The other night my 6 year-old son was having trouble sleeping. I got up to his bedroom and he just couldn’t calm himself down. “Honey, do you want to try some mindfulness?” I asked and waited for him to laugh and say no-way. But he didn’t. I had taught him some basic skills (mindfulness of breath) a few weeks earlier and practiced a few times and as soon as I asked, he knew it was just what he needed. We did a short practice–listening to our singing bowl 3 times and then noticing our breaths go in like we are smelling a flower and our like we are blowing out a candle. When he calmed down, I simply said “I am going to ring the bell one more time and then I am going to leave the room”. Then I did. As I was leaving his room he said “Mom, turn my music on” and then he cut himself off “….no, no, never-mind” and he literally rolled over and went to sleep.
I am not perfect (by far!) and my kids are not saints (also by far!) but this mindfulness stuff is really working for our family. For one, it has made me more patient and present with my kids and able to modulate my strong emotions better. For my kids, they have started to really notice their own emotional states more and become more aware of their needs within those high’s and low’s which is an amazing life skill.
Truth be told, very young kids are the experts on mindfulness. They are the masters of living without judgement or attachment but exposure to culture and unconsciousness teaches kids to care more about doing and achieving than being attuned and grateful of the present moment. Adults in their life may want to teach them a different way: the way of mindful awareness. Being on this path with your child, and in alliance with them on their journey through the highs and lows of life, will be a divinely gratifying and nourishing to you as their parent and greatest teacher. But it is important to go on this journey with intention but also of awareness of these basic tenants so that the pendulum does not end up swinging back into more frustration, anger, or control for you or your child.
1. Start with parent. The first step to bringing mindfulness into your home is to ask yourself what motivates your interest? If your authentic answer is to change your child, it will not work. Mindfulness is a way of paying attention, non-judgmentally, to the current moment and if your child does not want to do that it will not work. Instead of forcing it on them, invite them to participate with you and be ok with them not being ready to learn it at this point in their life.
2. Learn basic techniques. It is important for adults to have a basic understanding of mindfulness before you start sharing it with your child or you are setting yourself up for failure and frustration. Learn about how to have a mindful body, how to listen mindfully, how to bring your focus back to your breath, and how to integrate heartfeltness into your moment-to-moment interactions.
3. Choose a time of day to insert mindfulness. Think about your daily routine. Is there a time of day when behavior is generally good and your kids are ready to listen? If your answer is like most parents, that may be hard to identify. Try talking them in the car when everyone is contained. But again, be mindful of your agenda, and willing to drop it if they are not interested.
4. Give them ownership of their practice and let children lead mindfulness. Allow them to ring a special bell to practice listening, cueing you to focus on your breath, or leading you through a body scan.
5. Don’t use it as a consequence. Being aware of your present moment and your breath is not a punishment–it is the sweetest gift you could give a child. Don’t allow it to be associated with anything bad or your child will resent it. That being said, if you want to use it as an intervention for behavior, make sure a practice is established.
6. Be consistent. You can not do a mindfulness activity and expect it to be suddenly integrated into your child’s brain. Like all learning, practice it regularly to strengthen the neural pathways in your child’s brain so that it becomes more and more natural for him to use it.
7. Institute short moments of awareness many times throughout the day for yourself and invite them to participate. Simply asking them to “notice how you are feeling” is a good starting point.
8. Integrate simple rituals. Taking some deep breaths before starting a meal or putting your fork down between bites during a meal is a good way to fold mindfulness into your regular life.
9. Let them teach you what they know. Listen with attunement and presence–exactly how you would want them to listen to you if you were explaining something new to them. Ask questions and look for answers, together, if your child stumbles over their explanation.
10. There is no one-sized fits all approach to mindfulness. Kids of different temperaments, ages, and abilities will need different approaches to learning mindfulness. Some kids might be interested in learning about the brain, others maybe interested in learning during a peaceful hike, and yet others in totally different ways. There are so many directions to try.
