Teen suicides, cyber and gang bullying, and drug/alcohol use is at epidemic levels. What can we do?
For starters, parents, teachers and coaches can teach children to listen to and trust their gut instincts. The body has a natural protective brain in the gut and kids need to be encouraged to listen to this. By encouraging our children to trust their gut at an early age, we can save a child from over-riding their instinctual feelings and starting down the wrong path, going along with bullies or drug pushers. If they know they can tune in to their own strength, their own voice, 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 by validating their child's physical symptoms of being hungry, full, hot, cold, etc.
"I'm burning hot mom!"
Parents at times unconsciously teach their children that what they feel is not accurate. It isn't necessarily intentional and it often occurs because the parent doesn't want to feel what they are feeling from the child's request or emotion or it is an inconvenience for the parent. For example, "Mommy I'm so hot, I want to take my sweater off" and the mom, who is busy says, "YOU'RE not hot and it isn't hot in here, keep it on" That teaches the child to think, "Hmm, maybe I don't know what I am feeling?"
Parents need to see that this is the child's budding innate wisdom and encourage it. Problems arise when children are invalidated when sharing their true feelings. Children's emotions erupt from frustration and confusion, causing them to pull away from those around them and stop trusting themselves. He tells parents, " Start early. When your child reveals feelings coming from their body's wisdom... it's important for you to pay attention!"
As infants, we live naturally in a state of whole body awareness; Vitality, curiosity, and passionate enthusiasm literally pours through our bodies as pure awareness. As children grow older, their cognitive awareness begins to develop. Children 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 body's messages such as 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 are rapidly lost.