The generations growing up today will inhabit a very different world from the one we’ve known. Less energy, climate change and economic crisis will shift expectations and possibilities greatly, delivering both challenges and new opportunities.
How can we nurture children so they can grow into adults who are able to survive, thrive and contribute to new ways of being with the Earth and each other?
I ask myself this question whenever I look into the hopeful eyes of the children whose lives I have the opportunity to touch.
For over twenty years part of my work has been with youth in difficult circumstances (children in Child Protective Services care, children who’ve experienced abuse, immigrant and refugee youth and others). Throughout these years, I’ve sought ways to offer them things they could hold on to and use as they charted their uncertain futures.
To love one child is to love all children
Increasingly, I wondered about the futures of all children. How would their futures be different from what any of them, or us, were being told by our society to expect?
I realized that the things I’d developed to offer youth in difficult circumstances were exactly the things all youth needed today to grow into and through the difficult times people and our planet are facing, to in their own way help shape a new and different future.
I want to share a brief summary of an approach I’ve developed, rooted in four qualities and strengths we adults can cultivate in children, and a wide variety of practices, activities and experiences that can nurture them. These things are interconnected and flow into and through each other.
These four qualities and strengths are:
- Knowing, valuing, trusting, being rooted in a sense of inner self.
- Understanding that you have gifts to bring to the world, something valuable and important to offer – even if you do not yet know what it is because you’re still growing and discovering your gifts.
Creativity and imagination
Valuing creativity and imagination and finding enjoyment in using them
- As a way of knowing and growing your inner self.
- As a way of meeting and seeking solutions to, or ways of being with, life’s challenges.
Connection with nature
- Feeling at home in nature.
- Finding delight in the beauty of the natural world.
- Knowing you’re part of the web of life.
Joy, gratitude, wonder
- The ability to find joy, gratitude and wonder for the many good things life offers.
- To find and experience joy, gratitude and wonder even in difficult circumstances.
- Allowing for these things in places where it may not be so obvious or easy to see.
There are a myriad of practices, activities and experiences that can nurture these qualities. Here I share three simple, yet powerful practices you can easily bring into your relations with youth.
Free play, daydreaming
Making time for unstructured play and pretend playing is especially important in today’s overscheduled society. Encourage children to follow their imagination using things that call out to them (toys, twigs and leaves, empty cartons and bottles, etc.). Adults can support children by asking questions and listening, taking care not to direct or impose. This nurtures the qualities of creativity and imagination and also strengthens the inner self.
Create the opportunity for children to spend unstructured time in nature, with no pre-determined plan, following what draws their attention, alone or accompanied by an adult who supports their wandering, following the child’s direction and pace. This typical childhood experience not so long ago is increasingly rare in urban and suburban environments, and very different from today’s typical approach to nature.
Adults can help children deepen this experience by asking about the things they are drawn to, that feel special to them. This builds a connection with nature and also develops the sense of inner self
Seeking life’s treasures
Guiding children in noticing the things they love in this world develops the capacity for joy, gratitude and wonder. Knowing what brings you joy helps define and develop who you are, strengthening the inner self. Remembering and being able to call on these things can help a child (and adult) through difficult times.
Adults can help youth deepen this practice by asking about the things children love, and by encouraging them to gather items that represent these things (or write and draw about these things), using treasure boxes or treasure journals.
As you offer these experiences to the children in your life, you are also offering them to yourself. You may find your relationship with your inner self deepened, your connection with the natural world expanded, your creativity, imagination and sense of joy, gratitude and wonder enlarged. You may find your hopes for the future sinking deeper roots and growing toward tomorrow’s sky.
–Dianne Monroe for Transition Voice