By Lynne Ticknor, Director of Education at PEP
“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.” (Jon Kabat-Zinn)
When our parents told us to “take a deep breath and count to 10” before responding in the heat of the moment, they may have been onto something. Research shows that deep breathing and other “mindful” strategies can diffuse anger, frustration and stress and help calm our minds – and our kids’ minds!
Being more mindful of our feelings before taking action is an approach based on the philosophy of Buddhism (although mindfulness does not necessarily have to be religious or have spiritual overtones). A mindful approach to everyday events teaches that “your own wisdom is within you – you just have to awaken yourself to it,” explains Shefali Tsabary, Ph.D., author of “The Conscious Parent: Transforming Ourselves, Empowering Our Children.” Researchers and advocates of teaching mindful practices at home feel this approach is desperately needed in today’s society when many kids are cursed with feelings of helplessness and defeatist thoughts, such as “I can’t do this,” “Math is impossible” or “Nobody likes me.”
This “awakening” occurs when kids learn to become more conscious of what’s going on in the moment. Parents are constantly telling children to “pay attention” or “focus,” but how often do we really teach our children how to do that? Teaching kids to be more mindful helps them learn how to focus on being in the present rather than mulling over the past (“I got a C on my spelling test” or “All the kids teased me because I missed the school bus”) or worrying about the future (“I’m so stupid, I’ll probably fail my math test” or “I’m so slow I will probably miss the bus again tomorrow”).
One of the best ways to help children become more mindful is to teach them to focus on their breathing. This is such a useful technique because our breath is always with us … we just have to become aware of it. Just taking a few moments to breathe in, hold it for two seconds and breathe out again calms the central nervous system.
For some children, active approaches to mindfulness are more effective. They may respond well to non-verbal miming (acting out their feelings using their bodies rather than words), visualization (imaging a quiet place where they feel safe and secure), journaling (writing down or drawing their thoughts and feelings) and movement (moving their body rhythmically to music or drumbeats). All of these techniques help kids to calm down and refocus their brains so they can behave more appropriately in stressful situations.
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