Raising mindful kids.
– by Tina Dombernowsky
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could teach our children how to live in the moment, how to be aware of their bodies, their thoughts, their feelings and their surroundings? What a beautiful life-long gift we can give them if we can help them to be mindful humans… a precious gift to them and a gift to the world too.
Teaching mindfulness starts with YOU!
Children learn so much more from watching what you do than from listening to what you say so, being mindful yourself, is the first step in teaching your child how to live a mindful life.
What is mindfulness?
We need to understand what mindfulness is and how it works in order for us to be motivated to keep practicing and living in a mindful way. Mindfulness doesn’t happen just by reading a book. It involves effort and strong intention.
Mindfulness is paying attention to the present moment, without judgment or trying to change it. It is being aware of your body, your mind, your thoughts, your feelings and your surroundings, with a moment-to-moment openness.
It often includes yoga and different kinds of meditations.
By bringing mindfulness into your everyday life while shopping, cooking, looking into your children’s eyes and even into every conflict you encounter, big or small, you will not only find beautiful energy that you never even knew existed, but you’ll also be able to experience the joy of what is happening while it is actually happening.
Being aware of what is going on inside of you and outside of you, will help you to respond mindfully to your surroundings (and to yourself). Too often, we find ourselves on autopilot and react automatically to situations. Mindful awareness will allow you to change your behavior and perceptions, as well as your attitude towards yourself and your children.
When I started on my mindful journey, it took me a long time to realize that I had to PRACTICE mindfulness to become more mindful. It wasn’t a quick-fix that happened overnight or something anybody else could do for me. Mindfulness was a slow journey that required self-discipline and courage.
Mindfulness was something I knew I needed to conquer as I was at a point in my life were I felt I was exploding and couldn’t handle any more conflicts. I just wanted some peace and I realized that I needed to connect with myself and my children again in order to find it. I started yoga and meditation on a regular basis.
Becoming mindful was like a drop in the water and the ripples spread our around me, touching everything and everyone. Without searching for anything specific, I started to notice things like how lovely the wind felt on my face and the bright red of a fallen maple leaf. I also noticed the negative self-talk I allowed in my mind and how my mood and low energy affected my behavior. And, most importantly, I was able to really listen to what my children were actually saying, instead of automatically replying ”Okay…” while my mind was wandering and thinking about trivial things like what to make for dinner!
For the first time in my adult life, I had the beautiful feeling that I was authentically living each and every moment instead of being lost in the past or in the future. I felt like I was actually living MORE, like I had only this moment to live and I was going to really LIVE it like it mattered. All this, just by paying attention with a moment-to-moment awareness. My family started to notice the change. This reinforced my commitment to practice daily, as well as teach others how mindfulness and yoga, with very simple practices, can transform the feel and pace of your moments and, thereby, your entire life.
How does it affect you?
Many studies have shown that by practicing mindfulness you can actually change the chemistry and wiring in your brain.
MRI’s confirm that after an eight-week course of mindfulness practice, the brain’s “fight or flight” center, the amygdala, starts to shrink. This area, associated with fear and negative emotions, is involved in initiating the body’s response to stress. At the same time the pre-frontal cortex, associated with functions such as awareness, concentration and decision-making, becomes enlarged.
The regularity of these two areas firing together, also changes. The connection between the amygdala and the rest of the brain gets weaker, while the connections between areas associated with attention and concentration get stronger.
By practicing mindful awareness over time, you will likely notice more patience, calm and ease. Practicing yoga and mindfulness will not remove the dirt from your child’s clothes or the dirty dishes from the counter, but, when practiced regularly, it will shift your perspective from one of urgent fight or flight to that of a more calm, less life-threatening view.
You cannot stop the waves, but you can learn how to surf on them (John Kabat Zinn).
5 things you can start doing now
There are many ways to teach ourselves and our children mindfulness: directly, indirectly, with sounds, stories, through guided meditations and books. But the most important and beneficial way to begin, is to start with your own yoga and mindfulness practice.
Helping our children through difficult times is not only done by working with the child alone, which I experienced in my work with my sixteen-year-old son, Patrick. He went to several specialist and behavioral experts, but the greatest improvement was when I started to bring mindfulness into our lives.
The more aware you are of your triggers, patterns of action and reactions, the more often you are likely to choose how best to parent, how to model healthy behavior, and how to live more mindfully as a family.
My clients often find it very difficult to keep up their own mindfulness practice. I usually tell them that it’s our actions that speak to our children and not our words. If we show our children that we are practicing self-care by doing yoga and meditation, they will start to embrace and value it themselves.
A very profound skill to teach children is to take time for yourself every day, to reset your system and reinforce ease and calm in your mind and body. By watching you do it, your children will learn to do it for themselves and mindfulness will become a natural part of how they lead their lives.
Remember, children are small sponges – they absorb easily what they are exposed to.
1) The sacred morning routine
When I wake up, I practice yoga and meditation first thing in the morning. It varies how long it takes depending on the day and my needs for the day. If my children wake up during my practice, they know to be quite and typically they’ll lie next to me or snuggle under the blanket in my lap. I don’t tell them to meditate with me but by paying attention to their own inner world their daily transitions becomes much more peaceful. No words, no stimulation, just spending time doing nothing.
