“You don’t spell it, Piglet, you FEEL it!”
Kids learn by example. If we act with kindness and patience, tolerance and forgiveness, generosity and acceptance, so will they. End of story.
But today I’m thinking more about “education” in terms of Buddhist view, basic dharma, how the world works. When and how are these things best broached with our children?
I’ll be honest - I follow Buddha et alum because his message makes sense. (I still have lots of questions, but I’ve long since come to trust that the answers are there.) I think that’s the main reason I don't advocate pushing Buddhadharma on kids. I really want it to make sense, for them to welcome it as a refuge from their troubles.
[The joke is that it seems to invite more troubles than you knew you had, but we’ll just put a little flag on that thought and keep moving forward!]
Buddhadharma is renowned for its myriad techiniques and perspectives, displaying an almost infinite adaptability to whatever one’s trip du jour might be. This suggests that the only thing preventing a person from grasping (at least some aspect of) the dharma is simply a matter of discovering the meeting place between that person’s view and reality. Kids don’t have the same sorts of problems that adults do... but the problems the do have, they really do have. Just ask them.
After nine years of parenting, if I were going to throw out a ballpark range of when the idea of dukkha, suffering/dissatisfaction, begins to make sense (and you’re free to disagree) it would be somewhere in the 6-8 year range. I say that because that is right around when cause-and-effect and interdependance begin to surface.
[For fun, I just now asked my nine-year-old what “cause and effect” means to her: “Something happens, and then something happens because of that thing.” Example? “Her skirt tore, so she got a new one. She wouldn’t have gotten a new one if she still had the old one, right?” What about interdependence? “One thing depending on something else.” Well, that’s dependence. “Okay, so like a chicken and an egg. You can’t have one without the other. Or gravity - the Earth pulls on you and you pull on it.” ...not bad]
With cause-and-effect and interdependence in play, we can begin to trace the cause of suffering. This, to me, is the beginning of Dharma. Understand, I’ve been putting these kids to sleep with Tibetan-prayers-cum-lullaby since they were breathing air. I think exposure to tradition cannot start too early. Here I’m strictly talking “view” since that’s the critical point in raising a child to make some use of this life, versus just being trained to act Buddhist.
With cause-and-effect and interdependence in play, we can begin to take charge of our own happiness, and justify when things go right or wrong. We can begin to watch our karma (action) to see if they are bringing us the results we want in life. We can b*e*g*i*n to taste the dissatisfaction in our efforts and see the sprouts of bigger questions.
How does the project of helping your kids realize the inherent futility of worldly gain/pleasure/fame/praise coexist and compete with the project of developing a healthy sense of self -purpose and -value?