Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Five Ways to Help Your Children Cultivate Stillness...At Home, At Church, At School.

Childhood is a time of high energy.  Most of us who are past the age of thirty would love to regain some of that exuberance.  Our energy wears out sooner, and a period of stillness in the midst of a busy life may seem like bliss.  Children, on the other hand, quickly grow weary of sitting still.   I suppose that this has always been true; I certainly didn't understand why my parents wanted to linger so long at the dinner table until I was grown, married and had children of my own.

I suppose that it is even harder for children today. The art of stillness doesn't flourish in an environment of constant entertainment and 24/7 media distraction.  We all -- from infants to adults -- face a danger of becoming so hooked on texting, blogging, TV, and our playlists that we become restless when thrown back upon our own thoughts.  

Yes, it may be harder to teach children how to have restful hearts and how to sit still today.  Harder, but by no means impossible.  In fact, it is as important as ever for children to learn how to sit quietly, without fidgeting or squirming.  Much of life's richness can be enjoyed only in stillness.  If a child learns how to reflect quietly, he or she will better enjoy a relationship with the Lord, closeness to friends and family, and the breath-taking beauties of nature.  Stillness is also a gift that children can give to others, for if they remain quiet and pay attention during important gatherings, they allow others to participate without distraction.

Children will fare better in life if they know how to sit quietly and to pay attention in church, at school, during family times, when company is visiting, when traveling by air or by car, and in many other situations.  Children need to learn how to quietly entertain themselves and to rest comfortably even when unplugged from our age's technology.  Constant movement and constant noise breed a restlessness of the mind, soul, and body.  Punctuating our activities with moments of quiet breeds rest. 

Fortunately, stillness is a skill that can both be taught and learned.  I have encountered parents who think that young children cannot learn how to sit without fidgeting or whining.  The good news is that even very young children can practice how to be still and poised in mind, body, and soul.  How do we accomplish this?  Here are five simple ways.

1.  Cultivate stillness and poise in your own character.  It's never too late!  You may have a naturally outgoing, talkative, and energetic nature.  That's ok.  Along with your bubbly qualities, learn how to be restful in soul and mind.  Tackle bugaboos,such as over-scheduling yourself and family, worry, the need to always have media going in the background, neglectfulness of prayer, and the like.  Take time to read the Bible and to pray and even to study a new subject that interests you.  If you cultivate the needed quality of stillness in yourself, you will better be able to pass it on to your child.
2.  Talk to your children before going to church, school, or some other place where they will need to be still and/or quiet.  Let them know ahead of time what is expected of them.  Explain, on their level of course, the importance of the event.  Explain, again on their level, that sitting quietly can be a way of loving other people by allowing them to participate in the event without distraction.
3.  Play "quiet" games.   Have a contest to see who can sit for a whole minute without speaking and with hands folded in the lap.  Pretend you are at the theater and use stuffed animals to show how to enter a row quietly and to sit quietly.
4.  Have family meals together frequently, preferably daily.  Expect children to sit at the table until the meal is finished and to ask to be excused if they do leave the table before the adults.  Teach the children how to participate in dinner table conversations.  Allow them to speak up confidently when it is their turn to talk, but encourage them to listen quietly when someone else is speaking.
5.  Make sure that your children have enough healthful time to play outdoors.  There are a number of reasons why children need free time outside, many of which aren't related to the subject of this article. Regarding the art of sitting still, however, children do need to discharge their abundant stores of energy in free play in the fresh air. They also need to work out the issues of growing up through unstructured play times.  Quality playtime, in sufficient quantities, helps children relax.  Children whose need for outdoor play is suppressed will find it hard to be restful in attitude. When asked to sit quietly, their untapped energy will erupt in some way.  They will squirm, fidget, complain, or be inappropriately noisy. They may even jump up from their seats over and over again.  Many a "behavior" or "attention" problem can be solved if adults will ensure that a child has healthy and safe unstructured activity.

There are many more ways that parents can help children learn the art of stillness.  What are some things you have done to teach your little ones this important skill?  I'd love to hear.