(Picture of me meditation with Cassius when he was little)
2) Setting the tone for a mindful meal
My youngest children are four and five years old, Savannah and Cassius, and they have a formal meditation practice every day, which includes the whole family. Before we start eating our meal, we hold hands and close our eyes. We started this routine one and a half years ago, when I realized that they were ready for it.
In the beginning, when I guided the meditation, it was no longer than 1 minute. It was not easy when we started out. But that was okay, because it was practice for me on how to experiencing the situation without trying to change anything. Just paying attention, which is really hard for them, stretches their attention span. I usually start our meditation by guiding them to pay attention to their body and then their breath. After a while, Cassius asked if he could guide the meditation and it was magical to observe the focus and concentration and to hear that little voice say the meaningful words. Not only does he learn how to guide others, but for him to do that, he must go within himself and search for answers. That is mindfulness.
Now my daughter has started to ask if she can guide the meditation too. It is quit astonishing to witness a 4-year-old pause, think and care for the words she speaks out loud. The feeling of being listened too without interruptions may very well be a motivating factor for my children, which is another plus on top of the actual meditation.
(picture of cassius guiding a meditation)
3) Ask three specific questions and listen
Thoughts, feelings and body sensations. When your child is throwing a tantrum, feeling scared, sad or really happy, try tapping into their sensations instead of being carried away into your own thoughts that removes you from the here and now. Along with asking what your child is thinking, an essential tool is to invite other awareness into their consciousness beside thoughts, such as bodily sensations and feelings. It can be difficult for the child (and us) to differentiate between these three components of our experiences but you can help them by asking specific questions. ‘How does your body feel right now?’.
The other day when Savannah was crying, I found my self wanting to quickly fix what was wrong, solve the problem and make her stop crying, instead of being 100% present. Wanting to fix things is an old, deep-rooted habit of mine but, because of my own mindfulness practice, I quickly noticed it. By paying attention to my own thoughts, feelings and body sensations, I could choose to respond more thoughtfully to her behavior.
I verbalized the fact that she was crying and suggested that she might feel sad and this understanding made her stop for a second and search for answers from within. I observed her, and she nodded her head feeling met and understood. Savannah distinguished the feelings (being sad) from the bodily sensations (the tears and the sound of her crying) and furthermore she made a connection on how they were related. This is being mindful… stopping everything to look inside you to see what is really going on. I then asked her were in her body she could feel the sadness and again she paused and pointed at her heart. I asked if she could describe the feeling and gave her some options because she is still so little and still needs a little help. She answered that it felt like her heart was smaller and heavier.
This way of dissecting the situation into three components; thoughts, feelings and body sensations can help the children to tune in and take the ”temperature” of what is going on in their minds and bodies.
I also taught Patrick (my older son) these things when he was very young and this tool has really helped him throughout the years. He became good at separating the components from each other and expressing feelings to a much greater degree. It’s reflected in our family discussions and in his relationship to his friends and teachers. Mindfulness is a lifelong skill developed that will help him in every situation.
4) STOP – Pay full attention and you shall receive
We often walk away from our children when they are playing nice and quietly by them selves because then we can get things done while they are occupied. It feels like, as soon as they notice we are not there anymore, they come running and ask for something. I often catch myself half trying to meet their needs, but not really paying full attention, because I’m still trying to fold laundry and figuring out were the other sock is. This results in even more neediness, and the spiral starts to spin.
Why not change this once and for all? If your child want’s to show you their drawing or they need some love from you, stop and pay sincere attention to them. A magical thing will happen. Your child will feel that her need is met and will most likely feel completed and get back to what she was doing before.
Use the word STOP inwardly. This will get you out of your head so that you can choose more wisely. Kneel down in the level of your child’s eyes, and listen without thinking about ending the conversation! Children sense when we do this and will try even harder to get your full attention. Being mindful in the moment can actually save you so much time in the long run.
5) How to teach your child to use his breath
I have a memory of when I was very upset as a child. An adult told me to ”take a deep breath” – I remember feeling resentful as that was not what I wanted to do at all. I didn’t want to get out of anger because I was actually showing the world how I was feelings.
This is why it’s important to teach your children to have a good relationship with their breath before a tense situation 0ccures. I don’t like it when, in an argument, my husband tells me to ‘calm down’. It upsets me and feels provoking to me. But if my body and mind are already tuned into calming down, by daily mindfulness practice, it is be easier for me to actually listen, stop and act on it.
I hope I have given you some real tools to help your family become mindful. I know it will have a profound impact on your lives.
I am so grateful for your time today. Thank you.
Tina Dombernowsky is a mother of three and runs her own successful Yoga Therapy business. She teaches clients how to overcome stress in everyday life using yoga, breath work, meditation and mindfulness, drawing on her own experience and many years of training.
Tina is a RN-BScN from Copenhagen, Denmark. She is Certified Advanced Yoga Teacher, Mindfulness Instructor (MBSR), Kids Yoga Teacher, NLP practitioner (Neuro Linguistic Programming) and Life Coach.
Phone: +1 (562) 810 8913
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