Back from 5 nights away from the family. In the spirit of mindful awareness, I came to the Mindful Schools annual retreat at the Garrison Institute in the Hudson Valley (across the river from West Point!) with a playful curiosity. I was interested in the content of the two seminar days, but not totally sure what the first 2 days OF SILENCE really meant and even if I really wanted that. What I got from the experience was something magnificent.
The Garrison Institute–where we stayed and learned…surrounded by beautiful hikes, a labrynith made out of bushes, and bamboo groves!
“Welcome to silence”
When I heard those three words, I was scared. I was walking into the unknown and, as new experiences are, I was feeling uncomfortable, weird, and stressed. We alternated between sitting guided meditations (focusing on our breath, our bodies, compassion, self-compassion, letting go of thought for 30-45min) and walking meditations (walking back and forth between 20 feet or so for 30-45m in a clip). I was surprised at how exhausting the sitting and walking was–by afternoon I was tired and by evening I was downright exhausted. Meals were incredible, vegetarian and healthy–a la the famous Moosewood restaurant in Ithaca. We made little eye contact with each other and did not even worry about normal social norms like holding doors for eachother. The experience was designed for each of us to go completely into our own bodies for 2 days without distraction. Each evening we had a talk about our mindfulness practice.
During the silence I practiced staying in the moment without judgement over and over and over again (read: Intro to Mindfulness). It was hard. Our minds have so much practice swinging from thought to thought like a monkey that stilling those thoughts is usually very difficult. It takes a lot of practice to get good at quieting your mind and it is completely dependent on practice. You can not read about it and be good at it, much like swimming or riding a bike. You have to do it. Instead of thinking through every thought or attaching a story to every emotion, I tried to just notice it and let it float on like a leaf on a stream. It was very comforting to allow myself the space to practice this because so often I can get caught in a story that eventually turns into a rumination, which eventually makes my jaw tight, which eventually gives me headaches, which eventually make me tired or cranky, which eventually make me not very nice to be around.
I found the silence to be:
- mundane and profound
- boring and fulfilling
- painful and peaceful (physically and mentally)
- …and so much more
The hardest times of the silence were when I was physically uncomfortable which made focusing on breath very difficult. I also found interesting to note that I really dislike boredom. I would go up to my room and just hear the call of my book to read, or my body to offer going for a walk in the woods, and especially not surprisingly, my phone to call home and hear the voices of my loved ones.
During silence, I can legitimately say I never tasted food quite like what I ate while my sense of hearing didn’t have as much input. My grilled cheese that day was a type of magic I will never forget. As I ate slower than ever before (and everyone else did, too) I got to first notice, then appreciate, than savor every single bite. It was something I had never experienced before and while some moments went faster than others it gave me a deep sense of gratitude I had never had before for a simple sweet potato let alone a veggie burger, bread, or bean salad.
The Tao Te Ching (ancient Chinese text that is referred to as “The Way”) says “We shape clay into a pot, but is the emptiness inside that holds whatever we want.” This simple truth is what I got from the silence, the gift of finding space within myself to hold whatever is dearest to my heart.
With humble gratitude and boundless joy,
PS. I had nothing to worry about: The kids and my husband went camping and had an amazing few days without me.
Next week I am going away on a 5 day mindfulness retreat through an amazing organization called Mindful Schools. I took their Mindfulness Fundamentals course and their Mindfulness Educator Essentials courses last fall/winter and loved them. They were 100% online, self-guided courses with weekly practice and reflections and were the perfect combination of information and guided practice to start a more formal mindfulness/meditation habit. They offer a 5 day retreat for graduates of those courses so next week I leave for the Garrison Institute in upstate NY and I am SCARED–in a good way, I must add, but also a little in the stressed way. Here’s why:
- Leaving the kids and husband for 5 days. I know my husband is an amazing dad and he will hold down the fort, but managing two kids (and their summer schedules as referenced above) for 5 days will be a lot. He has prepped with help from a friend on camp pickups and my parents for the kids to have an overnight one night but still….its a lot of shelpping and prepping. Deep bow to all the single parents who have to do this daily.
- The other thing about leaving the family is that I also am just goingtomiss them. There are days my kid comes off the camp bus that I think he looks older…and thats just a day camp! Thank goodness for FaceTime, but I am going to miss their huge hugs and little bodies SO MUCH. I am also going to miss my husband, I must add (love you, hun!)
- I am vowing not to beat myself up or feel guilty for taking this time for myself, but I probably still will have those feelings. My renewal and growth as a human is vitally important to me, but even more importantly to everyone around me. If I am feeling defeated, down, or depressed I simply cannot take care of those around me the way I want to. So while it is a long time to be away, I am trying to keep it in perspective–this is not a month, a half a year or sometime frame that is really life-altering, this is 5 nights which have been planned for months. Deep breaths.
