You and I aren’t likely to experience what it’s like to raise children in an actual village, like many mothers who have come before us. But that’s okay.
Susan Kaiser Greenland is an author, meditation teacher, and the founder of the Inner Kids Foundation, which is devoted to bringing the lessons of mindfulness to children. Her books include The Mindful Child and Mindful Games. With Sounds True, Susan has created Mindful Parent, Mindful Child, a 30-day training program for integrating mindfulness into your family’s everyday life. In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Tami Simon speaks with Susan about her efforts to fold mindfulness into basic childhood education, as well as how she came to this work after 20 years as a corporate lawyer. Susan outlines some of the practices that are ideal for children and why parents should have their own mindfulness routine. Susan and Tami discuss mindfulness-based games and the steps to making common practices (such as a body scan) more fun and engaging. Finally, they consider how to balance the ideal of non-striving with motivated work, as well as what the future of children’s mindfulness education might look like. (62 minutes)
Jill Koziol and Liz Tenety are the founders of Motherly, a website and support network devoted to redefining modern motherhood. With Sounds True, they have created This Is Motherhood: A Motherly Collection of Reflections + Practices. In this special edition of Insights at the Edge, Sounds True associate publisher Jaime Schwalb sits down with Jill and Liz to talk about how they originally formed Motherly and their desire to create a more positive approach to modern parenting. They talk about the importance of regular self-care practices for parents and why it really does take a village (even a digital one) to raise a child. Liz and Jill explain how each parent has their own skills and “superpowers,” as well as how you can recognize them. Finally, Jaime, Jill, and Liz discuss the discipline and clear communication needed to effectively parent. (54 minutes)
Diana Winston is is the director of mindfulness education at UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center, a member of the Teachers Council at Spirit Rock Meditation Center, and a pioneer in mindfulness education for children. With Sounds True, she has released The Little Book of Being: Practices and Guidance for Uncovering Your Natural Awareness. In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Tami Simon speaks with Diana about “natural awareness”—an always-available, foundational flow state distinguishable from deliberate mindfulness practice. They share “glimpse practices” designed to open up perception and embodiment of natural awareness, commenting on how each can be practiced in day-to-day life. Diana and Tami discuss the value of going on retreat, the spectrum of different awareness practices, and common misconceptions about what it takes to become a mindfulness teacher. Finally, Diana explains why it’s important not to become a “bliss-ninny” as well as the difference between natural awareness and spacing out. (64 minutes)
Dr. Erin Clabough is an assistant professor of biology and neuroscience at Hampden-Sydney College. With Sounds True, she has published Second Nature: How Parents Can Use Neuroscience to Help Kids Develop Empathy, Creativity, and Self-Control. In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Tami Simon speaks with Erin about the experience of raising four children while also pursuing her PhD, and how this informed the lessons in Second Nature. Erin describes specific methods she’s used to challenge and discipline her children in ways that encourage the development of positive lifelong traits, as well as how these methods can be applied in any family. Erin and Tami discuss the tricky modern issue of screen time and the different ways to approach rules with differently aged children. Finally, they talk about the concept of emotional “scaffolding” and what it takes to really model positive behaviors in your daily life. (56 minutes)
Tami’s Takeaway: Have you ever noticed that sometimes when someone says, “I’m sorry” for some ignorant or destructive action, their apology can feel insufficient or incomplete? A mother of four and a neuroscience educator, Erin Clabough says to her children, “I don’t want your ‘sorry.’ I want you not to do it again.” Erin teaches her children what she calls “the OUT method.” O stands for “owning the action you took.” U stands for “understanding how that action affected other people.” And T stands for “telling the person you hurt how you will do it differently next time.” What a powerful way to build empathy in children and for all of us to make amends when we need to!
Mindful eating, mindful burgers, mindful sex . . . pretty much everything is mindful lately. Paying attention has value, but what’s the goal of all that mindfulness?
Defining mindfulness exactly is like trying to define psychology or exercise in one line; you can do it, but it never quite captures everything. To summarize, mindfulness means aiming to be more aware of our immediate experience, with less reactive habit. Even that language may feel abstract to the average parent or child trying to find some peace and happiness. More than any single definition, what matters most is that there’s an intention. We spend an awful lot of our lives reacting to things we like or dislike in ways that aren’t always useful. When we break patterns and handle the uncertainty of life more easily, that’s beneficial. However you define it, mindfulness means living with less mindless habit and more ability to manage the fact that life is awfully hard sometimes.
So what does mindfulness with kids mean? Another way of framing mindfulness is as a group of mental traits. It’s not that anything specifically gets fixed by a practice of mindfulness; it’s guiding children toward long-term skills that make life easier. We teach children to become more attentive, less reactive, more compassionate, and resilient. From that perspective, mindfulness is a way to build life management abilities, but far from the only one. We offer children tools to handle the challenging road ahead through any means that fit.
When we say that mindfulness means “paying attention to what we’re doing,” we transfer this to our children by paying more attention to them when we’re together. “Staying calm under pressure” means taking a few breaths and not blowing a gasket when homework falls apart. When we say to treat others with compassion, that starts with how we speak to the frazzled guy at the airport dealing with our flight cancellation. Acknowledging honestly and openly that no one is perfect, we also recognize that we won’t stick to our own intentions all the time. We make mistakes and learn from them and keep going. Drawing our children into that part of life teaches them something too.
When it comes to teaching mindfulness, focus on the skills you want your children to develop. That matters more than whether they commit to a “mindfulness practice.” We build resilience by developing EF (Executive Function) and attention, emotional awareness, self-confidence, self-compassion, positive relationships, and all the rest that comes from being raised in a mindful, aware household. That doesn’t mean specifically meditating, but it does mean emphasizing a balanced lifestyle.
Mindfulness implies living with clarity in a certain way. We guide kids to pay attention every way we can — by taking moments to pause and look at a sea shell or by prioritizing activities that build attention (like reading, chess, and board games) over those that disrupt attention (excessive screen time). We discuss emotions and describe our own emotions. We live compassionately, read books that reflect other people’s perspectives, and generally immerse kids in compassion, while gradually considering if they’re ready for a compassion-based mindfulness practice.
Mindfulness is a tool kit for a different way of living, one that provides kids skills to manage life on their own one day. The good news is, kids don’t even have to practice it themselves to get there. They learn from watching us and from the overall way they live themselves. Of course, they eventually can learn from their own practice of mindfulness too. As you practice yourself, you’ll know exactly how to encourage your children to join you (links to books supporting mindfulness in kids can be found at howchildrenthrive.com). But it’s the big picture of how they are raised that counts most.
Imagine yourself from your child’s point of view. How would your child describe you to a friend? What’s fun and easy about you, what are your strengths, and what areas might you want to change?
Excerpted from How Children Thrive: The Practical Science of Raising Independent, Resilient, and Happy Kids.
Mark Bertin, MD, is a bestselling author who specializes in integrating mindfulness with other evidence-based neurodevelopmental care. His previous books include Mindful Parenting for ADHD and The Family ADHD Solution.
Buy your copy of How Children Thrive at your favorite bookseller!