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Preparing children for life’s big decisions

It was the second day of school and Holly couldn’t decide between flip-flops or sneakers.

“Which ones should I wear?” She asked, holding them up for me to see.

“That’s up to you honey,” I replied, as I cleaned up the kitchen after breakfast.

“But I can’t decide,” she moaned, staring at her naked feet.

This was hardly a major life decision, but when you’re 11 and it’s your second day of middle school, shoes matter.

“What does your gut say?” I asked.

“My gut is broken,” she quipped. “What does your gut say?”  she asked.

“Ah, but my gut won’t do you any good,” I replied, remembering that she’d commented a week earlier about how impractical flip-flops would be, since her class schedule requires her to hike from one end of her large school to another and back again, and up and down busy stairwells. “I’m not the one who has to live with the decision. You know better what will feel right to you than I do.”

A few minutes later I noticed that she was wearing the sneakers.

“Aha! Looks like you’ve made your decision.”

“Just because they’re on my feet doesn’t mean I made a decision,” she retorted. True that. Sometimes we just try things on to see how they feel.

Someday Holly’s choices will be bigger than choosing between flip-flops and sneakers – and bear bigger consequences. I imagine it’ll be harder, then, to resist swooping in and managing things for her. After all, no parent relishes the possibility that her child be may be heading into a painful situation or relationship, right?

I have a hunch, though, that unless our children are allowed opportunities for trial and error while they’re young, they may miss valuable lessons disconcerting situations sometimes offer. So, unless we believe our kids are in real danger, I think we should keep our fear and discomfort in check and resist the urge to interfere, lest we unwittingly squash their budding intuition.

By no means am I suggesting we shouldn’t offer guidance, share our own experiences, or help them to think through the possibilities, but in the end, I think we should allow them to learn from situations. A few months ago I discussed children’s intuition with my friends, including Victor van Slee, co-founder of the youth group Blue Papaya at Crystal Life in Geneva. He encourages parents to “Let them [kids] learn how to love themselves.”

“Empower your kids,” he suggests. “Let them make choices.”

I think he’s right. We can notice opportunities to let our children have a say, even over something as apparently trivial as deciding what to wear on their feet.

Even young children know what they like, what feels good. Think back to the last time you did this. Remember the look of pride on your child’s face? This is how developing the skill of listening to your gut is allowed to blossom. It’s that simple.

We can continue to reinforce our children’s budding intuitions by celebrating moments when they use it, like when they notice that the dog needs a hug or a friend needs cheering, for example.

“How did you know she needed that?” we might ask. And when negative things do happen, we can help our kids to process them, calmly and without judgment. We can ask, “What about that situation felt ‘off?’” or “What did your gut tell you?”  I try not to worry about how I’ll handle these moments when they show up. I relax and let my own intuition guide me.

I’m finding that the more I trust this, the more the right words are there when I need them.

When Holly arrived home – wearing sneakers – she decided to get off the bus one stop early, with her friend. It seems a few older boys she didn’t know were acting up. She wasn’t exactly sure what they were up to but the situation felt “off” to her and she was certain that at that moment she didn’t want to be left alone with them as the only girl on the bus.

She said her friend then walked her to the corner, from where Holly could see our house and her friend could still see hers. I still had concerns, which we discussed, but I was super proud of her. “See, that’s called using your gut! I guess it works, after all,” I joked.

“My gut got fixed today,” she decided, as she turned and headed back out the door and into the world.

What to do if your child perceives things that others do not

What if your child’s experience extends beyond mere intuition? What if he perceives things that others don’t?

“When they tell their stories, listen,” urges Victor van Slee, co-founder of the youth group Blue Papaya at Crystal Life in Geneva. Then, ask “How does that make you feel?” adds Tammy Johnson, Children’s Meditation Facilitator and co-founder of Blue Papaya. But what if you find this sort of sharing disconcerting? Whatever you do, “Don’t shut it down,” says van Slee. “Practice acceptance. Just because you don’t understand it doesn’t mean it’s not true.”  But most important, he says, is to, “Let them know you love them – no matter what.”

While there are no hard numbers on the percentage of children with “extended perceptions,”

Organizations like the ChildSpirit Institute, headed by university professor and psychologist Tobin Hart, Ph.D., are helping to increase awareness. People are beginning to accept that, “All kids are born open,” says Johnson, but many children are still told that their experiences are just figments of their imaginations, which inhibits their intuitive side. The opposite approach, pressuring children to prematurely volunteer details about what they’re experiencing, a challenge van Slee says he encountered as a child with extended perceptions, can also inhibit them. “Allow it to unfold naturally,” he suggests.

Getting involved with other kids who have similar experiences can help children with extended perceptions to feel less isolated, but, cautions Johnson, children should choose their friends wisely. This is great advice for any child, but how? Encourage your children to “use their intuition,” she suggests. Ah, but of course. And for that to happen, dear moms and dads, we need to get out of their way and let them. • Recommended reading: “The Secret Spiritual World of Children” by Tobin Hart, Ph.D.; and “The Care and Feeding of Indigo Children” by Doreen Virtue.

• Jennifer DuBose lives in Batavia with her husband, Todd, and their two children, Noah and Holly. Contact her at jenniferdubose@msn.com.

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