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Have a Better Relationship with Your Kid (or Anyone Else) With Just One Breath

I was recently with a friend, and I confided in her about a strategy that has totally transformed my relationship with my kids. She suggested that I should include it on my list of “magic tips.” When I created the magic tips, this was at the top of my list because it is TRULY magical (and extremely easy) but I wasn’t ready to share it openly. I have since discussed it with my kids and I am ready to go public and I wanted to share it with you first!

So, what is this EASY and incredibly effective MAGIC tip? It is a mental intention that I combine with my breath. It is inspired by the Tibetan Buddhist practice Tonglen which means “giving and taking.” When I breath in I imagine that I am breathing in the negative feelings from another person (and sometimes myself) anger, sadness, anxiety, resistance. When I breath out I imagine that I am breathing out love, acceptance, compassion, tolerance, surrender to what is.

I started using this practice in a time of desperation when the pandemic was in full swing. My kiddo was having a hard time and was unable to communicate her feelings to me. She started locking herself in her room and wouldn’t let us in – literally and figuratively. She did not allow me any physical contact – not even a good night hug.

I got the idea from both a book (where I get a lot of my ideas) and from a friend (where I get the other half of my good ideas.) She had been using it with her young kids with amazing results. Her wife would wonder what was happening and why the kids would respond so well to her!

So, I started to breath in my daughter’s sadness, her pain, her unwillingness to hug us, her silence, her sometimes harsh words or sassy attitude. And then I would breathe out love. As I continued with the practice it became more nuanced. I would find that I was sometimes attached to the outcome of my breathing – wanting her to be different in that moment. So, I would breathe in my own desire for her to be different and breath out love – to both her and myself.

Magic started to happen. I mean serious magic! She started to let us hug her. She started to let us in, both into her room and into her world. We began to laugh, joke, have fun with each other! One day the craziest thing happened. She was walking by, and I reached out to giver her shoulders a quick squeeze and she squirmed away. I instinctively did a breath of Tonglen and then she stopped. “What did you want mom?” she asked. “I was going to give you a hug.” I replied. “oh” she said, and she came back and gave me a hug.

What the what? What just happened? Something seriously magical it seemed.

I do this practice without anyone knowing. It is quick – just a few breaths are what I do. In addition to kids, try it with partners, friends, coworkers. You can even do it on yourself. On your own anxiety, disappointment, frustration.

Why does this work? I don’t really know of course but I have my guesses. I think that my energy changes. I move away from wanting things to be different than they are to just accepting what is. I think that is why it has worked well with my kiddo. I am in more of a space of pure acceptance and love. Don’t we all just want to be loved and accepted for exactly who we are? Can’t we feel it when we aren’t?

How I practice Tonglen.

1. During my inbreath I imagine that I am “breathing in” any unwanted behavior or emotion (either in someone else or myself.)

2. During my outbreath I imagine that I am “breathing out” love and acceptance toward them (or myself.)

3. I don’t talk about what I’m doing, and I usually only do it for a few breaths.

That’s it! Try it next time you are exasperated and see what happens!

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