Mindfulness & Children

My Favourite way of explaining the brain to children but also to parents! Thank you 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 to….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 http://www.positivediscipline.com ) 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’ http://www.drdansiegel.com/ and Goldie Hawn ’10 Mindful Minutes’.   The best program within schools that I can find is MINDUP  http://thehawnfoundation.org/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!!

 

Mindful Parenting

Positive Disscipline Connection_blog

Really this whole blog is about how I’m trying to be more mindful in my life and particularly as a parent…..it’s an incredibly challenging thing to do….especially as the chaos of family life escalates in that pre-dinner craziness!   Still I like with mindfulness that there is no right or wrong, you just keep coming back to it, pulling your attention back to the present moment. 
I’ve been practising mindfulness daily now since 2011 and slowly I can see that I am more able to think before I speak, more able to make good choices when really angry, more able to laugh and see the funny side….yet at times, almost every day it seems that I am yet again mindless and unaware and caught up in my thoughts and feelings, what a life long challenge!

What I am really excited about is that since 2012 I have been facilitating parenting programs (In Alice Springs and now on the Mid North Coast of NSW).    These programs teach parents how to be mindful, particularly in stressful situations and explain the importance of being able to stop, pause, reflect on what the present moment needs and regulate our own emotions before we launch into responding to our children or to the stressful situation

I have found that all parents from all backgrounds like learning about this and come back the next week with stories about how they put it into place! Wouldn’t it be great if we could all access these skills and prevent harm from happening to children the world over!
One of those programs is Positive Discipline http://www.positivedsicipline.com and another is Bringing Up Great Kids (Check out their great FREE Mindful Parenting booklet on http://www.childhood.org.au/training/bringing-up-great-kids-resources-parenting-program )

I love that saying that we teach what we most need to learn and that certainly is the case for me! Each time I teach a workshop or write this blog it helps me to stay more mindful with my children! I am facilitating some Introduction to Positive Discipline Workshops in August, with the emphasis being on mindfulness. More information is at http://www.saraphillipsnsw.com. Hope to see some of you there!

It really is my choice to enjoy life!

I’ve had a long break from writing this blog….but it hasn’t been far from my thoughts so here goes again….maybe this will help me to internalise some of my more mindful thoughts and learning!

I’ve just had a bit of a revelation, after moving house, moving states, busily unpacking, setting up house, applying for work etc and feeling REALLY stressed and overwrought… that I can choose to enjoy my life right now OR choose to be caught up in the obligations, expectations and pressure that  I place on myself (more than anyone else does)!  This revelation came after a friend in the desert texted ‘ you must be enjoying the beach!’ And I realised no….I wasn’t enjoying my new lush coastal surroundings…..instead my head was caught up in a whirl of jobs to be done, stresses to endure!  I started to question WHY wasn’t I enjoying this new life and it came to me ( so simple! but so hard to realise!) that I really CAN choose to take some time out each day to enjoy the beach….to clear my thoughts, to nurture myself, to find inner joy…..and most of the jobs still get done!!   Most of the stresses and pressures were self created – I don’t need to be a slave to my thoughts/unrealistic expectations…I can take a break from them….they’ll still be there when I want to face them!  It is as easy and as hard as that!   And as I began to open up more to allowing myself to take time out…..I realised that it had been a long time since I had cherished myself and that Buddhist saying ‘that to cherish others you must first cherish yourself’ rang true as I began to enjoy hanging out with the kids again.    It felt transforming to realise it was all a matter of choosing to change my thinking….yet all week I have still struggled to make that choice!   The guilt / worry / concern about what others will think and if I am being selfish or self indulgent means that it is very easy to put pressure on to DO more….rather than taking some time to BE!   I’ll keep you posted as to how that learning goes……how to cherish yourself in order to cherish others?

Mind Full Of Pain

I was in a lot of pain recently, waiting for the pain relief to kick in when I realised I was fighting it with my mind ( ‘oh no what if I can’t…..I don’t want to feel like this…..this is so unfair…..why me?…..will this make it go away? ‘ Etc).   Suddenly I remembered mindfulness so I allowed myself to label the pain ‘I am in pain’ and to sit with it, accept it and it was amazing to feel the shift, to really feel the space around the pain widen and expand, to feel that there was more to the situation than just the pain, to feel that it was impermanent and that it would be OK!   Of course I couldn’t be so zen about it all of the time….my mind would kick in and resist but just to have a few moments of peace, of going back into thinking ‘it is as it is’ made it more manageable!

 

I also remembered something a friend once told me re: childbirth which was the pain will always ebb and flow so that you can follow the peaks and troughs….manage the peak of pain and then allow yourself to relax in the trough….and keep this cycle of manage and relax!   This worked really well in my daughter’s birth but also this morning too….watching for the peak, relaxing when it ebbed even though the pain is continuous….

 

Fortunately I didn’t have to wait long for the pain relief to work so my suffering was short….and I am not sure I could do any of this in severe pain…..but it was good to see some of those mindfulness strategies at work?   Are there other strategies that you have used?

More Mindful At Work

I’ve been very lucky to have supervision at work with Sue G. who also teaches / practices mindfulness.  Together we have come up with some great ideas on how to be a little more mindful at work:

  • Mindfulness Bell clock on the computer (download for free and create your own timing).  This is a great little reminder to breathe and scan your body for tension
  • Take your shoes off, feel the carpet with your feet, walk to printer feeling the floor beneath you
  • 10 minute meditation at lunchtime
  • Breathe in your tea / coffee and do a quick body scan

I’m amazed at how UNAWARE I can still be of my body / tension at work but at least these strategies are helping me tune in occasionally!!   I’d love to know some other strategies…