If you’re having trouble keeping yourself and your child calm in a world of heightened political tensions and runaway bullying, you’re hardly alone. But while we can’t do much to stop the craziness out there, we can heighten our mindfulness of how we, and our children, react to it inside. This is something most of us don’t actually do—at least not often enough.
Helpful tools come from Los Angeles psychotherapist Foojan Zeine, and her new book Life Reset: The Awareness Integration Path to Create the Life You Want. I had a chance to speak with her about her methods, and how parents everywhere can put them to use. Here is an edited excerpt of our conversation.
Meryl: You developed a process to become more aware of ourselves. Is it sort of like mindfulness?
Foojan: Something like that. It’s about creating a mindfulness about yourself in relationship with others. When you do that, you react to people differently. Or at least, if you do react from your habits and impulses, you catch yourself faster.
Meryl: Why the focus on the “others”? Isn’t it true that the only person we can control is ourselves?
Foojan: We all live in relationships, even if we think we’re isolated. But we’re often unconscious about how we and our children don’t take responsibility for the impacts of what we think, feel, and behave on the world around us. Instead, we project all the problems onto others.
Meryl: Your program has people ask themselves how they think, feel and behave about someone creating tension in their life—like a bully. Why are all three important?
Foojan: You have to know where the problem is coming from. Is it my thoughts about something, which maybe spring from my culture or what I learned from my own parents; my feelings, because perhaps I get angry or anxious too easily; or the action I take as a result? Many people don’t know the difference between thoughts and feelings, but you can’t shift something unless you become aware of it.
Foojan: Of course we don’t know exactly how the other person thinks and feels. But we all make assumptions, whether we’re conscious of them or not. I want people to be aware of the assumptions.
Meryl: Can you give me an example?
Foojan: I had a client who was bullied in school. He realized he believes the other kid doesn’t like him and thinks he’s weak. That, in turn, makes my client cry and run away. But what if he thought the bully was just playing with him? He might take different actions as a result.
Meryl: Is it important for parents to use these tools on themselves, as a way to influence not just themselves but also their child?
Foojan: Definitely. Think about the different views a couple might have about politics these days. The default might be to demean the other parent for thinking a certain way, or to lash out angrily. This is something your child sees. What if you instead asked yourself my questions, and then were able to respectfully debate the issues with your partner? Your child would learn a very different way of dealing with disagreements.
Meryl: So the current, heightened political polarization might be a good thing, lol?
Foojan: Conflicts are always an opportunity to learn!
Meryl: Do kids have to be a certain age to get this?
Foojan: We’ve done research with college students and now we’re doing it with kids in daycare. Even if a child doesn’t have the words, they can learn this way of being from their parents. Whoever you’re interacting with, the only place you have control is with your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Most of us don’t learn to question those in real time. But we can clean that up and live more fully. For children to learn this from the earliest ages would be amazing.