Saturday, November 21, 2009

Buddha Heart Parenting

The future depends on what we do in the present – Mahatma Gandhi

You must be the change you wish to see in the world – Mahatma Gandhi

What is Buddha Heart Parenting? Buddha Heart Parenting is Buddhist parenting ie it is a way of parenting that integrates Buddhist philosophy and contemporary psychology to arrive at a method of parenting that is both effective and allows family members to realise their true Buddha nature. What more could we ask for?

“Buddha Heart” or “Buddha Nature” is the potential of our mind to become the mind of a Buddha. We have always had this potential, and always will.

Until you reach the path,
You wander the world
With the precious Buddha
Completely wrapped up inside
As in a bundle of rags
…you have this precious Buddha. Unwrap it quickly!
From the Sutra of the Holy Buddha.

Buddha Heart parenting is not a new parenting style – it is a combination of tried and proven ways to bring joy to family life and to our role as parents, whilst deepening our study and practice of the Buddhist teachings. It is timeless and appropriate for all historic periods.

Core aspects of Buddha Heart parenting are compassion, loving kindness and cooperation. It is a form of parenting that is a step beyond democratic parenting. It builds on the communication skills within democratic parenting to create compassionate communication.

Within Buddha Heart parenting there are a number of strategies and techniques we can use to help our children to modify their behaviour and develop a code of ethics. These techniques give us options other than reward and punishment as a means to develop appropriate behaviour in our children. There are strategies that help our child learn cause-effect and responsible, compassionate action; to learn to effectively solve their own problems to the higher good of all concerned; to understand and express their feelings; to listen empathically to others and understand their feelings and needs; and there are strategies to support us to meet both our child’s needs and our own.

The most important thing that determines the success of these strategies and techniques is whether we are coming from our own Buddha Heart when we use them.

Instead of being the boss and in control of our children, our role is more as an enabler, as a facilitator of our children’s empowerment. Our aim is to support our children to develop self-discipline, not to reward or punish them in order to teach appropriate behaviour.

Buddhism and Parenting

Do not do anything harmful;
do only what is good;
purify and train your own mind:
this is the teaching of the Buddha;
this is the path to enlightenment
The Buddha

We don’t all have the opportunity to devote our lives to the study of Buddhist philosophy or to spend long periods in meditation retreat. And we don’t have to. We still need to devote some time to the study of Buddhist principles and concepts and as parents we have the unique opportunity to apply the Dharma in our life. Our deep love and concern for our children provide us with an incredible incentive to study and apply the Buddhist teachings to all our interactions with them. They allow us the precious opportunity to practice and live the Dharma.

Compassion and wisdom lie at the heart of Buddhist philosophy. All of us would like our parenting to be based on compassion and wisdom. This combination is as essential to parenting as it is to Buddhism.

When we parent using Buddhist principles and concepts we undergo an internal transformation. Buddhism is about the study of the mind, and when we put the fruits of this study into practice in our daily life with our children wonderful things happen. Not only do we experience an internal transformation and move closer to realising our true Buddha nature, our children also move closer to realising their true Buddha nature.

A family is a place where minds come in contact with one another. If these minds love one another the home will be as beautiful as a flower garden. But if these minds get out of harmony with one another it is like a storm that plays havoc with the garden. Buddha

Compassionate Communication

In all our interactions with our child a compassionate connection comes first. This connection is at the core of Buddha Heart Parenting and creates a mutually respectful, enriching dynamic that is filled with clear compassionate communication from one heart to another.

Compassionate communication is used to meet our child’s needs of recognition, inclusion, contribution, acceptance, consideration, and support. It is at the heart of problem solving and relationship building.

How we communicate is an important part of our Buddhist practice. Buddhism has precepts that provide a condensed form of Buddhist ethical practice, and communication features as the fourth of these precepts:

Aware of suffering caused by the inability to listen to others and unmindful speech, I vow to cultivate deep listening and loving speech in order to bring joy and happiness to others and relieve others of their suffering. Knowing that words can create happiness or bring suffering, I vow to learn to speak truthfully, with words that inspire self-confidence, joy and hope.

