A child’s life, essentially, doesn’t belong to him. He comes into this world with a push and then must rely on his caretakers to provide him with his basic needs. And, as he grows up, everything is predetermined for him; adults decide what time he goes to bed, with whom he plays, what he eats, when he sleeps and very little is left for him to take control of, except what he chooses to comply with or resist. For a child, living in uncertainty, at times, is a given, despite how much parents attempt to create safety. There is always a new experience, new person, new thing, and new way that must be faced by kids, every day.
Children don’t know how to process the fear that underlies their uncertainty. They either go with the flow or they freak out. They have behavior about the fear and uncertainty and look outwardly to others, to make sense of what is confusing.
Very few adults are comfortable with uncertainty. It is the grey space that causes us to scramble and squirm around in our caged mind, testing our ability to manage our anxiety and impulses that try to control what is going on externally; and most of what is going on externally is out of our control.
Uncertainty pushes us to look for security and predictability. It demands of us, or so we think, the need to create a sense of safety and comfort. For, without that sense of safety and comfort, how do we cope and move forward? How do we make our world, one which gives way to the pushing and pulling of everything and everyone outside of us, a predictable place?
The truth is that we can never avoid uncertainty. The “not knowing” can immobilize us or it can foster a spiritual retreat to a place of stillness and reflection, that allows us to view the muck and uncover deeper meanings.
How your child copes with uncertainty, that space in-between, is largely determined by how you, as a parent, cope with uncertainty.
In my opinion, one of the most powerful life skills that you can teach your child is to learn to tolerate uncertainty and learn to accept the unknown, without fear. That’s the challenge; being fearless in the face of the unknown.
Most adults aren’t in the practice of being in uncertainty, let alone knowledgeable about how they can teach their children to approach problem solving in a different way other than the automatic fight or flight response. Coping doesn’t always mean that we take standard actions to solve our problems. It can, however, involve making a choice to be still and wait, with an open mind to what is to come while examining the possibilities and outcomes.
In Buddhism, there is a practice called “detachment.” This simple practice has a profound impact. Practicing detachment means that, as you are connected to a person, place, thing or experience, you do not attach yourself to a specific outcome. Rather, you stand in the center of the experience; being fully present in the ‘now’, and accept the experience for exactly what it is; devoid of your added colors, details and embellishments.
The key to being in this space of detachment is learning to tolerate the grey and welcoming in the uncertainty. The ability to do this successfully, is deeply rooted in the degree of trust that you have in yourself to handle whatever comes next; you hold the belief that what comes next, is meant to be and it is for the highest good of all involved. You hold faith in the higher workings of Spirit.
Through modeling and active discussion, you can teach your child how to practice developing comfort in uncertainty. They don’t need to know the adult terms or hear a description of the concept of uncertainty. What they need to know is how to stand up to and be in the presence of the unknown. Here are some ways that you can help your child find comfort in uncertainty.
1. Model contemplation, rather than reaction, in the face of uncertainty. We are beings who react to life, even if we choose to do or say nothing, we have still responded to the circumstance. Modeling contemplation can include thinking out loud about what is going on around us. Literally saying to yourself, “Ok, x has happened. I notice, a, b, and c, about it and that makes me feel confused, uncertain, annoyed, nervous, etc. I’m not sure what I want to do right now or even if I will know what to do later, but I allow myself to be aware without judgement. I feel an urgency to decrease my anxiety but I can’t seem to do that just yet. The answer will come to me.” (Then you breathe into your awareness and exhale the pressure you feel.) If your children hear this kind of calm talk and see that you are not panicking, they will learn that they have more choices about how they can respond to life’s uncertain moments by choosing to pause rather than pursue an immediate fix.
2. Ask uncertainty for an explanation. Too often, in the face of the unknown, we try to figure out how to make it black and white, enabling us to take concrete action. The challenging part of addressing uncertainty is that it is meant to be mucky and blurry and our job is to clear away the sticks and mud, so that we can uncover the purpose. If we understand that uncertainty has an intention and that it serves a purpose, then we can feel more powerful in the face of it. Think about when you get sick and you have to take time off of work. There is never a convenient time to get sick and miss work, but your body is forcing you to stop and take care of yourself. Uncertainty serves the same purpose; it is a time for you to stop, redirect your attention to what is going on, and then, when your head clears, you can form an action plan.
Learning to find comfort in uncertainty can feel daunting. No one likes to feel that they can’t control what seems out of control. But, if you acknowledge both uncertainty’s purpose and deliberate existence, you will more likely be able to move through the muck, clean off your life lens and move forward with clarity. And, if you are mindful enough to teach your children how to face the unknown in a way that serves them, you have given your child a life skill that will take them to infinity and beyond.
In love and light,