Lately, my five year old daughter and I have been doing the Pebble Meditation from Thich Nhat Hanh’s book Planting Seeds: Practicing Mindfulness with Children. It consists of four simple meditation instructions and it has picture cards that go with each one. Children visualize themselves as a flower, a mountain, still water and the big blue sky. She seems to really enjoy the simple activity and seeing the pictures on the cards. She can’t read just yet, so we sit together and I read the cards to her. The whole thing takes about 3 minutes. She often asks for it if I forget. Then, in times of stress, I remind her to take a minute and breathe and repeat one of the phrases to herself. I love the idea that she is learning these techniques for self-calming and self-knowing.
I believe that we desperately need to teach students these skills in school starting from a very young age. The late Fred Rogers knew all about this. In our house, when anger arises we sing his song ‘What do you do with the mad that you feel?” For us, it seems essential to be able to name a feeling and acknowledge that this is a normal thing. Humans get angry sometimes. No problem. It’s what you DO with your mad that’s important.
There’s no “should” or “should not” when it comes to having feelings. They’re part of who we are and their origins are beyond our control. When we can believe that, we may find it easier to make constructive choices about what to do with those feelings.
–Fred Rogers The World According to Mr. Rogers
We have to teach children to become familiar with their own emotional landscape and to manage their emotions. The rewards are many. Happier children, happier adults, a calmer school environment. Planting seeds indeed.
And Pebble Meditation is a great idea for adults too. Often we don’t know what to do with our mad feelings either. Teaching is hard work and when we’re working with lots of little reactive beings, it is easy for our own anger, anxiety and frustration to get triggered. Having a way to insert a little space between our emotions and our actions can make all the difference between whether a situation escalates or whether we and our students can calm down and come to a more peaceful resolution.