by April Hadley, MSW
This is one of the most common questions I am asked when people find out that I teach mindfulness meditation for a living. I am often met with a look of confusion when I answer, “I don’t teach my kids how to practice meditation.”
Let me explain. But before I do, what is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the simple practice of training your attention to focus in the present moment with full acceptance. Why wouldn’t I teach my children this simple tool when it has been shown to support mental, physical and emotional health in a variety of powerful ways for both adults and children?
I was raised in a faith oriented home. One of my favorite statements of faith has always been, “Preach the gospel. Use words if necessary.” This statement is most often attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi. Whether he said it or not, the simple message behind the words has always stayed with me – live what you say you believe and it is more believable. My children know I practice and teach mindfulness. I am always happy to answer their questions and invite them to join me when they find me sitting quietly in meditation. But the guiding spirit of how I interact with my children around the practice of mindfulness is based on the words of St. Francis.
Live mindfully. Use words if necessary.
With this as the foundation, there is one aspect of my practice I have chosen to give words to without ever needing to label it mindfulness. It is what I have affectionately termed the “do-over.” A “do-over is called for when my actions and/or attitude (or those of my kiddos) are veering down an unhelpful path. Anyone in my home can ask for a “do-over” at any time. As a part of the “do-over” we practice taking responsibility for our actions and apologize appropriately. We also ask the other person involved if they are ready for a “do-over” and proceed in a timely manner. I love the practice of the “do-over” because it teaches my children one of the most healing aspects of mindfulness, which is that we can begin again. And I really believe this to be true.
We can always, always, always begin again.
Even though I choose not to explicitly teach my children how to practice, people still press me for an answer. “But if I want to teach my children mindfulness, how do I do it?” Here are the guidelines I routinely offer:
1. Do NOT teach mindfulness as a disciplinary tool. As in, “You are going to sit down, feel your breath, and calm down NOW!”
2. Commit to a daily practice and invite your kids to join you if they want to participate. I practice in the morning before my kids wake up. When one of my kiddos wakes up early and finds me sitting quietly, I invite them to sit with me in silence or to listen along if I am using a CD.
3. Listen to a CD and practice together in the morning or right before bedtime. One of my favorite resources for younger children is the book and CD combo, Sitting Still Like A Frog by Eline Snell. For teens, I like the book, audio and website, Stressed Teens by Gina Biegel.
4. If your child is open to it, have them practice mindfulness once a day at a time when they do NOT feel stressed or frustrated. Trust that mindfulness will naturally finds its way into their stressful moments. Mindfulness is not a “quick fix.” It requires patience and openness.
5. Ask you child about their experience of practicing mindfulness. Listen and let them share without trying to fix. Accept their experience, including if they choose NOT to talk about it.
6. Remember, with mindfulness, we are cultivating presence and awareness. We are not practicing perfection. Susan Kaiser Greenland says, “Wisdom comes not from being perfect, but from being present.”