Raising Children In Changing Times
By Dianne Monroe
29 July, 2011
We have received a tremendous gift – to be alive at the edge of these changing times. It’s not an easy gift, if we look open-eyed into possible futures. Yet within this gift lies the tremendous opportunity (and yes, responsibility) of crafting tools to place in the hands of those who come after, to enable them to shape the world in which they live through their own vision.
If you have children in your lives – as parents, grandparents, educators or in any other way – there’s a particular magnitude to this. You have no doubt asked yourself what you can do to enable them to navigate the turbulent times ahead, to build meaningful lives in the midst of crisis and decline, to greet the future with creativity, resilience and joy.
“How can we nurture and raise children so they can grow into adults who are able to survive, thrive and contribute to new ways of being with the Earth and each other? ” This how I pose this question to myself as I look into the hopeful eyes of the children whose lives I have the opportunity to touch through my work. It is perhaps this sense of contributing to new ways of being with the Earth and each other that will make it possible for the youth of today to survive and thrive in a challenging and rapidly changing world.
Carolyn Baker writes in Navigating the Coming Chaos about the upcoming collapse (Great Turning, Great Unraveling, Transition, or by any other name) as “humanity’s next rite of passage, our imminent initiation into adulthood as a species.” In Sacred Demise, she writes of an “odyssey” that “is about the transformation of human consciousness and the emergence of a new paradigm as a result of discovering our purpose in the collapse process and thereby coming home to our ultimate place in the universe.”
Bill Plotkin, in Nature and the Human Soul, writes that, “we must mature into people who are, first and foremost, citizens of Earth and residents of the universe, and our identity and core values must be recast accordingly. This kind of maturation entails a quantum leap beyond the stage of development in which the majority of people live today. And yet we must begin now to engender the future human.”
So how do we prepare our children to take their place in this multi-generational species initiation, to find their way to joyful, meaningful lives in the midst of crisis and difficulties we can only imagine? How can we cultivate the growth of interior structures that can enable the youth of today, the adults of tomorrow, to make their contribution to a transformation perhaps as huge as re-visioning what it means to be human?
This wide-vision of humanity’s future, not turning away from the difficulties and hardships, yet recognizing the potentials that grow within this crisis, has everything to do with an approach I have developed through my work with youth, that I now share with you.
Tools for Shaping Their Future
For over 20 years, part of my work has been with children in difficult circumstances (children in Child Protective Services care, children who have experienced abuse, immigrant and refugee youth and others). Daily I asked myself what I could give them that would really last, that they could hold on to and use as they charted their uncertain futures.
As I considered the future of all children and the juncture we are headed into, I realized that the things I developed for children in difficult circumstances were exactly what all youth needed to find their own way through the difficult times people and our planet are facing, to help shape a new and different future.
I saw that the ways I developed to build internal structures with children who life had dealt a difficult hand also builds those internal structures with all children facing challenging situations. This nurturing of interior structures is perhaps the most important gift we can offer youth today, to enable them to play their full role in these times of human initiation and transformation.
My approach revolves around four qualities and strengths adults can cultivate with the children in their lives, and a wide variety of practices, activities and experiences that can nurture them. They can be brought into a broad range of situations, are adaptable for youth of any age, and can be shaped to fit differing interests and inclinations.
These four qualities and strengths are:
For youth to survive, thrive and make their contribution to this time of transformation, it is essential that they that they learn to know, value, and trust their inner voice, that they become deeply rooted in a sense of self. Beyond this, it is crucial for children (and adults) to understand that they have gifts to bring to this world, something valuable to offer to the times in which they live. I tell children that this is true even if they do not yet know what it is because they are still growing, and it is yet to be discovered – and that discovery can be as joyful as unwrapping a birthday present. This sense of purpose, the soil from which their life’s meaning will take root and flower, is one of the most valuable things we can offer those who are youth today.
Creativity and Imagination
“A healthy imagination is essential to growing up, becoming fully human, encountering our souls, and offering our unique and necessary gifts to the world,” writes Bill Plotkin in Nature and the Human Soul.
Creativity and Imagination are an integral part of what it means to be human, a vital resource we each carry within. By nurturing these qualities with the children in our lives we offer them ways of knowing and growing their inner selves, finding personal meaning and enjoyment in life, and as a way of seeking solutions to, or ways of being with, life’s challenges and difficulties. Through cultivating creativity and imagination, we offer children resources for growing into and through the coming times, and for making their contribution to re-visioning humanity’s future.
Connection with Nature
We are part of the natural world and evolved within its embrace. This understanding is perhaps as ancient as humanity itself. Giving children the gift of knowing nature as their home, feeling themselves as part of the web of life is an invaluable life resource for exploring their inner self and developing their ability to act in this world and on its behalf.
It is perhaps our culture’s break with nature, the viewing of our planet as nothing more than a collection of things to be exploited and discarded, that has brought us to this time of crisis. And perhaps more than anything else, this time of turmoil and transformation calls for a rediscovery of humanity’s place within the earth community. This re-visioning of our relationship with life on earth, rooted in indigenous wisdom and shaped for contemporary times, is perhaps the cornerstone of the human initiation and evolution being called for today.