- The retreat consists of 2 days of silence (and other days of workshops and seminars). Yup, you read that right. 2 days of not talking AT ALL. What exactly does this mean? I honestly don’t really know. I am sort of anticipatory anxious/excited about this. On one hand, I can totally see how blissful this could be, on the other hand….2 freaking days. That’s a lot of not talking. Am I going to be able to sink into the silence and enjoy it….or will I be in my head screaming for 2 straight days? My gut is that the first few hours may be challenging and then I am hoping to get to the sweet peace of it. But who knows?!
So, finally, I must apologize for the two months of silence since my last blog post…summer break got me like whoahhhhhh and I honestly needed sometime away to reflect and renew on my purpose here in the blogosphere. The silence, in that regard, has helped immensely. I am ready to get down to business and create a community of parents who are trying to be more conscious of their parenting and mindful of their living. By coming together through facilitated groups, classes, and private coaching we are stronger, we are wiser, and we are calmer. And this task ahead of us–the raising of our kids, matters. A lot.
So 5 days away starting next Wednesday. I am planning on blogging about it so that everyone can know what goes into a mindfulness retreat and how the silence goes! Have you ever done a retreat with some days of silence? How did it go?
(c) 2017. Nurture: Family Education & Guidance, Emily R.Rittenberg, [email protected]
The other night my 6 year-old son was having trouble sleeping. I got up to his bedroom and he just couldn’t calm himself down. “Honey, do you want to try some mindfulness?” I asked and waited for him to laugh and say no-way. But he didn’t. I had taught him some basic skills (mindfulness of breath) a few weeks earlier and practiced a few times and as soon as I asked, he knew it was just what he needed. We did a short practice–listening to our singing bowl 3 times and then noticing our breaths go in like we are smelling a flower and our like we are blowing out a candle. When he calmed down, I simply said “I am going to ring the bell one more time and then I am going to leave the room”. Then I did. As I was leaving his room he said “Mom, turn my music on” and then he cut himself off “….no, no, never-mind” and he literally rolled over and went to sleep.
I am not perfect (by far!) and my kids are not saints (also by far!) but this mindfulness stuff is really working for our family. For one, it has made me more patient and present with my kids and able to modulate my strong emotions better. For my kids, they have started to really notice their own emotional states more and become more aware of their needs within those high’s and low’s which is an amazing life skill.
Truth be told, very young kids are the experts on mindfulness. They are the masters of living without judgement or attachment but exposure to culture and unconsciousness teaches kids to care more about doing and achieving than being attuned and grateful of the present moment. Adults in their life may want to teach them a different way: the way of mindful awareness. Being on this path with your child, and in alliance with them on their journey through the highs and lows of life, will be a divinely gratifying and nourishing to you as their parent and greatest teacher. But it is important to go on this journey with intention but also of awareness of these basic tenants so that the pendulum does not end up swinging back into more frustration, anger, or control for you or your child.
1. Start with parent. The first step to bringing mindfulness into your home is to ask yourself what motivates your interest? If your authentic answer is to change your child, it will not work. Mindfulness is a way of paying attention, non-judgmentally, to the current moment and if your child does not want to do that it will not work. Instead of forcing it on them, invite them to participate with you and be ok with them not being ready to learn it at this point in their life.
2. Learn basic techniques. It is important for adults to have a basic understanding of mindfulness before you start sharing it with your child or you are setting yourself up for failure and frustration. Learn about how to have a mindful body, how to listen mindfully, how to bring your focus back to your breath, and how to integrate heartfeltness into your moment-to-moment interactions.
3. Choose a time of day to insert mindfulness. Think about your daily routine. Is there a time of day when behavior is generally good and your kids are ready to listen? If your answer is like most parents, that may be hard to identify. Try talking them in the car when everyone is contained. But again, be mindful of your agenda, and willing to drop it if they are not interested.
4. Give them ownership of their practice and let children lead mindfulness. Allow them to ring a special bell to practice listening, cueing you to focus on your breath, or leading you through a body scan.
5. Don’t use it as a consequence. Being aware of your present moment and your breath is not a punishment–it is the sweetest gift you could give a child. Don’t allow it to be associated with anything bad or your child will resent it. That being said, if you want to use it as an intervention for behavior, make sure a practice is established.
6. Be consistent. You can not do a mindfulness activity and expect it to be suddenly integrated into your child’s brain. Like all learning, practice it regularly to strengthen the neural pathways in your child’s brain so that it becomes more and more natural for him to use it.
7. Institute short moments of awareness many times throughout the day for yourself and invite them to participate. Simply asking them to “notice how you are feeling” is a good starting point.
8. Integrate simple rituals. Taking some deep breaths before starting a meal or putting your fork down between bites during a meal is a good way to fold mindfulness into your regular life.
9. Let them teach you what they know. Listen with attunement and presence–exactly how you would want them to listen to you if you were explaining something new to them. Ask questions and look for answers, together, if your child stumbles over their explanation.
10. There is no one-sized fits all approach to mindfulness. Kids of different temperaments, ages, and abilities will need different approaches to learning mindfulness. Some kids might be interested in learning about the brain, others maybe interested in learning during a peaceful hike, and yet others in totally different ways. There are so many directions to try.
