Unfortunately, looking away from something doesn’t mean it is gone.

So if we know this… if we know that in our kids’ minds are the scary thoughts of real life demons… and if we know that these thoughts are pulling their attention away from their lives and onto the fearful words and images gnawing at them in their heads… then we need to arm them with a strategy that makes them feel more powerful than the mental gravity of unpleasant thoughts.

We need to make the time and speak the words they may be too afraid to speak… we need to teach them to run at their dogs… so they can see themselves, with us next to them, standing tall, over, above and in control of the fears they’re so scared will pull them over the edge.

And once we’re done staring down demons and running at dogs with our kids… then we need to kick them out of the house, with or without us, to go see something beautiful or do something fun.

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