Children are a lot like bear cubs. The first lessons they learn in life are physical. Instinctual. They quickly figure out if they roll toward their mother’s chest, they’ll get milk. If they cry, they’ll be held. It’s simple animal stuff.
Somewhere in that vast developmental landscape between infancy and adulthood, kids often lose that innate sense of the physical. Psychology develops, and with it, all sorts of thought-based conundrums that have a fascinating way of distracting us from our inner wisdom.
One of the challenges facing modern parents is the need to balance monkey-mind based social influences with the other important elements of being a well-rounded human. In its simplest form, it’s the newest incarnation of passing on a balanced mind, body, and spirit to the next generation. We parents have to teach our kids just how important their instincts really are. And what better place to start than with the most organic part of us all, the body.
It’s no coincidence that a child’s mobility increases as they grow. From rolling to crawling to standing to walking, each and every stage in a child’s development represents their increased ability to be in and of the world.
Teach Them Early About Balance
Parents can encourage their kids to make the most of this unique connection between their personal development and physical mobility by starting them off on the right foot. Or rather, on the right set of wheels. Once a child is walking, they’re ready to head out into the world and test the boundaries of their bodies, so why not let them have a little fun with it?
One of the most popular toddler toys today is the balance bike, a no-pedal training bicycle that teaches kids how to balance on two wheels. Both childcare and cycling buffs agree that traditional training-wheel bicycles really aren’t that helpful for young kids who are learning to balance their weight. Training wheels hold them upright, but they don’t teach them the fundamentals of balance. When your little one is learning about balance and how it feels in their body, it’s important to protect their noggin with a properly fitted bike helmet. Learning how to balance isn’t the most graceful learning curve in the world, and parents will want to take extra care to give their kids an extra cushion against injury.
Learning how to physically balance empowers kids to get to know and trust their bodies. There are two boons to learning this at a young age. First, when they begin to intuitively understand how their bodies work, they can start learning to listen to its subtle wisdom. When their bodies start to feel exhausted, for example, they’ll be able to equate that with the need for sleep. When a kid feels in their bones how great sleep can be, they’ll be less resistant to bedtime. In addition to teaching kids how to intuitively know when it’s time to sleep, it’s nice to have a few tricks up your sleeve to increase the odds of a good night’s sleep.
Second, familiarity with the physical feeling of balance can act as a subconscious touch-point for the development of abstract and metaphorical thinking. When a school counsellor tells a kid it’s important to balance their emotions in class, they’re more likely to understand if they can internalize the feeling of balance and have something tangible to relate it to. Most children hone their abstract thinking skills between the ages of 11 and 16 — that’s well beyond the age when they’re first learning to trust their bodies, yet that self-knowledge will always be highly relevant to their growth.
It stands to reason that kids with an innate physical understanding of the pushes-and-pulls of daily life might just have a leg-up when it comes to balancing more abstract tensions like handling stress and understanding identity.
Engage Their Minds Through Stories
It’s all but impossible to talk about raising kids who are in tune with their bodies without talking about their minds and spirits as well. Interconnection – it’s just how we work.
One of the oldest and most powerful way humans have learned to weave the three aspects of ourselves into one is through the art of storytelling. When there’s something in our lives that affects us, even if we don’t quite know why — like the moon, for example — we’ll create stories to unite that hard-to-pin-down feeling with words our mind can comprehend, emotions our hearts can identify, and physical movements with we’re familiar.
While verbal storytelling has shifted from being a cultural lifeline to an entertaining pastime, it is still one of the best ways to introduce young children to stories. It encourages them to engage their minds in grand adventures beyond the everyday things.
That said, storytelling alone won’t help a child make their way through modern society. Reading, on the other hand, absolutely will. One of the greatest gifts a parent can give their kids is to instill them with a love of reading. The public education system can’t be solely relied upon to inspire every child to love reading; it’s too important to leave up to a third party, anyway. Some students have a tough time getting excited about reading, while others come to it naturally — either way, it’s a parent’s responsibility to encourage them to keep learning more, keep asking questions, and keep making connections within and outside of themselves. That’s what stories are good for.
Breath and Embodiment
Finally, children who own their power have the best chance at growing into well-rounded, independent-minded adults. Of course, there’s a difference between owning your power and inappropriately asserting your power, and there’s a word for it, too: humility. But try explaining humility to a toddler. Sometimes words just don’t cut it. The lessons have to be rooted in simplicity, in the body. One of the first ways a parent can separate the two kinds of power is by offering their child opportunities to realize that they control their inner world through the air in their lungs.
Meditation is one of the most obvious ways to teach a kid about mindfulness and self control. It’s so obvious, in fact, that some public schools have begun using it to replace detention. A child who is taught to control their breathing, and consequently their emotions and behaviors, has a much better chance at learning from his or her mistakes instead of repeating them.
Teaching kids how to be fully aware and confident in their bodies is a huge gift. Body awareness and control can be the solutions to right-now behavioral problems. Even more importantly, feeling comfortable in their own skin is a treasure that child will carry with them for the rest of their life.