One of my students, let’s call her Susan, shared her problem with me recently.
Her son was fifteen and alternated between boisterous exuberance and moody withdrawal. She suspected that he was borderline depressed, but he refused to talk about what, if anything, was bothering him.
“I found your course to be immensely valuable, Professor Rao,” she lamented, “But I just cannot get him to see how valuable your teachings are. Can you help?”
I get this question thrown at me a lot.
If you can get your child – or children – to understand that they have this thing called “mental chatter” and it takes them to all kinds of places, including some dark ones, and they don’t have to go to those places, then you will have given them a gift that will serve them for a lifetime.
We don’t live in a ‘real’ world. We live in a construct, an edifice we have constructed with our mental chatter and our mental models. And, having constructed it, we experience it exactly as we have constructed it.
An acquaintance of mine has a successful, rapidly growing business. He has a loving and supportive wife, two smart children and a golden retriever. Perfect life, right?
He is in a dispute with his brother about ownership issues and has a fleet of lawyers aggressively advocating his point of view. He is so consumed by anger and a sense of injustice that he sleeps poorly and has an ulcer that is acting up.
Think of your life. How much of your mental energy goes into grappling with ‘problems’ that you know are trivial, problems that you will laugh at a few years down the line? But today you are disturbed and this prevents you from enjoying the day you have – today.
So here is how Susan can help her son, call him James.
Do not be prescriptive. Do not tell him what he should do or how he should think about the issues he is confronting.
Ask for help. Explain the concept of mental chatter to him and let him know that she, Susan, is having problems with her mental chatter. Her chatter about her boss and her work situation is leading her to a place of anxiety and insecurity and preventing her from enjoying family occasions like picnics and road trips.
Could James please keep his eyes open and poke her every time he sees that she is not present and has gone off on a dark inner journey? This would really help her.
She could even incentivize James by giving him a dollar each time he catches her drifting off.
Kids are smart. James will quickly figure out that what is troubling his mother is also wreaking havoc in his life. And he now has a method of dealing with it. Further, if Susan shares her mental chatter with him, James is likely to reciprocate by sharing his. If he does, it is important that Susan retain a calm demeanor even if she is freaked out by what James reveals.
Will this approach work every time?
Of course not. But it will work often enough that, if you practice it, you will give your child a great head start in the journey of life.