We will be sharing more mindfulness resources in the coming weeks so please follow us on FB/IG @NurtureFamilyEducation
© 2017, Nurture: Family Education and Guidance, nurturefamilyeducation.com
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So we parents are convinced that we want more time and space in our lives. To do this, we have chosen to integrate a mindfulness practice in our lives. This may be a formal meditation, or this may be through different techniques to slow down and focus on our breath more frequently. Either way, this eventually leads parents to experience great relief, optimism, and desire to share this journey with their children. Kids can reap the benefits of mindfulness and it can help them self-regulate and learn to concentrate their attention. Before you embark on bringing this journey to your children be aware of your intentions and do not push these activities. I repeat: do NOT push these activities on your children. If they resist, no matter how well-intentioned you may be, drop it. The best way to encourage your child to slow down, listen to their body, and breathe is to authentically role model this behavior through your own practice. Children will naturally drawn to mindfulness when they are interested and forcing them will be counterproductive.
That being said, below are several resources I recommend to share a mindfulness journey with your children starting with focusing on their breath. (Future posts will focus on mindfulness of body, emotions, heart, and more–so sign up for our mailing list!)
1. Hoberman Sphere: Use this fun toy to visually show how breath expands and contracts and the appropriate speed to do so to calm down. My child liked playing with this toy more than using it to monitor his breath, so I took my own advice and abandoned (for now) us using it together. Instead, I used it alone and found it very helpful in staying focused on the cadence of my breath and sustaining attention on my breath.
2. Noticing Breath: Have your child get a special stuffed animal lay down. Put it on your belly and have them notice what it does when you breathe (go up and down). Now put it on your head or legs and have them notice what it does when you breathe (nothing). Have them lay down. Have them try moving it slowly up and down 5 times. Ask them how they feel when they take 5 deep breaths.
3. Breathing Technique: Have your child inhale like they are smelling a flower and exhale like they are blowing out a candle. I did this with my kids at a family yoga class we recently attended. It is a relatable visual for the kids which will help them understand the 2 main parts of their breath more clearly (inhale and exhale). If you have another tangible object for them to inhale and another to exhale (like a balloon), use it! It will make the “lesson” more fun and memorable.
4. “Calm” App. We carry our phones with us wherever we go, so this app is nice because it is practically always at an arms lengths aways! This program has some neat features which kids (and grownups) will enjoy using including: a visual breath tracker telling you when to breathe in and when to breathe out. It also has a “sleep story” feature where you can listen to a calming story before bed. The app can record the frequency of your meditations which is helpful. I personally don’t love having an app be a part of my mindfulness routine, but if it works for you, go for it!
5. The Boy Who Searched for Silence by Andrew Newman: I got this book at Dr. Shefali’s Tsabary’s Evolve conference last year. She gave a beautiful endorsement of this book. This book is a beautiful tale of boy who is looking for silence and the amazing feeling he experience he has when he finds it. My son is inexplicably drawn to this story and I am fascinated that he keeps picking it for bedtime. Instead of asking him, I am just riding the wave and enjoying the process…I hope you do too. This book gets 5 stars from us.
Again, a note of caution about getting so excited about your mindfulness journey that you force it on your children. You can expose them to what you are learning, but they will reject it if it gets pushed on them. The breath is their most sacred home that they will find peace in–whenever they choose to go on that journey. Don’t taint it with your expectations, judgements, and intentions.
What other mindfulness of breath tools do you recommend?
