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The Meaning of Mindfulness for Kids and Families

Updated: Apr 12, 2022

Mindfulness comes with a multitude of benefits, and it’s a great first step for kids and families who want to start focusing on preventative mental health and wellness. It increases our ability to regulate our emotions, while decreasing stress, anxiety, and depression; it also helps us to focus our attention and notice our thoughts and feelings without judging them. In this post Facilitator in Compassionate Psychotherapy Angela Potes and Mind-Body Researcher Dr. Gabriela Torres-Platas share their insights on the power of mindfulness.

There is no such thing as “perfect parenting”. Who are we kidding? From afar, most parents seem to have perfect lives, with joyful children and lovely dogs as companions. The grass is always greener on the other side, right? But the reality is that parenting can be quite a struggle. Ranging from financial limitations and time constraints to schooling (just to mention a few), the parental umbrella of battling experiences is quite wide.

In this text, we share some tools for mindfulness and self-compassion that may be helpful to parents and children, hoping that families can find peace of mind with them. We want you to know that there is light at the end of the tunnel and that you are NOT alone.

Mindfulness and self-compassion practices bring awareness into our lives, allowing us to transit difficult situations with assertiveness. Both practices promote the use of awareness and insight, where we, kindly and without judgment, notice what arises in our minds when facing a conflicting situation. While mindfulness mainly focuses on bringing attention to the present moment through the internal observation of our thoughts, sensations, and behaviors, self-compassion invites us to navigate through challenging situations with a compassionate stand, acknowledging that we are doing the best that we can at a given moment. Both practices integrate meditation in our daily practices, mostly by the aid of guided meditations. Mindfulness and self-compassion practices are both easy to practice and presented as a tool to deal with children’s struggles at the first stages of school.

Here are some tips:

Take a few minutes a day to breathe with awareness Breathing is an incredible tool to allow us to reach a place of tranquility. Complete at least ten conscious breaths per session, placing your hand on your belly to follow the inhale and exhalation cycle. Do this at least two times a day (preferably when you wake up and just before going to bed). Count your breaths as you go. Do not worry if your mind wanders (this is normal). Just follow your breath with the count as best as you can. It will get better as you practice.

Observe your thoughts when facing challenging situations and let them go Remember that there is no such thing as a perfect parent. If this is a new concept to you, open yourself to this idea, and let go of what your mind may be imposing onto you. Kindly observe the mental stories you tell yourself when you ‘lose it’. For instance, if you’re trying to get your child ready to go to school and in response you receive an uncooperative answer, bring the awareness to your thoughts and explore them for a few seconds with an open mind. Are you upset? Are you frustrated? What is your internal voice telling you? Observe and let go of the thought. It is just a thought after all. Do not grasp or try to explain it. Be kind to your thoughts as they arise, observe, and let them go. It may help you to relate to how clouds form and dissolve in the sky. They come and go, just as your thoughts. Remember that you are doing the best that you can at all times. There is no need for guilt. Then, return to your child’s situation and see how your response changes from reactivity to assertiveness. You will know what to do.

Allow your feelings and emotions to be expressed Emotions and bodily sensations surely arise as we struggle and feel frustrated. This doesn’t mean that you can give your feelings and frustrations a free license to express themselves, on the contrary, allow them to be and gracefully accept them as part of our human nature. The idea is not to suppress them, but to observe them from a space of awareness. Take a moment to sit down, take a few deep breaths and feel the emotions behind the situation. It is also recommended to invite kids to sit down and do this with adults. You are probably thinking that having children doesn’t leave much time to sit and meditate silently and without interruption. We hear you! We need to cope and learn to meditate as we go. Observe your inner sensations and try to feel your inner body even as you are moving and focus on your breath. Be kind to your parental journey, but do your homework.

Navigate the challenges with your children by allowing their feelings and emotions to be expressed Young children can't really understand what is going on inside themselves when their emotions take over. Here are some tips to navigate tantrums.

  1. Allow them to calm down and just be present with them while they are having a meltdown. Once they calm down, try discussing with them what happened (use point 5 below as a pointer). If they are still too young to be able to talk in detail about their emotions, just see if you can intuitively understand why they were mad or sad. Parents have enormous insight when it relates to their kids.

