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Teen suicides, cyber and gang bullying, and drug/alcohol use are at epidemic levels. What can we do -- as parents, teachers, coaches and community members -- to help?
For starters, we can teach children to listen to and trust their gut instincts. The body has a natural protective brain in the gut and we all need to be encouraged to listen to it. By encouraging our children to trust their gut at an early age, we can save them from overriding their instinctual feelings and starting down the wrong path. If they know they can tune in to their own strength, their own voices, then they will have the opportunity to make better decisions.
As a body centered therapist and family communication advocate, I am calling out for parents to encourage their kids to communicate with family and friends about their gut and visceral feelings at a very early age. One way we can do this is by validating our children's physical symptoms of being hungry, full, hot, cold, etc.
Sometimes we unconsciously teach our children that what they feel is not accurate. It isn't necessarily intentional and it often occurs because we don't want to feel what we feel (guilt? inconvenienced?) from our child's request. For example, "Mommy I'm so hot, I want to take my sweater off!" And we're busy, so we say, "You're not hot and it isn't hot in here, keep it on!" This behavior inadvertently teaches the child to think, "Hmm, maybe I don't know what I am feeling?"
We need to see that this is the child's budding innate wisdom and when we can, we should encourage it. Problems arise when children are invalidated when sharing their true feelings. A child's emotions erupt from frustration and confusion, causing them to pull away from those around them and stop trusting themselves. We can start early. When our children reveal feelings coming from their bodys' wisdom, it's important for us to pay attention!
As infants, we live naturally in a state of whole body awareness; vitality, curiosity, and passionate enthusiasm literally pour through our bodies as pure awareness. As we grow older, our cognitive awareness begins to develop. We learn to rely less and less on body intelligence once mental intelligence kicks in.
In a culture that places greater value on thinking then feeling, and emphasizes reason over gut-knowing, our body's important messages are often suppressed or simply go dormant. As parents, it's important to encourage our children to trust their bodys' messages -- like butterflies in the stomach, body temperature changes, clenching of fists, nervous sweats, etc, to navigate their everyday experiences with greater ease and insight into situations that could be potentially harmful.
When a child expresses physical or emotional discomfort and is repeatedly met with frustration or disapproval, he or she soon learns that it isn't safe or acceptable to feel. The child gets the message loud and clear -- your body isn't reliable -- and begins to adapt and conform to misguided demands and expectations. The cost to the child is tremendous; both spontaneous self-expression and the simple joy of being can be rapidly lost.
What do you think? Are you in touch with your own inner wisdom and body awareness? Do you remember learning to distrust your body as a child? Do you feel that you can help to teach your children to follow their body's instincts? Share your story!
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