@2017 Nurture: Family Education & Guidance, nurturefamilyeducation.com
Introduction to Conscious Parenting
In this introductory talk, you will learn about the basics of Conscious Parenting including what is/isn’t, the difference between traditional and conscious parenting, how mindfulness fits in, what are ways to speak to your child that facilitate connection vs. disconnection. This course is the foundational course in the Conscious Parenting Series and is based on the work of Dr. Shefali Tsabary and Dr. Dan Siegel. Participants will leave with actionable information and a new perspective on the hardest job they’ll ever love. Cost: Free
Thursday 3/23: 7pm-8:30pm at East Avenue Chiropractic (1641 East Avenue, Rochester 14610) (click here to register on Facebook, or email firstname.lastname@example.org)
Another milestone moment in raising a child: giving him his first allowance. Our 5 1/2 year old came home the other day asking for an allowance (thanks again, school bus) and we decided that it was time to start teaching him about mechanics of having your own money. Our desire to teach him about money is very closely correlated to our desire to teach him about feelings because both are wildly important, yet both can be very difficult to talk about. Luckily, last November I had the chance to interview and see NYT Best-selling author Ron Lieber speak about money. His wisdom guided our first allowance discussion with our child (read here for full transcript) .
None of this is particularly easy to do because, lets face it, money is personal. It is a tangible reflection of the values and culture that your parents, and their parents, were raised in and differing from those can feel disloyal. Conscious parenting is about raising children with awareness and authenticity so that you don’t fall into the pitfall of generational beliefs and patterns. Money is the perfect place to begin to confront those traps.
Good luck to you as consciously confront your relationship with money.
(c) 2017, Nurture: Family Education & Guidance
Breathe in to the count of 5. Breathe out to the count of 5. Relax your body. How does that feel? That took about 10 seconds. Do you feel a little more calm? A bit more in the moment? A little more aware? That is what mindfulness is all about.
A lot of people are talking about mindfulness these days. This Q & A will help explain some questions surrounding this ancient tradition and its modern uses in your home or classroom.
Q: What is Mindfulness?
A: Mindfulness is cultivating a non-judgemental awareness and acceptance of the present moment. One can be mindful at any time in any location. It involves 3 main skills working in conjunction with each other: sensory awareness, mental clarity, and equanimity. (Equanimity is mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper, especially in a difficult situation.)
Q: Why do parents and other types of educators need mindfulness?
A: Parents and educators can use mindfulness to help them become less reactive and more responsive to the needs of the kids they work with. If you ever have found yourself saying (or being told!) to “calm down and pay attention”? Mindfulness can be helpful in teaching how to calm down and how to pay attention.
Q: My kid is learning mindfulness at school. Isn’t that good enough?
A: That is great that your school is open to mindfulness and it will surely be a skill they can use for the rest of their lives. If you really want to integrate more calm into your life though, it is not just about “fixing” your kid. Any sort of change you want to see in your family or class, begins with you, the leader, making a committment to learn a different way of being. Simply showing up with calm energy you want them to exude can actually change their brain chemistry.
Q: You can change brain chemistry with mindfulness?
A: Yes! The pre-frontal cortex is literally strengthened when you pay attention to your feelings and reactions such that you can begin to create space between those and give a more thoughtful response when being challenged instead of an automatic reaction. Further, when someone has a response to a stimuli, the people around that person can also experience similar firing of neurons if they can anticipate what comes next. This concept is called mirror neurons. For example, your child just has a joyful lick of ice cream; their neurons are fired and dopamine (the happy chemical in the brain) is released. You are watching their joy and delight and feel a similar feeling of dopamine release in your body without ever having touched the ice cream. That is the powerful effect of mirror neurons. The same thing happens with all different sorts of emotions, even calmness.
Q: What is the difference between mindfulness and meditation?
A: Meditation is setting specific time aside for mindfulness. Meditation is usually in a silent seated position. The word “meditation” has some religious connotations (from Buddhism–like zen and karma). Mindfulness can be a religious or a secular pursuit and can be done anywhere, at anytime. One can be mindful of everything: how they move, what they think, what they are eating, or how they are feeling or acting.
Q: I am so busy and this is just one more thing. Is this really valuable?
