Self Esteem Begins with Self Control – Raising Children with Virtues and Values

MPA students smiling

By Jagat Guru Singh Khalsa and Saraswati Kaur Khalsa of  Miri Piri Academy.

As shared in the KRI May 2018 Newsletter.

Raising conscious children is a commitment that we, as Kundalini Yoga teachers, students, and parents, embrace wholeheartedly. In the previous newsletter we introduced the ten things that Yogi Bhajan said every parent should give their children. It begins with love and continues with the second gift of self-esteem. Self-esteem begins with self-control.

Self-esteem is generally defined as the extent to which we approve of and respect ourselves. It can be interpreted as a trite, individualistic Western concept with little basis in reality, exemplified by ubiquitous inspirational quotes like ‘Believe in yourself and anything is possible.’ However, Yogi Bhajan was clear that true self-esteem stems from mastery of the self. Regardless of our circumstances or physical abilities, when we have gained the ability to control our mental and emotional reactions, we earn true self-approval and self-respect.

Once you have self-control, self-esteem and self-excellence will come. They never remain separate. Waste no time on other things. Self-control is all that there is. Once there is a self-control, then self-confidence, self-esteem, self-excellence, self-knowledge, all becomes yours.
Yogi Bhajan (Dancing with Your Soul, August 26, 1994, Monterey, CA)

How can we teach our children self-control? Self-control is a matter of practice. We do not gain self-control through willpower alone. Willpower is a weak and limited resource that is compromised any time we are tired, hungry, or cold. Self-control is a training of the mind and the nervous system, a habit developed through repetitive practice, so that our immediate emotional reaction to a situation is recognized and transformed into something that can serve the situation. This habit comes more easily to some children than others, but the practice remains the same in principle.

Teach Your Children to Observe the Monkey-Mind

The beginning of self-control is the recognition that our thoughts and feelings are temporary and changeable. Yogi Bhajan reminded us often that in the blink of an eye the unconscious mind produces thousands of thoughts. We respond to stimuli in our environment and the firing of multiple neural connections in an unbroken “stream of consciousness” reaction to our inner and outer environments. This is the monkey-mind.

Self-control stems from the ability to observe the play. As he put it,

“You are not body. You are not mind. You are not spirit. You are the combining force of these three. You are the commandant in charge of the trinity. You are not the trinity.” – Yogi Bhajan. (Winter Solstice Meditation, December 20, 1999, Altamonte Springs, FL)

Before a child can develop self-control, they have to first understand fundamentally that they can observe their thoughts and emotions from the outside, and that they can choose to give energy to those thoughts or not. There are many ways to help your children understand this reality, but it comes down to repetitive practice. At Miri Piri Academy our program was developed directly by Yogi Bhajan, and he set the amount of time the students should meditate and do yoga each day as part of the program. Even if meditation every day is not possible, teaching children meditation well before their teenage years begin can help them understand their command of the mind.

In those countless moments of reaction and emotion throughout childhood, you can remind them:

  • Sit still for a moment. Your mind is bouncing around, telling you all kinds of things. Watch it for a minute and then choose a thought that helps you feel better and focus on that one.
  • Take a deep breath and listen to it. Try to look at your thoughts as they pass through your mind.
  • Right now, you are sad because you are thinking of what you have lost. Now think about what you will gain. The way you feel depends on what you are focusing on.
  • You are in control of your reaction right now. You can pay attention to your angry thoughts or choose to pay attention to other thoughts.

Even if your child cannot sit still and meditate for any significant length of time, they can still grasp this idea and experience their fundamental sovereignty.

Teach Them How to Switch Gears

Once a child understands the monkey-mind, they can learn to use many different kinds of tools to help them switch mental gears so that they can act consciously instead of reacting. Yoga is fundamentally based upon the connection between the mind and body. Through breath, posture, and movement we have a direct impact on our thoughts and emotions. In Kundalini Yoga we transform the energy of our entire body and through our body, our mind. Using breath, mantra, and mudra we can switch gears in a matter of moments.

Yoga is one tool, stillness is another. Any time a child has to be still, they practice impulse control in the face of distractions, discomfort, and temptations. For example, at MPA students also stand at attention instead of detention and wait in silence for latecomers at formation. They practice stillness not only in meditation, but also in life.

“But the strength of the mind that we are very proud of, is not in the body, not in the knowledge. It is not what we know, it is not what we have. Then what is it? It is in switching gear from a negative mind to a positive mind to a neutral mind. It’s a very simple process. If person does not train himself or herself in those gears, life is lost.” – Yogi Bhajan (Los Angeles Lecture, September 12, 1989 Los Angeles, CA)

In many ways throughout the day, children can be challenged to sit still. They can also be taught to consciously disrupt negative thoughts and emotions in active ways:

  • Drinking a glass of water when they are upset,
  • Singing or putting on music that changes their emotional state,
  • Taking a cold shower,
  • Going for a walk or even better, a run,
  • Doing something that makes them laugh out loud,
  • Socializing instead of stewing,
  • Choosing to go out and do something for others rather than focusing on themselves.

It begins with something simple like stillness or choosing action instead of inaction, and extends itself to keeping silent when that serves, choosing positivity over negativity in the face of tragedy, and keeping up in the face of every challenge. When switching mental gears becomes a habit, we no longer have to exert willpower to control our emotional reactions. We naturally pause, breathe, and then choose an action that can serve the situation. As all of us know, this is a lifelong practice. Self-control is not at all like riding a bike but switching mental gears does become easier and faster the more we consciously practice it.

There is no greater source of self-esteem than the experience of ourselves as sovereign beings.

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