When Dr. Amy Saltzman counsels parents and children about how to change self-destructive behavior, she suggests they learn to come to a “still, quiet place” before they react to challenging circumstances and conflicts.
There, she says, they can observe their thoughts, feelings and physical sensations before they make a conscious choice, instead of simply reacting quickly in the same old way.
“When mindfulness becomes a family language and everyone has these skills generally the level of conflict and stress goes down, and the level of joy goes up.”
Saltzman, a holistic physician in Menlo Park, Calif., will give a free talk on “Mindfulness for Parents and Children” in Charlotte at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Trinity Episcopal School, 950 E. Ninth St. Her talk is sponsored by the Teaching Fellows Institute.
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“Parenting is challenging, and at least some of the challenge comes from how we as parents view circumstances, view our children, view our options. A lot of the stress comes from us reacting,” Saltzman said.
She often refers clients to a poem by Portia Nelson called “Autobiography in Five Chapters.” Here is Saltzman’s paraphrase of the steps:
“I walk down a street. There’s a deep hole in the sidewalk. I fall in. It’s not my fault. It takes forever to find a way out.
“I walk down the same street. I know there’s a hole, and I still fall in. It isn’t my fault.
“I walk down the street. I know there’s a hole. I still fall in. It’s a habit. I know where I am. I get out quickly.
“I walk down the same street. I go around the hole.
“I walk down a different street.”
Every family has its holes, Saltzman said.
For example, she described a California family that has come to her for counseling because “the youngest son is always needling the middle son, who reliably takes the bait. Saltzman has talked to the middle brother about choosing not to let his brother “get a rise out of him.” She’ll also be talking with the younger brother about his intentions, asking what kind of family life he wants and letting him know there is a “cost to his heart and to his older brother’s heart” if he continues the teasing.
“Kids are kids, and brothers and sisters are going to irritate each other sometimes,” Saltzman said. “But if you can shift the patterns gradually, it’s really powerful. If anybody in the family changes their pattern, then everybody else has to change, too.”
It comes down to mindfulness, or thinking before acting.
Extending the hole-in-the-street metaphor, Saltzman advised: “You know the hole is there. If you can’t find another street, just stop walking into the hole. Just sit down on the curb. Just sit down.”