A: Well, we can’t ascribe the value it will be to your life but if you are so busy, this could very well be the skill you need the most. Mindfulness will allow you to show up to each activity you are a part of with presence, awareness, and openness so that you are able to attune to your (or your child’s) actual needs and don’t feel as overwhelmed with everything you have to do.
Q: How can I learn to be a more mindful parent or educator?
A: An amazing resource is called: “Getting Started with Mindfulness”. We also recommend you find a community of people to practice with so you can hold each other accountable as you grow and flex this new muscle.
We offer seminars, smaller facilitated groups, and individual coaching. Contact us to learn more at email@example.com or leave your information below.
(c) 2016. Nurture: Family Education and Guidance
“When we are our angriest, we are our stupidest.”
As a school counselor one of the trainings I went through was called Therapeutic Crisis Intervention. It is a way of understanding crisis as an opportunity to connect and teach new behavior and I have found it is also helpful in parenting and raising children. The Chinese define crisis as danger + opportunity. This is a helpful way of looking at a potentially “hot” situation because it instills hope that their will be something positive to come of the difficult behavior.
The goal of any intervention is for the child to come away empowered and better able to self-regulate and solve problems without adult help. What one does not want to happen is for a power struggle to ensue. Power struggles will only encourage the kid to view their parents as people who should not be trusted, kept at an arm’s length, and not really caring about their autonomy (ability to govern ones-self).
The 5 phases of the Stress Model of Crisis are: the baseline state, the triggering phase, the escalating phase, an outburst (violence, screaming), and recovery.
When a child is in a baseline state they are functioning normally. When a child is triggered you may want to ask yourself:
1. Why did this happen today, and not yesterday?
2. Is this typical behavior for my child?
3. Is my child expressing a need?
4. Is this developmentally typical?
5. Does this behavior reflect an implicit or explicit way of being in our family during a crisis?
(sidenote: these questions are very helpful if you are trying to understand why YOU, as a parent/care-taker, were triggered by a situation. In addition to these questions you should ask yourself: what happened in my childhood that may have contributed to these feelings.)
If your child’s behavior has escalated it is important to not escalate with them. It is a luring trap to be weary of because it is so easy to drawn into a power struggle, succumb to your triggers as a parent, act immaturely (yell, threaten), and say/do things to your children that your parents said/did to you that you swore you would never repeat. So how do you not escalate with them? Ideas could include: empathize with the fact that they have these big of feelings, take a moment to get perspective on the situation, take a deep breath, walk away, or ask for help.
Now, if a child’s behavior has escalated and is now in the outburst phase some thoughts to consider: is this child’s behavior a threat (to himself or others or property)? Have other interventions been tried (change environment, talking to kid)? Physical restraint is NEVER a first choice option but if your kid is acting in a way that could pose serious harm, intervention is warranted. Carefully and gently restrain child and tell them “I am not going to hurt you, but you may not hurt me. When you are calm I will let go. Lets take a deep breath together.” It is imperative that parents know that physical restraints must never be used as (a) punishments, (b) consequences, or (c) for demonstrating “who is in charge”. Not ever. Also, restraints must be stopped as soon as your child is no longer a risk of harm to self or others.
Once the child has calmed down take them to a quiet place away from distractions. Face them, get on their eye level or below, and listen. Speak calmly and respectfully and make sure they understand. Ask you child to think about outcomes of his behavior and brainstorm other behaviors and their outcomes. Don’t make it personal, make it factual. Give you child some time and space to think and do not pressure them to say the “right” thing, remind yourself that they are in fact learning and that is a process of testing out right and wrong ideas. That being said, do correct them if they give suggestions that would not be appropriate. End the conversation with a hug or other gesture of love and affection to remind them that you love them despite them having behaviors that you may not love.
A universal goal of most parents is to create trusting and caring relationships with their children. Showing kids exactly how to treat people, and how they should expect to be treated by people, even during difficult times is a critical skill. With a little knowhow, parents can feel confident to help their kids even through the boldest of emotions.