Imagine you’ve chosen to escape the hustle-bustle world of work and kids and laundry, just long enough to recharge your spirit with a walk in the nearby woods or park. (Hey, it could happen!)
You are strolling along, enjoying the warm sunshine and fresh air. As you turn a corner on the path, a slight movement just ahead of you catches your eye.
It’s a shy creature – maybe a baby deer or rabbit. And there is this magical moment where you are sharing the world with this creature who pauses with you for a time.
I invite you to let your eyes close for just a few moments and imagine it…
How do you act so it doesn’t run away? What qualities do you embody so that this nervous creature feels safe enough to stay with you a while?
Write down the words that come to mind for how you would be in that moment. Perhaps you’ve had such an encounter, and you can remember how you were, how you felt, how you acted.
This exercise, adapted from Dr. Ann Weiser Cornell, is one of my favorites for illustrating the power of presence.
Warm Your Child’s Heart with COAL
Odds are that the qualities you came up with are in line with what another colleague of mine, Dr. Dan Siegel, remembers with the acronym COAL.
Being present with another being, whether wild animal or child, in a way that brings us closer together typically includes these core COAL qualities:
Calm – still mind and body, relaxed muscles, slow deep breathing.
Open – soft gaze, clear uncluttered mind, non-threatening posture.
Accepting – peaceful, understanding, fearless.
Loving – warm, kind, compassionate.
Just imagine what our daily interactions would be like with our children at home – or with our students at school – if we practiced this way of being with them more often.
Whether dealing with spilled milk or unfinished homework or not listening or arguing or forgetting for the millionth time, what would help your child overcome those mistakes better?
Approaching them angrily, hastily, loudly, critically? Yeah, not so much.
Yet we often get swept up in the speed of life or lost in our own insecurities and frustrations. Too often we mindlessly lash out at our kids – barking orders like a drill sergeant.
It’s no wonder the child reacts in “fight or flight” mode, either arguing or avoiding us, and the downward spiral continues.
Now, let’s take the same situation. But this time, we remember to be present to our child’s struggles (and to our own struggles) with Calm, Open, Accepting Love. Which is likely to get us farther down the path to a productive and peaceful resolution?
More Presents or Presence?
When you think of what your children really need and want from you, it’s actually not buying them more presents. It’s bringing them more presence.
When you are fully present with your child – Calm, Open, Accepting, Loving – you give them the most valuable gift of all.
So, post some sticky notes that say COAL around your house or classroom this week.
See if you can remember to pause, breathe, and bring your loving presence to whatever arises with your kids today. When you forget, bring loving acceptance to yourself as well. Let it go, and begin anew.
Magical moments aren’t just for random encounters in nature. Let’s make a conscious choice to enjoy more of them with our children as well!
Now that would be a gift worth giving during this holiday season, and beyond.
Peter Montminy, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist, mindfulness teacher, speaker, author, and dad. He invites you to join in an ongoing conversation that seeks to restore sanity to humanity – one child at a time. Join us at www.AMindfulVillage.com.