Children are beings of light. They are embodiments of what is called in Vedanta, jñāna-śaktiḥ, the power of knowledge. They are easily nourished by purity, knowledge, truth, intelligence, and mind. This quality, in Sanskrit, is called sattva and it reflects consciousness and hence endows the person with the capacity for clear knowledge and with the capacity for experiential happiness. However, this quality can be easily overpowered or weakened when their environment and relationships do not nourish it.
Contrasted with Sattva is the quality of Rajas and Tamas. A rājasika person is restless, full of longing (tṛṣṇā) and strong attachment (āsaṅgaḥ), and is dependent on action and its results. The person craves for more pleasure, enjoyment, achievements, etc. that may come even at the cost of one’s health or peace. This leads to deeply entrenched bondage. In children, this quality makes them fixated on objects and tastes and they throw tantrums and sulk when they don’t get what they want. It makes them hyperactive and drops their attention spans. In just the right amount, Rajas can goad us into action. It can energize children to start projects, persevere and work hard.
Tamas is the quality signifying inertia, lethargy, delusion, habitual scepticism, day-dreaming, cessation. Dominance of tamas in a person’s mind brings delusion, born of ignorance. Tamas psychologically binds a person by covering the intellect, the capacity to discern true from false, right from wrong – even in ordinary, everyday situations. The resulting delusion brings pramādaḥ, negligence or indolence, ālasya, slothfulness or laziness, and nidrā, sleep (both literal and spiritual). When tamas dominates in the mind, it wastes life.
These tendencies are built over time by conditioning and can be also changed over time by re-conditioning. What we need for our children ( and ourselves) is a predominantly sattvic life backed with the right amounts of Rajas and a little tamas which is needed for the body to rest and recover.
Here are five things to infuse Sattva into childrens mind:
1. Follow a stable daily routine and balanced diet: Plan a simple to manage, realistic routine with dedicated time for prayers, meals, creativity, reading and study, play, entertainment and rest. Children grow best when they stick with a healthy routine and they love parents that don’t disturb a good routine. Avoid getting children used to salty, sour and sweet food items or at least limit their intake. Home cooked and mildly-spiced food is best for them.
2. Teach them philosophy. Unfortunately many schools have chosen psychology or moral education over philosophy. Philosophy is the art and science of thinking. It’s a life skill. If they understand how to think, they will adopt values that don’t contradict with each other and they own them fully. Most adults suffer with cognitive dissonance- the conflict between what the head says and what the heart says. A person who battles himself everyday can never be at peace. Philosophy teaches reasoning, logic, ethics and gives them a chance to choose their worldview. In the long run, it helps them evaluate choices and take better decisions in life.
3. Encourage reading books: Reading to young children helps develop their reading skills and serves to forge closer relationships between parents and children. Children of all ages should be encouraged to read.
4. Provide Educational entertainment: Low-volume, educational computer games, puzzles, construction sets, and card games allow children to learn while playing in quiet, creative settings. Another great option is taking them to quiet movies. Family oriented films that focus on warm interpersonal relationships are a nice way to spend time with your children. Visits to libraries and museums also stimulate curiosity and learning. Quiet outings spent together with family and friends can be a fun way to enjoy the family.
5. Learn a Musical instrument: There is tons of research available on the benefits of having them to learn music. A study from Northwestern University revealed that in order to fully obtain the cognitive benefits of a music class, kids can’t just sit there and listen to music; they have to be actively engaged in the music and participate in the class. Benefits are many: improved memory, learning perseverance and sense of achievement, improved coordination, better math skills, better reading comprehension, exposure to culture and history, nurturing of self-expression and improved social skills. Find a good music teacher who engages not more than two kids at a time and enrol your child to lead music.
Here are five things to keep your children away from, to keep them from drowning in tamas.
1. High Sound levels: Noise is overwhelms the child’s hearing and other senses. Noise poses a serious threat to our children’s hearing, health, learning, and behavior. Recent research suggests that quiet promotes a learning environment and gives opportunities for parents and children to enjoy each other’s company. Parents must analyze their own home and recreational activities and make every effort to include quiet times with their children, reading, talking around the dinner table, and listening to their children. Health experts agree that continuous exposure to noise over 85 decibels (about the loudness level of city traffic), over time, will eventually harm hearing. Keep children away from noisy toys. Certain rattles, squeaky toys, toy telephones, and musical toys measure over 110 decibels (comparable to power tools).Noise levels at video arcades can exceed 110 decibels (the level of factory machinery). Here is a simple rule of thumb: If you have to shout to be heard three feet away, then the noise is too loud and is damaging your hearing. Turn down the volume or wear hearing protection.
2. Computer/ TV Screen time: Research on how screens influence children minds suggest that the young don’t learn from watching screens. WHO similarly recommends no screens for kids under 2 and less than an hour a day for kids 2 to 5. From my experience, this makes sense. I would extrapolate this to higher age groups as well, though. For children between 5-and 10 years, I suggest we stick to less than 2 hours per day and restrict viewing to specially designed content for learning. When children spend too much time with late TV Screens or interactive mobile screens, their attention span drops and they become easily irritable and cranky. If you want children to not become hyperactive or over sensitive, limit screen time.
3. Air Pollution: Keep children away from passive smoke. It affects their breathing and heart rate as well as their causes irritation to the eyes. This impacts their learning abilities. Over 90% of world’s children breathe toxic air. Air pollution also impacts neurodevelopment and cognitive ability and can trigger asthma, and childhood cancer. Children who have been exposed to high levels of air pollution may be at greater risk for chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease later in life.
I have tried here to combines insights from vedanta and tried to apply it to parenting. All these suggestions I apply in my role as a parenting and have found them to work. I hope it works for your children too. Let there be light.