Step 2: Spirituality for children

I wrote about spirituality for parents in Tulay’s past issue (April 19-May 9, 2016). It has been a struggle for the past month, but even that little time is seeing small results. The key, for me, is putting everything in concrete terms.

The spiritual powers that senator Leticia Shahani talked about are all abstract concepts. We need to help our children see that what they encounter everyday are events that can be dealt with calmly. I do not yet know how to teach these spiritual powers explicitly but right now, I see them as tools that will help my children navigate life.

The power to withdraw asks us to step back from situations to gain a clearer perspective.

Previously, I shared in this column how high-strung Achi can be. She has had her whine-fests and those drive me up the wall. Even getting ready in the morning is a reason to panic.

“Achi, we’re leaving in 20 minutes.”

“Buuuut, I haaaaaaven’t brushed my teeeeeeeeeth yeeeeeeet!”

It’s a scenario that has been decreasing for the past few days. These days, husband and I are still taking a deep breath and reminding her to “breathe with me.” It is the simplest way to help her step back. Another new thing added to this mix was a heart to heart talk a few weeks ago to remind her that: (1) whining only makes people around her irritated; (2) she doesn’t get what she wants anyway until she calms down; (3) it is not the end of the world and she can still finish preparing herself.

Part of this is also looking at where she’s coming from. The power to tolerate asks us to look at our fears and see how much we can withstand and when we need to fight back. Children are not able to see this clearly by themselves so we have to help them do it.

In our talk about morning preparations, I discovered she was afraid of being late. But being late is not really the reason. Achi is an introvert and likes to do things by the book to avoid the risk of placing her in the spotlight. If she is late for her ballet class, for example, it means all eyes on her when she enters the studio.

My recent game plan for this is to get Achi to accompany Shobe when approaching people. Shobe always wants to go to Bonifacio Global City to look at dogs. She especially enjoys petting small fluffy dogs, because all our two frisky mutts want to do is run with her. The girls have to ask the owner first if they are allowed to touch the dog. We usually approach owners who are just sitting down, taking a breather.

Achi will accompany Shobe, who does the talking. It gives Achi a boost of confidence as well because Shobe refuses to approach anyone without her. (We parents usually stand about 10 meters away).

Sometimes though the girls get bouts of overwhelming shyness. They claim that the dog owner “does not look nice or kind.” It’s time to teach them the power to accommodate – to be more open. Until someone shows their fangs, we assume they are nice people. (The husband believes no mean person can take care of a tiny Chihuahua and not kill it. Also, if a mean person owns an extremely adorable Shitzu, there is no way that person stays mean). I get closer to whichever dog they want to pet to boost their courage.

When they are apprehensive, I help them decide: when they return with sad faces, we go over their choices again. If they really want to pet the dogs, they have to suck it up and talk to the owner.

Sometimes, we go over their script again. If they decide not to talk to a dog’s owner, then they will have to take their chances with the next one. I also remind them that sometimes, the next time does not come along on the same day because they might not see a dog they want to pet anymore.

These may sound shallow for adults, but are actually perfect for eight and six year olds. It shows them that sometimes, decisions are not between good and bad, but between really good and regular good. I use these terms with them as well, and now hear them talk about the gradations of “goodness.” Hopefully, these markers of decision points will be their guide for discernment and judgement.

The power to face shadows and the power to forgive/forget are not what the girls have to deal with yet, but I need to have action plans ready. Getting rid of negative vibes comes naturally for children. I recall that Achi was so upset with a classmate in second grade, but was on good terms with him as a groupmate in third grade. I want to be like a child again – holding no grudges. Let the past stay in the past and live my life to the fullest.

The last power is the power to co-operate. Because Achi has been more patient, open and accommodating lately, we have observed a better relationship between the two sisters. Shobe was quite sick for a week, and Achi went out of her way to talk and find out what Shobe wanted to do. I heard Achi grumble, “So boring!” as she went off with Shobe to play.

We are getting there. — First published in Tulay Fortnightly, Chinese-Filipino Digest 28, no. 24 (May 24-June 20, 2016): 11.