For youth to discover their place within the natural world, to grow their connection with it, has everything to do with their ability to remain grounded in turbulent times, everything to do with them being able to grow their vision and play their part in this upcoming transition.
Joy, Gratitude, Wonder
We live in a magnificent world. Children express joy and wonder naturally and beautifully. It can be a delightful experience for adults to help children cultivate and deepen this natural way of being with the world. Knowing what brings you joy strengthens sense of self and connection with the world. The ability to find joy, gratitude and wonder in difficult circumstances, in places where it may not be obvious or easy to see can make a big difference in how people experience and respond to times of crisis and change. This capacity is a vital part of finding and making meaning in life, in the fundamental redefining of “a good life” that our times are calling for.
A Note About Resilience
It almost goes without saying that children (and adults) need resilience to meet the future. Resilience is a complex interweaving of many qualities. Core resilience is rooted in two things, the ability to be grounded in self and the ability to respond creatively and flexibly to change. This is fundamentally the same as the qualities of Inner Self, Creativity, and Imagination. By nurturing these qualities you are actually growing resilience.
Knowing one’s place as part of the natural world, feeling this connection, brings a groundedness and flexibility in times of challenge and change. The capacity for joy, gratitude and wonder offers a source connection and replenishment, especially valuable in difficult times. Perhaps the most powerful component of resilience is the deeply rooted knowing that you have something valuable to bring and a part to play in the unfolding drama of these times, an opportunity to touch and shape the unfolding of the future, and something important to pass on to those who come after.
Through Their Own Vision
There are countless activities, practices and experiences that can nurture these qualities and strengths. Many I have developed during my years of working with youth. Many have been developed by others. Many more will undoubtedly be developed in the future. There may be ways you are already nurturing some, or all, of these qualities and strengths with the children in your lives.
Here are a pair of simple yet powerful practices you can easily share with the children in your lives. Notice how they reinforce each other, and how they each nurture several of these four qualities and strengths.
Wandering is spending unstructured time in nature, with no plan or agenda, following what draws one’s attention. This common childhood experience not so long ago has become a rarity in today’s urban and suburban environments.
Wandering offers children the gift of falling in love with the world. It builds a connection with nature, opening children (and adults) to feeling themselves as part of the web of life and knowing nature as their home. It also develops the relationship between nature and inner self, cultivates intuition and deepens trust in one’s inner voice.
Adults can create opportunities for children to wander in nature. We can support them in deepening their experience by asking them questions about their adventures and the things they are drawn to. For example: Tell me about what makes that rock (or flower or lizard or weed) special to you? How do you think it feels to be a bird (or the wind, or a caterpillar)? If the tree could talk with the stream what do you think they would say? Children can be encouraged to keep a journal where they write or draw about their experiences, their feelings and responses to the things they encounter.
Freeplay and Free Art – Imagination Running Wild
Just as adults can make space for and encourage external wandering, it is vital that we open space for and encourage exploring internal landscapes. Free play and daydreaming are natural childhood activities that, like wandering, are increasingly rare in today’s overscheduled lives. They foster the development of interior structures and grow the capacity for vision.
Free art is the natural companion to free play. This innate flowing of experiences, feelings, imagination through any art form is very different from “how to” art lessons. Adults can encourage youth to draw, paint, sculpt (with clay, mud or any other substance) sing, dance, write, tell a story about their imaginary experiences. We can ask to be invited into children’s imaginary world and pose questions to extend and deepen their experiences, taking care not to direct or impose. We can also ask questions that encourage the use of imagination. For example: How many things could this stick be? (Hints: a magic wand, an antenna, an insect, Pinocchio’s nose.) Children can be encouraged to use journals or folders to gather their free art, and to return to these creations for further exploration and elaboration.
Through free play, daydreaming and free art, children explore and expand their understanding of their inner selves and discover their unique relationship with the world around them. These activities offer a safe structure for them to explore their emotions, including their fears, and to seek solutions for imaginary-world problems that can carry over into “real world” problem-solving skills. Most importantly, they cultivate the capacity for vision – that necessary quality for discovering and sharing one’s gifts, for finding their place and making their contributions to the future world in which they will live.
Writing Our Horizon
We are entering, perhaps have already entered, a new paradigm, an unknown that has not existed on this scale since perhaps the dawn of what we call civilization. And with this, a possibly unprecedented opportunity to reach out and touch the future. We can see the outline dimly on the horizon, yet the flow of history always evolves a bit differently from what anyone envisioned.
We live at a conjuncture when seemingly small actions can reverberate through time, like widening circles around a pebble tossed into a still pond. The story of this time has not yet been written. Daily, in ways large and small, we are writing the opening lines of that story. Perhaps our most important work will be the developing and passing on of writing tools for these times. The tools, gifts, resources we offer the next generation, the children in our lives today, will ripple outward throughout the length of this journey.
Dianne Monroe is an Expressive Arts Facilitator, mentor, writer and photographer with over 20 years experience creating and leading experiential learning and arts-based programs. She offers workshops, presentations, and individual mentoring on various themes, including Raising Children in Changing Times. Her focus is blending Expressive Arts and creativity with nature for personal, social and planetary transformation. Visit her (www.diannemonroe.com) or contact her (email@example.com) to learn more.
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