I found the cure, and it was staring me in the face all along. The cure for sibling jealousy, temper tantrums and all sorts of other fierce creatures. The answer, of course is mindfulness…
My son Liam is three and a half. His sister, Freya, is seven months old, so needless to say his life has completely changed in a short space of time, and he is old enough to remember what it was like when he was the only small person in the house. So after swimming tonight, when Liam told me that he liked it better with just one kid in the house, it was no great surprise. Being my son, Liam is, (obviously), a genius, and of course he elaborated by saying, “I get jealous of Freya sometimes.”
Now for some time, I have been wondering how to share mindfulness with Liam as a way to help him through the little ups and downs of life, especially emotions that can sometimes be overwhelming. Today I found my answer in the world of Narrative Therapy. I was reading a book by Michael White about using “externalising” as a way to help people relate to problems differently in therapy. Externalising means helping people describe the problem as something separate from them, in the same way that we help people to see the thinking mind and the thoughts it produces as something outside of themselves, a temporary event rather than a personal state or trait. By, for example, watching thoughts and allowing them to drift past like clouds in the sky, we can see that the thought is THERE, and I AM HERE, watching it go past. Narrative Therapists do this skillfully through conversation, with amazing results.
So when I heard about this jealousy, I explained to Liam that it sounded like the jealousies were bossing him around and I asked him what kind of jealousies he had seen. He looked puzzled and didn’t quite know what to say, so we talked about how jealousies sometimes sneak in and make us do things we don’t like. Liam seemed to get this, as kids are much better at externalising than us big people, who are far more attached to our sense of identity and truth. He said that he didn’t like the jealousies and that they made him get cross with Freya, so we talked about what to do. We decided that bears (like our big brown Labrador Osito) could scare jealousies, and that we could too, by asking them to go away. We also figured out that sometimes jealousies have friends, like dramas and shemozzles, who cause us problems, make everyone cranky and trick us with their cunning ways. Liam decided that shemozzles are scared of Jagular growls, and as he is a Jagular, he could scare them and the dramas away, by chasing them out of the house. He said I could help by being a Velociraptor and that Mummy could be a Deinonychus. Freya is crawling, so she can be a Spider. We knew that dramas and shemozzles could be sneaky, so we decided not to talk to them, but that I would whisper to Liam or he would to me, to alert each other of the cunning invader. Then we’ll chase it out and shut the door, because dramas and shemozzles are like flies, they’re not bad, but they belong outside.
And so we have a three year old, identifying that a rage which overcomes him is not who he is, it is a temporary visitor, like Eckhart Tolle’s wonderful concept of the Pain Body. Together, we can now build his self awareness, by asking where the dramas affect his body, by noticing them as they start their tricks and by exploring (as he gets older) the thought patterns that feed them. He also has permission to tell me when I’m lost in a shemozzle, so I can come back to reality a little easier. And all thanks to Michael White (RIP), a Jagular and a couple of dinosaurs.“… ‘They hide in the branches of trees, and drop on you as you go underneath,’ said Pooh. ‘Christopher Robin told me.’ ‘Perhaps we better hadn’t go underneath, Pooh. In case he dropped and hurt himself.’ ‘They don’t hurt themselves,’ said Pooh. ‘They’re such very good droppers.'”