Given the rising rates of stress, anxiety and depression for children and young people, it is no wonder that many parents are looking for ways to encourage mindfulness practices and self-awareness. But how can we make these abstract concepts come alive?
One way, drawing on the multicultural storytelling techniques used in The Campfire Method, is to weave an engaging story based on the ancient mythology of Buddhism. One story, “The Two Acrobats,” originates from an ancient fable-within-a-fable shared by the Buddha to fellow monks. My interpretation follows:
Long ago, a pair of acrobats traveled the country. Though very humble and poor, they earned just enough to get by with their fantastical feats.
The master was an old man who moved with grace and ease, and his apprentice, a young girl named Meda, was small and agile. Together they made the perfect pair: the old man confidently balanced a tall bamboo pole on his head while Meda climbed to the top. At every stop, they delighted their audience and people generously gave them coins and food.
One day, the pair found themselves in a crowded old city. They made their way to the center of the market and set up their bamboo poles among the rich smells and loud merchant calls. As the crowd gathered, Meda felt the pinch of nerves. This was their big chance to earn some money and something delicious to eat.
The Master, seeing her worry, leaned over and whispered, “Listen, I can see that you’re nervous so let’s help each other out. You watch me, and I will watch you. You take care of me, and I promise to take care of you.”
Meda paused. She admired the Master for his wisdom and knowledge. Without him, Meda wouldn’t know how to balance on a pole or perform for an audience. She looked up at the crowd gathering around them, stretching to see the bamboo acrobats, but something seemed off.
“No Master,” Meda replied. “If I don’t look after myself, I will fall. And if I fall, our whole show will be ruined, no one will clap and we won’t have anything to eat.” Meda turned around and climbed onto his frail shoulders, the Master still in shock that she had defied him. Maintaining her concentration, Meda walked carefully onto the bamboo pole. Looking out into the crowd, she took a graceful bow and walked rhythmically along the pole back to the Master. The crowd gasped as she made a small but skillful jump, bowing this time to her Master. Tumbling onto her feat, the crowd exploded in applause and even the Master clapped for his defiant apprentice!
Through the telling of this ancient story, parents can highlight three lessons in mindfulness and focus for children.
Your balance is your responsibility. Even with her Master’s advice, Meda trusted that only she could control her balance. Try asking your child what would have happened if Meda had done as her Master suggested. Would she stay on top of the pole, or would she fall? This conversation can help highlight the importance of taking responsibility for your focus, your work and ultimately, the result of your efforts.
Don’t get distracted by what others are doing. Meda knew that if she shifted her focus to her Master during their act, then her own performance would fall short. The lesson here is to focus and measure your progress by your own benchmarks. Thanks to social media and greater connectivity, unhealthy comparisons are leading to more anxiety, depression and low self esteem in kids. The story of the Two Acrobats can help your child see the importance of staying focused on their work and not getting distracted by others.
Take care of you and care for others too. When Meda ignored her Master’s advice and focused on taking care of her, the result benefitted both of them. Drawing on Meda as the role model, talk to your child about the importance of taking care of yourself and prioritizing your goals as part of working as a team, highlighting the fact that everyone benefits from the best you.
Recent studies have shown that mindfulness can help kids improve their academic focus while also supporting mental health and resilience against bullying. By enjoying stories like the Two Acrobats together, you can talk to your children about the value of taking care of yourself, staying focused and being aware of your thoughts. And don’t underestimate the power of mindfulness for you as a parent! Research also shows that mindfulness can reduce stress and other mental health issues when caring for small children.