We need to be the change we wish to see in the world

Our children are distracted, and they are finding it increasingly difficult to settle and concentrate on one task at a time. They are disorganized and often forget important items, or lose them during the day. This may sound ominous, but it is happening more and more frequently. I have been teaching at Gaia Waldorf for twelve years and I have been seeing more of it in my classroom as well as my colleagues’ classes, and it creates hindrances to the learning process.

Statistics show that more than half of American adolescents meet some criteria for ADHD and other mental disorders. ADHD is generally a combination of three symptoms: poor impulse control, physical hyperactivity and poor attention skills (mental restlessness). The way society deals with these problems is through medication, rather than looking to the cause. The symptoms are dulled by medication. South Africa has one of the highest prescription rates for ADHD, even higher than the USA. These medications also treat psychotic disorders, and are administered to children to control their behavior, without considering the consequences of long term use. In his book ‘Scattered’, Doctor Gabor Mate identified stress and emotional unavailability in parents as causes of mental disorders in children. This includes ADHD as well as other illnesses such as asthma.

We are all connected to one another; minerals, plants, animals and human beings. As Waldorf educators we are aware of this, and it forms part of what we teach. We affect each other on a subliminal level through our thoughts and feelings, therefore Doctor Mate’s observations are valid. Parents experience stress in the workplace as well as economic and relationship stress. Our children, who are deeply connected to us, experience our stress as if it were theirs. Coupled with parents who have emotional unavailability, workaholic tendencies and an inability to detach from electronic devices like phones and computers, children start to act out. This manifests as restlessness, distraction and hyperactivity.

The only way to know if this is indeed true for our own children, is to take an honest look at our own lives. Are we stressed, overworked or involved constantly in arguments with our spouse? If so, because of these factors do we want our children starting out at a disadvantage, or are we able to remove these obstacles that we have placed in their way? According to a study at Notre Dame university the hunter gatherer is the ideal condition for healthy brain development in children. In these societies the extended family and tribe were available for emotional, spiritual and physical support.

Nowadays those structures are mostly absent, and people in general are more isolated. We can help our children by becoming more present in our daily lives. One can achieve this by assisting with homework or playing a game after work, rather than shooing children away in order to respond to an email or text message. Set the table, light a candle and sit down for a meal instead; why not do every day? Research shows that children who attend regular family meals experience increased self-esteem, have higher resilience and a lower risk of depression. This environment forms bonds and makes children feel understood and valued. This is also when children will open up and tell us what is troubling them.

As much as we would like to blame others, or reach for a bottle of pills to dull the symptoms, or expect others to change for us, as Ghandi said, we need to be the change we wish to see in the world. Starting today, set the table, gather the family and take time to do the things that matter most.
Wishing you love and light,

Melanie Francis
Class 5 Teacher