  2. Invite them to share an emotion through color. Ask them what feeling it represents. This is an invitation to start identifying their emotions and giving them space to be.

  3. Invite your children to sit down and take a few breaths with you. Invite them to close their eyes and to pay attention inside. You can use the analogy of blowing on a dandelion or smelling a flower to encourage the breathing.

  4. Help yourself with a few items that may induce soothing effects. For example, you may buy a finger maze book or a singing bowl (or whatever soothing item) and create a “soothing corner” which they may use whenever they are feeling overwhelmed. This place will symbolize where they can go to recenter and regain tranquility.

Identify triggers, needs, and use grounding tools We have mentioned that bringing awareness of sensations and emotions in your body is a great technique. Use this awareness to identify the triggers that “set you off” and use them to defer your energy towards something that makes you feel better. Likewise, you can identify the triggers that cause major meltdowns in your children, and you will be able to act or distract them before it appears. If the awareness arises later (it can also be very helpful), you can reflect on what happened with yourself and with your child. You may now be able to find the cues to ground yourself and also calm your body when tension arises. Be open to the differences between you and your kid’s needs and find a balance. As you learn to identify your bodily emotional cues, assertive solutions will arise with practice. Grounding exercises are important as a means to kindly stop negative thinking or intense bodily reactions that arise.

Know that you are not alone and allow yourself to vent when needed When you have heart-to-heart conversations with parents who are open enough about sharing their experiences, it is evident to see how feelings of guilt are a very common experience. You are not alone. Most parents are stuck with bossy or stubborn children, especially in any big transition. Take note that a kid’s beginning stages in school means that they are no longer home playing, napping, or snacking. They are learning from teachers and meeting new friends. Transitions take time, and you are not the only parent dealing with this.

Do not take things personally and see the learning experience behind the situation Your child is not your enemy. We want to stress the fact that they are not doing things on purpose or just to make you feel angry. It may be helpful to think that children do not have the capacity for that kind of maliciousness. Your parental role involves nurturing your kid in the most loving way possible and to the best of your capacities, knowing that your kid is also teaching you along the way. For many parents, children are the best teachers. They reflect your biggest fears, guilts and expectations on yourself. Are you willing to consider the possibility that their misbehavior may be calling out your attention, as a reminder to stay present in the moment, as it is? Are you willing to use these challenges as an opportunity to learn and grow as a human being?

Our take home message is that there are vast possibilities to bring more harmony and peace into your life. Mindfulness and self-compassion are one of the many ways your parental journey may be eased and enjoyed. Seek help, be open to learn, and share it with others as you go.

We hope these words are of use to your lives. Remember to embrace parenting, it is definitely one of the best experiences in life.

Remember to share this, it may be useful to many others.

Angela Potes

MSc in Psychiatry, McGill University Facilitator in Compassionate Psychotherapy Angela currently lives in Squamish, BC. She holds a Science degree in Psychology (Behavioral Neuroscience) and a Master’s in Psychiatry (Mental Health Research). With nine years of experience in psychogeriatrics and professional training in mindfulness (MBSR, MBCT), compassion-based approaches (Compassionate Inquiry- in training) and non-dualistic spiritual teachings (A Course in Miracles) and Eckhart Tolle's School of Awakening, Angela now holds a private practice as a facilitator in compassionate psychotherapy where she serves as a facilitator of healing and awareness through a compassionate lens. She also works as part of the administration team in Euphoria Natural Health. She holds private sessions online and in person, runs retreats and workshops, and broadly shares on social media. She works in English and Spanish as she travels to South America once per year. You can find her on Facebook, Instagram, and Youtube.

Find out more about Angela's work and Book a session, here.

Dr. Gabriela Torres-Platas

Ph.D. Neuroscience Mind-Body Researcher Gabriela has a Ph.D. in Neuroscience from McGill University where she studied inflammatory mechanisms that contribute to depression and suicide. She is currently interested in understanding the biological mechanisms that contribute to psychiatric disorders and how they can be ameliorated by mind-body interventions such as mindfulness, meditation, and dream yoga. She is interested in promoting and encouraging the prevention of mental health disorders through mind-body interventions. Dr. Torres-Platas has been invited as a speaker in national and international conferences.

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