Helping our children be more mindful (reblogged from June 2014)

My Favourite way of explaining the brain to children but also to parents!  Thank you Dr Dan Siegel!

Mostly I am so flat out with life and trying to be more mindful myself that I must admit I don’t do enough teaching of mindfulness to my 4 children….not as much as I would like to anyway!   Jon Kabat Zinn in his book ‘Parenting Mindfully’ believes it is enough for children to see their parent become more mindful – here’s hoping…

There have been a few easy strategies though that have really worked….and writing this blog renews my motivation to keep going!

1. The Mindful Minute: When we have just walked up to the top of a beautiful lookout as I am trying to appreciate the view often there will be a moan, whinge, tease  or complaint!   Asking everyone just for 1 minute of silence to see how many things they can hear or see or how many shades of green or blue can they see, gives me one minute to appreciate the view, at least two kids will get into it and find new things they weren’t aware of and whoever was in a bad mood gets a minute to calm down…..there’s always a shift in the atmosphere — we seem to all feel better for it afterwards, even if  there was rolling of eyes at the start!

2. Cultivating Gratitude: At the start of some meals just asking everyone to pause and talk about where the food came from, who cooked it, shopped for it, grew it, transported it OR to ask that everyone eats there first mouthful mindfully OR go around the table and say one thing you are grateful for….again there might be some reluctant participants but there is always a softening of the mood around the table, a re-connecting and the meal is more enjoyable!!

3. In times of pain or distress: helping children to focus on a different body part e.g. can you feel your toes, wiggle your toes, I’m going to squeeze your fingers….can be easier than asking them to breathe….I found this also eased my own distress and then I could begin to breathe deeper and model that for them.   There are also some beautiful visualisation meditations for children that I used for helping kids to go to sleep and if they are familiar with them then they can be perfect for using when your child is sick or in pain

4. Mindful Massage:  When my kids were young a friend recommended buying massage tools and encouraging your kids to ‘drive’ them over your back!  Another Mum used to lie on the floor and encourage her boys to drive their matchbox cars over her back!!   My kids still LOVE a massage and love giving one too….and BOTH can be very mindful – as the giver or the receiver…it’s a great way to reconnect without words!

5. Mindful Hug: Hugging until relaxed….hugging a loved one just a little bit longer & being really mindful about it- you can feel the tension drop away!

6. The BIG ONE- Dealing with BIG EMOTIONS!:  I have found this the hardest – but also the most essential.  For me the biggest thing to learn (&still learning as we enter the teen years) is how to sit with your child’s BIG emotions and not try to fix them or dismiss or minimise them but validate the emotions and importantly name them.   Then we needed to cultivate in our house the idea of ‘positive timeout’ (you can read more about it on ) where you are not ‘punished’ or sent away for feeling ANGER & FRUSTRATION but instead shown how to find ways to calm yourself down BEFORE communicating about the problem!   We still have a long way to go in our house with this one – when the anger & frustration is directed at me I find it VERY hard not to buy into it…..but I felt like we got somewhere when my eldest at 13 said ‘Mum I’ve learnt that the best thing to do when I’m feeling angry is to go for a bike ride, then I feel better’   It has really helped to talk to my children about how the emotional brain works (fight, flight or freeze response & the brain in the hand model – see the youtube clip above by Dan Siegel) and how we can calm it down but I haven’t done it for awhile so this is inspiring me to bring it up again as it is such an important part of life….if only I had learnt how to handle emotion when I was a child / teen rather than as a new Mum at 27!!!!

It is great writing this as it gives me heart that perhaps I have introduced more mindfulness into our house than I first thought and also it’s strengthened my commitment to persist!  My favourite books on the subject are Dan Siegel ‘ The Whole Brain Child’ and Goldie Hawn ’10 Mindful Minutes’.   The best program within schools that I can find is MINDUP – Goldie Hawn is the passionate founder and they have just had a series of workshops in Australia.  How amazing would that be if in every school, in every class, kids were being taught 10 minutes of mindfulness!!!  The results they have got so far in the states seem amazing!!



I am so excited to be reading Dan Siegel’s ‘Brainstorm: The Power & Purpose of the Teenage Brain’   Unfortunately I’m reading it very slowly in small bites and I have his No Drama Discipline Book (written with Tina Payne Bryson) waiting invitingly by my bedside too but hopefully this bite size reading means more concepts will sink in?   His earlier book ‘The Whole Brain Child’ (see earlier blog) with Tina Payne Bryson  is one of the best I’ve read for relating latest brain & mindfulness research to parenting!

So the first bit of this Brainstorm book is inspiring because it’s saying how amazing the teenage brain is, and that if focussed in a positive way it can be a really powerful, healthy and fantastic thing.  In fact he even states that a mid-life crisis is often the adult seeking a bit of what drives adolescence, an interesting concept and something that rings true for me at the moment!

Dan Siegel’s way of looking at the essence of a teenage brain (page 11 of the book) is:

ES Emotional Spark: intense emotional feelings which can serve to create meaning and vitality

SE Social Engagement: important connections with others that can be meaningful and mutually rewarding

N    Novelty: we seek and create new experiences that engage our senses fully and in new and challenging ways

CE Creative Exploration: the expanded consciousness that creates a gateway to seeing the world in a new way

So parenting a teenager doesn’t need to be a fearful or difficult thing, instead it is a matter of understanding the needs of a teenage brain and finding ways for our teenagers to experience meaningful social engagement in novel, emotionally intense and creative ways!

Thinking back to my adolescence, probably the most powerful experience was going on the Leeuwin Sail Training ship for 10 days where we were taught how to sail a three masted barquentine, 1850’s style rig with a crew of 40 people aged 14-25 with team building and leadership exercises thrown in!  This fulfilled all 4 of the criteria above and was a really intense and novel experience where I learnt more about myself and others than I ever had at school!     In a way perhaps this was an informal  rite of passage….    Dr Arne Rubinstein talks about this in his ‘Making of Men’ book

But Dan Siegel is saying this isn’t just important in a rite of passage but within the teenager’s life and as parents we can help to facilitate this in a positive, healthy and empowering way and NOT let teenagers seek out the novelty, exploration, intense emotions and friendships in a negative, disempowering or deconstructive way!

I can see this with my own teenagers when they put these criteria to positive use it is incredible what they can create, think about, plan and inspire…..and in my stage of life I can see that I would benefit from some increased novelty, creativity and intense emotions!!!!   What I also see in my work is parents who don’t yet allow for these brain changes, who still treat their teenagers as if they are under the age of 12, who don’t allow for this new sense of independence and new push for freedom and that seems to be where the BIG battles lie…..?

So I’ll keep reading and leave you with this initial insight….as always a good reminder for me and I’ll write more as it comes to light! 🙂

Brainstorm by Dan Siegel

SE Social Engagement