Being invited to teach Tibetan refugee children at Yongling Creche and Kindergarten in Dharamsala was, for me, an answered prayer. Up until that time, I was navigating an inner-city clinic system as a family and child therapist — I longed to see children in a spiritually-based community. Tibetan parenting methods, I felt, made intuitive and analytical sense. So many of these seemed to offer golden nuggets of wisdom that can be extrapolated to complement other parenting styles. Here are a few:
Start with spirit. Tibetan parents immediately plant the seeds of spiritual health in their children. I was fortunate enough to witness a newfound friend, Cherub, introduce her four-day-old son Dorjee to their home shrine. Often, young children learn to prostrate themselves, hold their hands in prayer, and make offerings of candles, butter lamps, and incense, even before language occurs.
Practice harmony. Children are encouraged to be harmonious first and foremost. For example, my friend Tashi’s eldest son, Gawa, was asked to give his sister, Chimey, the toy because he is older. Tibetan parents praise the act of giving and creating peace among siblings. Other nationalities of parents often focus upon who’s “right” and “wrong” in taking the toy, creating a sense of “justice” versus “harmony.”
Tibetan children also learn about the continuity and preciousness of all life. Parents teach children to honor each insect, as it may have been their mother in a previous life. It was a common occurrence to see a three-year-old Tibetan child in the classroom “needing to leave” to bring a bug to safety outside and away from stomping feet.
Make everything meaningful. Mindfully parenting and honoring each step of a child’s development is the Tibetan way. It is thought that the more you celebrate milestones (e.g., first step, smile, mantra recitation, first soccer game), the more a child is connected to his “beginner’s mind” or mind of purity. It is thought that joyful impressions upon a child’s mind calms his or her mental state, thus creating a safe, peaceful, psychic space.
Tradition also encourages parents to bring their child to a spiritual master for a blessing on his or her first birthday. One day Dolma missed class because of her sister’s first-birthday blessing — it was understood by the teacher that first things come first.
A single candle. Becoming part of a Tibetan community and peering into their world of parenting has lit my career candle again. And as the Buddha stated, “Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle, and the life of the candle cannot be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.” My hope is that you, too, find something here or there that lights your candle.