Help a Child Set an Intention
By Mira Binzen
With the New Year come new resolutions. But resolutions don’t stick. There are, however, simple strategies that do work when it comes to helping a child set an intention for a specific activity and in life.
There is a beautiful word for intention in the Sanskrit language. It is called a sankalpa . A sankalpa is deeper than a resolution. It is an idea formed in the heart. It is the rule that rules all. When we understand how this sankalpa works, we can align with our purpose and reach our stated goals.
To help explain to children what an intention is, I tell them it is like a purpose–why do you want to do what you are doing? It is also like a map. It shows us how to get where we are going. It can be like a guide rope on a mountain trail. When we get sidetracked or lose our way, our intention brings us back to our intended purpose. The easiest way to determine if your intention is a simple wish, more along the lines of a New Year’s resolution, or a “rule that rules all” is to ask your body. State your intention and notice how it feels. Is it full of energy, or does it feel heavy, like a “should”? Where do you feel it in your body? Our body is always guiding us. A momentary pause to check in with it is always a wise course of action.
Kids can understand and use an intention in many different ways. I often ask children to set an intention for their yoga practice in class. I ask them why they have come to class that day. Of all the places they could be and all the things they could be doing, what brings them here? Younger kids will say, “My mom made me come!”
“True enough,” I respond, “but now that you are here, what would you like to get out of your experience? It is YOUR experience. You will get out of it what you put into it.”
I give examples. Maybe a child wants to just have fun with her friends. Or, maybe another child wants to relax, build strength, or work on a challenging pose he or she enjoys. When the intention is set, it is easy to get them back on task. I can ask the child, or an older child can ask herself, “Is what I am doing bringing me closer to or further from my intention?”
It is kind of like a sailor using the stars for navigation. Before all the modern technology, sailors would look up into the distant sky and then plot their course on a map to reach their destination. They would seek guidance and then take action. Children can be taught to seek guidance–from above or within–and then take action.
Intentions can be useful to start the day. Children are often rushed in their morning routine, and pressure to get out the door can lead to disharmony in the family. When there is a stated intention, morning routines often go more smoothly. For example, one family has an intention stated on a piece of paper stuck to the refrigerator: “I am an active participant in our family’s harmony.” This is a powerful statement because it puts both parents and children in the driver’s seat of his or her own experience. When the morning routine starts to go off the rails, this intention is restated, and everyone gets a chance to refocus. A family with younger children has this stated intention taken from Swami Sivananda’s teaching: “Be good, do good.”
Intentions can also be used activity by activity. What is your intention when you step up to bat? Is it to hit a grand slam or a grounder to get your teammate home safely? What is your intention when you sit down to the dinner table? Is it to complain or compassionately listen? Children need help with transitioning from one activity to the next. Taking a moment to help them set an intention for the next activity is an effective way to prepare them mentally and reduce the chance of a meltdown.
Birthdays are another opportunity to set an intention for the year. This is a helpful practice for children of all ages as well as adults. How do you want this year to be? Imagine it is your next birthday and you are looking back on the year. How was it? Use this to set the intention. Like a New Year’s resolution, it may quickly fade unless a child gets to work with it and revise it as needed. Some kids like to make a collage of the year ahead. Some like to write stories or compose a song. It’s all about taking ownership and shifting from an external locus of control, or victim mentality, to an internal locus of control where we are the captains of our own ships.
Intentions are an exquisite yoga practice as they simply bring awareness to what we are doing. It gives us a chance to pause, reflect, and be an active participant in our own experience. It’s easy to spend our lives in reactionary mode–dealing with crises as they arise. But with an intention, an idea formed in the heart, we can set our course for smooth sailing.