Compassionate communication helps us to see our child’s behaviour in a different light. Once we do that it is much easier to act with compassion and wisdom rather than reacting to their behaviour. Behaviour comes from feelings, and emotions come from needs – either met or unmet – and if we can understand our own or our child’s needs, we will understand the emotion and see their behaviour differently. The skills of compassionate communication guide us through this process of understanding and allow us to compassionately meet our child’s needs, which will mean the emotion will disappear and the inappropriate behaviour will cease.

When we engage in compassionate communication our children, whatever their age, will feel loved and valued. When they feel loved and valued they are:

* Happier
* Able to think for themselves
* Able to make decisions
* More optimistic
* More confident to try new things
* More responsible
* Compassionate – care about and help others
* Able to understand the Dharma.

So what are the specific skills of compassionate communication and how can we develop these skills? To answer the second question first, we can develop these skills through understanding and practice. The skills of compassionate communication fall into three categories: those that focus on our child, skills that focus on ourselves, and skills that combine both.

Skills that focus on the child are feedback (developing the skill of self-encouragement); empathic listening, and problem solving (when the child has the problem). Skills that focus on us are slef-expression, and solution finding (when we have a problem). Skills that incorporate both are participatory decision-making, family meetings and joint solution finding.

Whatever words we utter should be chosen with care for people will hear them and be influenced by them for good or ill. Buddha


The thought manifests as the word:
The word manifests as the deed;
The deed develops into habit;
And habit hardens into character;
So watch the thought and its ways with care,
And let it spring from love
Born out of concern for all beings…

As the shadow follows the body,
As we think, so we become.

We can support self-realisation for our children and for ourselves. There are skills and strategies that create self-empowered, resilient children and capable decision makers.

One of our aims in parenting is to support our children to be self-empowered. There is a lot of talk these days about empowerment. Many people believe we can empower others, but that is not true. Empowerment is something that comes from inside the individual. It is a drive. As outsiders we can provide an environment that may trigger or support this drive, but we cannot actually empower someone else.

How we can support our children to be empowered is by providing them with the opportunity and then the skills and tools to do it. To be empowered children need skills in compassionate communication, solution finding, and decision making, and they need life skills in general. They also need strong self-esteem and an understanding that they are in charge of their life and that their actions result in effects. They need an understanding of Buddhist philosophy, which they can gain even if they have never read the Dharma.

As parents we want our children to be resilient to the hardship and events in life that can cause pain and suffering. Resilience also safeguards our children against becoming involved in activities that may cause them harm such as drug taking, reckless behaviour and crime. The combination of Buddha Heart Parenting and Buddhist principles build resilience and strength in our child.

Buddha Heart Parenting provides us with specific skills, strategies and techniques to build resilience in our children.

With sustained effort and sincerity
Discipline and self-control
The wise become like islands
Which no flood can overwhelm.

Connected Relationships

The joys and rewards of parenting are to be found in creating a deep connection with our child. The underlying ethos of Buddha Heart Parenting provides the fabric for this deep connection. The skills and strategies provide the weave.

As our child learns and uses the skills and strategies themselves, the connection will deepen.

It is not how much we do, but how much love we put in the doing. It is not how much we give, but how much love we put in the giving.
Mother Teresa

A rich relationship is one where there is a deep connection based on loving-kindness. It is all about where we focus. Do we focus on ourselves, or do we focus on our child? When we focus on our child, and that is, when we truly focus on our child, we make a deep connection. And when we make a deep connection we make rich relationships.

If we feel we have lost the connection we had with our children when they were younger, it is easy to reconnect – Buddha Heart Parenting shows the way. This book is based on Buddhist wisdom and compassion and seeks to support parents to build connected relationships with their children.

If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.
Mother Teresa