I was with my son the other day and we were talking about friends. He was going on a school trip and they got to write down five friends who they’d like to bunk with. So I started naming names, friends who I thought he would write on his list. I came to one name, who as far as I knew, was a great friend. My son said, “Oh no! Not him. He’s mean.” “Really?” I said. “Yes. I threw a pylon and accidentally hit him and he called me a retard.” “Oh,” I said.
As the conversation went on, I learned that one of his best friends for seven years made a mistake in the heat of the moment. And my son made a mistake too. My son threw something and accidentally hit a friend. I’m guessing he was embarrassed and didn’t say, “Oh my god, I’m so sorry” right away. Then his friend reacted to being hit and said the first thing that came into his mind. Then my son probably felt so bad that he didn’t say he was sorry. Yikes. It is so hard to take a breath and think before we speak!
I tried to tell my son that if he was able to be mindful in that moment, and it’s easy for me to say since I wasn’t there, but if he realized what he had done and went over to his friend, even after he called him a name, and said, “Oh man, I don’t know what happened there but I’m sorry I hit you with that pylon.” Who knows what his friend would have said but I would hope that my son would be feeling better about the way he handled it instead of feeling crappy about the way he handled it.
If his friend had been mindful about the situation, after he got hit, he could have taken a breath, realized it was a good friend who did it, so it was probably an accident, and he could respond in a way that wasn’t so harsh. Maybe say something like, “Hey, what the heck happened there?” or “Dude! Take it easy!” I don’t know what boys say to each other in situations like this but this is what I imagine. Then maybe my son wouldn’t be feeling the way he is. Maybe his friend doesn’t even remember what happened but I find a lot of this stuff sticks in kids’ minds. Not just my son’s. Then it builds and comes out in unexpected times and ways.
I really want to walk my son through this experience because I know this will happen again with someone else. But this is a good friend and I don’t want their friendship to be over just because they’re still learning what to do in situations like this. Maybe it will just blow over, he’ll cool down but I still think it’s an important tool to have.
My son is sensitive, just like me. We feel things very deeply and sometimes that’s good and sometimes it’s really hard. I hope I can teach him to take a breath, evaluate the situation, remember he is loved, remember that his friends are not out to get him (although at 11 it probably feels like that, with all the hormones flying around) and try to respond in a way that is not mean, harsh, or violent.
Mindfulness is great for exactly this situation. It helps us take a breath so we can respond instead of react. When I think about how many situations and bad feelings I could have avoided had I been able to do this when I was young, well I might have saved myself a lot of pain. I know my son is going to feel pain. But there will be plenty of that. Let’s try to avoid the unnecessary pain!
Being mindful in situations like this definitely takes practice…practice being in the moment and being mindful. It can start with as little as 5 minutes a day. A great way to start is just try to focus on one of your senses. You can sit and listen to the sounds around you. Or pay attention to the way your body changes when air goes into and out of your lungs. Feel how your feet feel on the ground. Smell the smells that are around you.
There are little changes I have made in my day to incorporate mindfulness and I try to share them with my son. We literally stop and smell the roses! When we start to have an awareness to bring our attention to the moment, even in situations like waiting in line, we will begin to see the world and our fellow humans in a different, kinder and more compassionate way.