“We teach children how to measure, how to weigh. We fail to teach them how to revere, how to sense wonder and awe. The sense of the sublime…is now a rare gift.” -Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel
The need to create space for quiet and calm in our children’s lives is more pressing now than ever. My experience in public schools is that young people are surrounded by chaos, noise, and multi-sensory activity. This leads to stress. National Middle School Principal of the Year James Dierke calls stress “the number one enemy of public education…it creates tension and violence, and compromises the cognitive and psychological capacity of students.” Stress keeps our bodies forever locked in fight or flight mode (which describes American schools quite well). Luckily, there are programs out there that bring quiet and calm into our children’s lives. A friend of mine told me about Quiet Time, a cutting-edge, meditation-based program that is having great results in San Francisco Public Schools. As parents, we need to advocate for programs like this to be implemented in our districts. But the good news is that we don’t have to wait for policy-makers to step in. We can begin to bring more quiet and calm into our kids’ lives right now.
I work in a juvenile detention center where stress is high. Kids are awaiting trials, or sentencing, or psychological evaluations. Many are homeless and don’t know if their next bed will be a treatment center, a foster home, or another jail. So we work hard to reduce the chaos, keep things orderly, and be proactive with those who are about to lose it. Part of the reason I like my position so much is that we have an element of control over what is happening, right down to the food the kids eat and their bedtime. Because we can create space and quiet, I believe we have an opportunity to make an impact.
Sadly, this is not so true in the real world. A few years ago I took a break from the detention center to try out life at our city’s biggest high school. One of the benefits of teaching is you get to try new things, and after many years in special behavior programs, I wanted to be back in the milieu of a regular school with sports, clubs, drama programs, and kids with fewer knuckle tattoos. It was a great school, the one my own kids will attend. But my gut reaction to high school was: how does anybody learn anything in this much chaos? I did witness a lot of drama, most of it in the halls not on a stage. Many days there I felt like a dog chasing his tail, running between meetings, interventions, and phone calls to deal with fights, illnesses, upset parents, home issues. If you thought your high school years were chaotic, these days things are that much more amplified with the addition of media. Only in our modern world can students show up to class with an iPhone, an iPod, and an iPad, yet not have had breakfast.
But we can bring quiet into our kids’ lives.
Quiet Time is a program being implemented in San Francisco public schools and around the world by the David Lynch Foundation. It sounds deceptively simple. Kids are given two fifteen-minute periods at the start and end of the day to, uh, well, be quiet. They are taught to meditate using a model based on the transcendental meditation practice–a secular form of meditation popularized by The Beatles and used around the world. The results have been awesome for both the teachers and students. The schools that have participated over the last three years have seen documented improvements in academic achievement, overall student wellness, teacher satisfaction, and dramatic reductions in behavior problems and suspensions.
Well, we probably all can’t run off and learn transcendental meditation; and though the David Lynch Foundation was kind enough to respond to my email, they need more than one interested teacher to start a massive, district-wide program. But that doesn’t mean we give up.
Why not experiment with a little quite time at home? Start with one time during the day when the whole family can participate in some calming yoga (check out our Kid Yoga page for suggestions) or a few quiet minutes of guided or quiet meditation (try a few of our meditation starters to get your flow going). Or just sit for a minute or two in quiet at the dinner table before jumping into chow. Any bit of quiet helps calm the mind, the body, the soul, and bring you back into your life.
Track the results over a few days. Do you notice your kids are:
- Sleeping better?
- More relaxed at the dinner table?
- More organized before school?
- Better focused?
Even if your kids resist (what kid wouldn’t), be glad that you are teaching your children about self-soothing, reflecting, and contemplating. You are planting seeds for future happiness. You are offering the antidote for anxiety, depression, and ADHD. You are building in your kids patience and self-control.
Plus, you get a few minutes of quiet yourself. And what parent doesn’t want that?
Let us know if you try some forms of quiet with your family and how it went.
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