The Essential, Invisible Factor in Parenting

By Ami Chen Mills-Naim … I have recently returned from a cold and snowy visit to a Native American Indian Reservation in Minnesota, host to one of the worst school shootings (at the time, in 2005) in U.S. history. The problems that continue to plague this small, rural and impoverished (but also very beautiful and resilient) community include a rash of suicides of youth—even of children as young as 10.

At the same time, in Silicon Valley, where our family used to live, children from even wealthy households in one city have also been committing suicide on the train tracks and elsewhere, marking an unfortunate new start to an old epidemic that started there about six years ago.

Our children are crying out to us from all backgrounds and every kind of community. They are telling us that somehow our priorities are not straight. Our vision is not clear. There may be high pressure for achievement; or a lack of feelings of self worth for children (and for parents); as well as no guidance about, or sense of where true well-being comes from.

But in even the worst of circumstances, hope glimmers on the horizon. There is an invisible factor in parenting and educating youth that makes a world of difference for kids—indeed, for us all.


The Invisible Parenting Factor

I have observed in my work for nearly 20 years with parents, and in communities across the country (and now the globe), that while no parent can control the thoughts and feelings of their children—one of the most influential protective factors for our children is something invisible, but truly felt: our own states of mind.

State of mind dictates whether we are responding to our children with faith in their (and our own) core of humanity, wisdom and well-being—or whether we may be inadvertently increasing their feelings of urgency and alarm about life or themselves, because we ourselves are living in states of upset, judgment, stress, anxiety and worry.

We are all human beings, trying to do the best we can, given the thoughts we have about life, and what we believe is important. Parents are not to blame. However parents, educators and others who work with, and raise children, can begin to look within.

We can pay attention to the thoughts and feelings that may be invisible but habitual in our households and classrooms. If we see that these habits are counter-productive to well-being, we can also see through them to a better way.

State of mind is governed by the quality of our thinking from moment to moment. When we look to the source of state of mind, and to the source of our own thinking, we gain leverage over our own mental climates. We also tap into our own inner wisdom, a spiritual guidance system that helps us become more calm, positive and effective in our lives. Indeed, beneath all our negative, worried or stressful thoughts, there is a core of stillness, peace, love and well-being that has never left us.

I, for one, am not content (in fact, quite discontent!) to label problems of suicide and stress as "mental illness" problems and leave it at that. Too often, once a diagnosis is given, there is also a kind of resignation into a life of juggling medication and "managing symptoms" that overlooks and can even mask the profound potential and power of the unleashed human spirit, of innate well-being, of our spiritual capacities.

In my two books—for youth and educators—and for more than 17 years, I have shared simple principles, the "Three Principles" (governing state of mind) that have proven profoundly effective for easing stress and distressed thinking in parents, youth and people, actually, from all walks of life. Results include: decreased depression, decreased anxiety, decreased physical "discipline" and abuse from parents, increased academic achievement and increased feelings of well-being, hope and positivity.

Others who have built their work on these same principles include Positive Discipline Author Jane Nelson, and the late, bestselling self-help author Richard Carlson (of Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff fame). Actually, the list of books about these principles is now growing by the minute.

Avery's Story

A teenager named Avery, resident of the Native American community mentioned above, and where I just conducted a large-scale training for school district staff, learned of these principles nearly a year ago. He had already lived through many murders in his community, suicides and the school shooting. A friend of his died in his arms of gunshot wounds. He had suffered through cancer. Like many would in his circumstances, he became depressed and alcoholic.

And then he heard some simple facts, some bits of truth about state of mind, innate well-being and the role of Thought.

Now, he says: “I realized I always had that wisdom. I was just not aware of it. [When I was told,] it was instant with me. It clicked like, ‘Wow!’

“Over the last nine months or so, having the knowledge of this has helped me through another couple murders of this past year. It was hard, but I've handled it better than I could have imagined.

“It might sound funny, but I'm truly and honestly still happy in my heart. For those I have lost, I pray: ‘I cannot miss you anymore, because I tend to cry. So let me smile, and remember you with a healthy mind, a drug-and-alcohol-free mind.

“I have come a long way from ‘depressed drunk’ to a ‘helper of this community.’ I have a job offer with the school to share what I can with students who feel ‘hopeless,’ to let them know I was there, and help them see this wisdom we all have!”

Ami is author of The Spark Inside (for youth) and State of Mind in the Classroom: Thought, Consciousness and the Essential Curriculum for Healthy Learning. She is a global speaker, trainer and coach, who co-founded the non-profit Center for Sustainable Change. She directed the National Community Resiliency Project, funded by W.K. Kellogg. She leads a monthly drop-in class, coaches individuals and families and offers national programs from her base in Santa Cruz, CA. Visit her website at