Nasty words are like ping pong balls: Teaching resilience through imagery

I started the day today with a crying 5 year old, upset that her brother had said a mean thing to her. She was in luck because my parenting reserve tank felt relatively full this morning after a decent night’s sleep. I pondered for a moment before deciding on a ping pong ball as my weapon of choice to help her tears.

I said to her ” WHAT IF those words Ben said to you are like ping pong balls. What if they come towards you, but bounce right off in another direction. Or what if you ducked and they missed you altogether?”

She looked confused. But she stopped crying. I knew my girl was still emotionally labile at that moment, so decided to recruit her brother for my demonstration. I made a circle with my finger and thumb to represent a ping pong ball and told him to imagine a nasty word inside it – let’s take “degage” which means “get lost” in French and had been said to him 2 days previous. (We live in Switzerland…to clarify).

I told him to imagine it was coming straight for his head and asked him what he could do?

And he ducked!

And he laughed. And then Chloë said “my turn, my turn!!”

They ducked, they kicked the imaginary ball, they blew it away, and finally they simply agreed that they didn’t even need to do anything…that it could simply bounce off them.

And off they went to school, ready to try it out in their little minds should the situation arise that someone would say something mean today.

I often tell them the old Taoist parable “The Empty Boat” by Chuang Tzu.

​Once upon a time, there was a Zen monk living in a small monastery near a forest and by a lake. One day he decides to meditate alone, away from his monastery. He takes his boat out to the middle of the lake, moors it there, closes his eyes, and begins his meditation. After a few hours of undisturbed silence, he suddenly feels the bump of another boat colliding with his own.

With his eyes still closed, he senses his anger rising, and by the time he opens his eyes, he is ready to scream at the boatman who dared disturb his meditation. But when he opens his eyes, he sees it is an empty boat that had probably got untethered and floated to the middle of the lake.

At that moment, the monk realises that the anger is within him; it merely needs the bump of an external object to provoke it out of him.

From then on, whenever he came across someone who irritated him or provoked him to anger, he reminded himself: ”The other person is merely an empty boat. The anger is within me……”

Taken from

I asked the kids… “what makes us angry? Is it other people or things that happen to us? Or is it something else?” It is not the empty boat, but our reaction to it that causes the anger. All the people or situations that make us upset and angry are just like the empty boat.

NOTHING has the power to make us angry or upset but ourselves.

It’s one of the most important lessons in resilience I can give my children and a little imagination and story-telling is always great for this. I also think it is vital to ALLOW the emotions that boil up to do just that in childhood, let them bubble up, allow them to be processed, and often if the feelings are permitted and acknowledged compassionately, they move on to something else a few minutes later anyway!

Let me know if this is helpful with your children! Or you!!

Want to know how I Get My Kids to Walk Long Distances… or Walk at all? Click here.



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