ADRIENNE: Part of growing up is learning to be with others. Sometimes– those interactions can be painful. There could be bullying– which can have devastating short-term effects and even long-term effects into adulthood. Today, we’re joined by our Wellness Columnist, Scott McPherson. He’s here to talk about how we can teach kids a healthy perspective when dealing with things like teasing. Hi Scott!
SCOTT: Hello Adrienne.
ADRIENNE: These days– kids can be bullied at school and at home too through social media. It can be relentless. But you’re saying there is a way for us to positively get through experiences like that?
SCOTT: The short answer is yes. As you know, a huge swing collapsed on me as a kid. All of my mindfulness and meditation training was the result of me trying to figure out how I came back from that. But while I was doing my fascinating meditations about consciousness, my five year old ego had to go to all of Grade One wearing a motorcycle helmet to protect my Humpty Dumpty head.
Kids that age are naturally brutal as they try to figure out socialization. I cried as hard as a kid can cry. Fortunately, what got me out was my an important realization about Reality. In the middle of bawling my eyes out over the helmet I had to wear, I suddenly realized I was hating myself.
ADRIENNE: How were you ‘hating yourself?’
SCOTT: I mean it dawned on me there were no kids in the room with me. Yet the kids from earlier that day seemed to be controlling how I felt in that moment, later, in my room. I couldn’t see them or hear them, they weren’t around… I realized the feeling wasn’t coming from outside of me, through my senses. When I thought about how that was happening inside of me, I noticed what I was thinking about. That’s when I realized that’s how the bullies were time-travelling from where and when they had teased me, to inside my bedroom.
Whenever I remembered the times when kids teased or hurt me, those kids were in my head. And I was painfully reliving what they said, or I was wishing they wouldn’t have said it. That was the point where my five year old brain was able to draw a clear distinction between pain and suffering. Teaching people about that distinction is most of what I do. A painful event is not the same as the suffering we do when we psychologically choose to re-live a past event in our minds. Even a kid can grasp that.
ADRIENNE: So, we can’t go back in time and change what happened, but we can learn to not have those bad experiences haunt us in the future?
SCOTT: Yes. We have to remember, our resilience, compassion, empathy and wisdom all get created by overcoming challenges, and through facing pain. So there is eventual value in those experiences. It just usually takes us time to realize it, and it just sucks for the parents to witness it. Pain is a life experience, but suffering is strictly psychological. If we unwittingly volunteer for too much of it, we can ruin our own lives.
ADRIENNE: When we’re trying to teach this perspective-shift to kids, is there a good age to start?
SCOTT: We can just take the opportunities the kid’s life creates, as they arise. They’re ready as soon as they can comprehend the fact that other people think different things in their heads than we do. The Theory of Mind usually develops around 4 or 5. Also, I Should mention, with kids it’s far better to assume a casual demeanour. If something sounds ominous and huge, then we fill the kid with fearful thoughts before we even start. We want to almost make it sound as though it’s super-pedestrian, and some ordinary part of being human that someone just forgot to mention to them, like how to hold their toothbrush.
ADRIENNE: Ok– What do we actually say to the child?
SCOTT: I work a lot with people on their self esteem. And if a kid tells me about someone being mean to them, I get on the side of the bully. I’ll say, ‘Yeah, I do that too sometimes. When we don’t feel good about ourselves and we want things to be different, we all tend to take it out on the world around us. I’m sorry someone took their hard time out on you.’
ADRIENNE: So you’re suggesting to them that people being mean to us is about them, not us?
SCOTT: Yes! Exactly. And if we can model that behaviour rather than just talk about it, that’s even better. Plus, if we approach it this way, it teaches them not to feel overly guilty when they lash out just because they’re hangry, or if they need some space because they’re going through a trying period. That’s just being human.
ADRIENNE: But even if they’re taking the insults less personally, don’t they still hurt?
SCOTT: Usually, but only because they keep thinking about it what the person said. That’s why I shift to explaining that we think our thoughts inside our brains. And that our brains use the thoughts to make chemicals that create our feelings and emotions. I’ll even explain that our thoughts are made from electricity in our brains.
ADRIENNE: Can kids fully understand that?
SCOTT: It makes immediate sense to a kid that we each have our own brains and that we each think our own thoughts. From there I just explain that when someone insults us they’re just saying a thought out loud. That thought doesn’t have to be true. I point out untrue things other people said. And I point out that those ideas only exists in the person’s brains who think it. After they say it, the sound waves hit our eardrums and they’re gone. That makes sense to most kids. And that means the only way the bullies can bother us after that, is if we invite them back into our consciousness by choosing to think about them and what they said. If a kid learns to see their consciousness as the vessel for their emotional life, over time they’ll start to increasingly more careful about what they put in it.
ADRIENNE: How long does this usually take to sink in?
SCOTT: I’ve only had a couple times where it didn’t have an immediate effect. But since everyone around them is modelling how to be offended and feel resentment, so it takes lot of repeating. We want to make it a habit that we don’t expect to be perfect about. We have to remember, we spend our lifetimes learning to do this balancing act. We’re ever really done, but the sooner we start the better.
In the end, kids still won’t like that someone doesn’t like them, but over time they come to really know that in a profound way, that there is really no point in caring about the thoughts in other people’s heads. Those are their business, not ours. So the kids will still struggle some days, but for the most part once they really get it, they aren’t motivated to waste their lives thinking about pointless thoughts.
ADRIENNE: What about learning this as an adult? Is it a slower, tougher process?
SCOTT: For sure adults have a lot of thought-layers to clear away but, as they peel each layer off, they feel better and better, so that’s a nice process they can feel happening each session. I’ve never heard the learning described as tough or slow. Adults describe Sessions as fascinating, or thought-provoking in a meditative way. Which makes sense. In the end, living is a lifetime lesson for all of us and learning to do it is fascinating. But most adults can still benefit from watching how kids manage to be so un-selfconscious about changing themselves.
ADRIENNE: Scott McPherson is our wellness columnist. He is a writer, speaker and instructor at relaxandsucceed.com, here in Edmonton.
Every Tuesday at 5:20pm, I join Radio Active‘s host Adrienne Pan, on CBC Radio One here in Edmonton. You can listen via AM740, FM93.9 (in Edmonton), or elsewhere through the CBC Listen app, or via the web on Radio One at CBC.ca.
Once the show has aired, if there is an audio version available I will add a link to it here. A listing of all of the columns is here.
For those without audio versions, I will ultimately attach a transcript of the column to the bottom of this post.
Teasing and bullying are the unpleasant childhood results of kids trying to figure out how to be people. We all say things we don’t mean, and we all do things we regret, so rather than pine for an impossible and perfect world, we are better to prepare for the real one. No matter what age you are, if you’re bothered by the opinions of others, tune in at 5:20pm.
If you get to hear it and haven’t before, I’m sure you’ll enjoy the show. They have a great team.
Take care everyone. Here’s to a grateful day for all of us.
A serious childhood brain injury lead Scott to spend his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and identity. It made others as strange to him as he was to them. When he realized people were confused by their own over-thinking, Scott began teaching others to understand reality. He is currently CBC Radio Active’s Wellness Columnist, as well as a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.