Virtue of the Month for May/June 2016: Detachment
Detachment is a wonderful virtue to bring into focus in our last term of the year, and it fits particularly well after our work together during Brain Awareness Week! Nevertheless, when we think about the gifts of character, it is virtues like honesty, respect and generosity that come to mind. Why would we want to practice “detachment”? Aren’t we trying to practice “attachment”?
Detachment is a significant building block in maturity and self-development. It is not only noble, but central to our ability to be emotionally healthy and navigate social relationships successfully. Detachment is being able to notice our feelings, think about our thinking, and make conscious choices about what to do. Detachment allows us to use a long lens, to see from above and take in the big picture, which includes the consequences of our actions.
Bad things happen, and our job is not to help children avoid difficulty, but to know how to cope when it arrives. When present, detachment keeps us out of trouble, by helping us avoid knee-jerk reactions. With detachment, we are free to do only what we choose to do. It is using our best thinking and it allows us to be our best selves. It requires that we bring a level of consciousness to the present moment, so that instead of being controlled by our feelings, we can moderate and regulate them.
Our work during Brain Awareness Week helped reinforce that the pre-frontal cortex is our best friend. We have to make sure it is “ON” if we want to practice detachment. Represented by turtle in my puppet collection, it can use good judgement when given a moment or two to do its job. Whether we call this a “meta-moment”, a breather, or even a time-out, it’s an opportunity to stand back and look at what is happening without getting swept away. At school we encourage children to “smell the roses” (picture a rose bush in your imagination, pick three roses, each a different colour, now breathe in the fragrance of each rose, one at a time). This helps their bodies and minds be calm – then they are ready for some green thinking, when they can ask themselves “what am I feeling?” “how can I manage that feeling?” and “what’s a good idea for me to do right now?”.
This may seem sophisticated, but even very young children are capable of using meta-cognition and practicing detachment. They benefit from our modelling, coaching, and providing feedback so that they know what it looks like, and when they are using it-even if those moments are few and far between (“I noticed you didn’t lose your cool when your brother…”, “you have shown more maturity this week by…”). Of course there are times, when they don’t manage it, and these provide opportunities for reflection and planning, “what do you wish you had done?”, “if this happened again, what would you do differently?”, “if this happened to a friend, what advice would you give to them?”. Remember, what we shine the light on gets bigger.
Many adults would benefit from practising detachment, as well, but we, too, get lost in our emotions from time to time. I remember being prompted to practice what I preached by one of my children. This is one of the gifts of parenthood, when we get sloppy, our children keep us honest!
Thoughts to ponder at the dinner table:
What would Detachment look like if…
- Your father asks you to do some chores and you are in the middle of a video game?
- You really want to join a team and it doesn’t happen?
- Someone teases you or tries to start a fight?
- Your sister takes your best sweater without asking and makes you feel really mad?
- You are feeling really upset because you best friend let you down?
When is it hardest for us to practice detachment?
And when do we need it the most?
Here’s to delightful days ahead of embracing detachment: using thinking and feeling together, choosing to do what’s right and being the best we can be!
Tessa Lloyd, Junior School Counsellor