We will be sharing more mindfulness resources in the coming weeks so please follow us on FB/IG @NurtureFamilyEducation
© 2017, Nurture: Family Education and Guidance, nurturefamilyeducation.com
Your essence is the most authentic, honest, real version of you. Over years of development it often gets built over with other’s stories of who you are (or who they want/need you to be)–good or bad–but not essential truths of who you are on the most elemental level. Eroding those stories we were told were your identity is a difficult but essential part of raising one’s own conscious awareness.
You don’t want to look ‘there’. Maybe you tell yourself it doesn’t matter. It’s in the past. Let’s just forget it. Or maybe you were told to ‘accept it and move on’ or ‘life is painful’ or ‘life is unfair’. Sure you heard those words as a child, but who was telling you? Why were you asked to put your essential questions aside and let others articulate truth for you?
Your parents greatest flaw was their own unconsciousness. Their own unawareness of their raw vulnerabilities and how that affected them. Hurt them. How they felt betrayed. Scared. Alone. They chose to candy coat those events–make them seem like sad but OK parts of who they are. But they are not. There are stories in them. Unarticulated truths of existence that could lead them to their own divinity. And get you closer to yours. Proof of a life that means so much more than what it seems like on the surface. How could one not be affected by the horrific truths that have been woven into the story lines they were a part of? How could that generational trauma not affect you?
With that bundle of perfection that you coddle with the warmest love, your are scraped into acknowledging your rawest essence–beyond your culture and your parents unconsciousness– and forced to look in the mirror and see–really see–who is looking back. When we acknowledge our true being and remove the false layers of who we were told we were or who we “should” become, then we honor our unique way of being, and as a parent traversing the spiritual journey of raising humans.
So you’re an adult now, a ‘grown up’. It doesn’t always feel that way. When you find yourself lashing out at a child you know there is more–has to be more–from where those automatic stories you tell yourself are coming from. How do you figure out where?
In the solitude of the breath.
What artifacts do you need to unearth from your past to analyze, understand, and refile in your emotional database with a story that actually makes sense? That gets to the heart of the matter?
On the breath.
What nuggets of truths can you uncover when you scuff off the layers of pretend and posing? Will you be able to confront the pain of your family’s skeletons?
The truth is when you get closer the buried treasure might seem like bomb. It may scare you and make you wonder who you are and why are you here? How did you get layered into this mess. It will make you question the stories–you may now call them lies–that you once owned as truth. But be brave.
It may take time–maybe even a lifetime–of digging, sifting, and triangulating the data points to where they line up and make sense. You may have to reach out to other willing family members (aunts and uncles) to unearth the real story of what happened to your parents. You may not find anything for a long while.
Until you do.
Let go on the exhale.
The truth is the only way and making meaning of that is all you can do.
And you may realize all you have is emptiness. Nothingness. This is not bad. This is the starting point to rebuild a new civilization based in consciousness. Reality. Essence. Pure joy. With the emptiness there is wholeness. The ability to be. Anything. Your choice.
Conscious Parenting Series coming up soon! Details on “Upcoming Events“.
Free Introduction to Conscious Parenting Webinar THIS WEDNESDAY 5/3 at 8-9:30pm EST. All are invited!! Register at: https://app.webinarjam.net/register/39213/1f49240fc9
These days are the longest you’ve ever experienced, but you can’t get a thing done. You nurse until your nipples bleed and lie on your bed in a moment of comatose to the new reality, and the baby cries again. You look at the calendar and have a guilty moment of thinking about going back to work–a physical representation of your old life. You think “maybe I was made without a maternal instinct like all the other moms.” Your body will be fragile from the birth, the exhaustion of a newborn, the insanity of taking care of an entirely new human life. And you will be permanently different.
But look around for signs of normalcy. The way your creamer billows in your cup of coffee to the most beautiful swirl the world has ever made. How the warm water drip drops off your finger tips after you clean the bottles for the third time in the day. The forever hum of the lights as you numbly embrace your freedom to go to the grocery store anytime of the day. And in those moments, you can find a peaceful magic no one teaches you about in birthing classes or doctors appointments. An alchemy of awareness. A clarity of your tired senses, a calmness to your thoughts that are about the most basic of needs, and ok-ness to the new normal.
Be gentle to yourself. The only thing your tiny human needs is you–fully, authentically, essentially you.
Let go of the imaginary stories you tell yourself about how this should be, it will be what it will be.
Let go of your need to control how this will unfold, it will blossom at exactly the right moment.
Let go for your desire to capture this perfect moment on camera, succumb to the perfection of the present.
Let go of your attachment to the story of who you were–or should be, you are new again in every moment of this journey.
Let go of the schedule that tells you that your new human is already doing it wrong, make up your own version of right.
No one will tell on you.
And in this dissolution of the self you once knew, you get back to how you started: perfect. Exactly what the universe needs you to be and exactly who your baby came to for guidance on this planet. Embrace the chaos because in this stimulus you can chose how you will respond. Live your wisdom–it is infinite, it is powerful, and it is forever present waiting for you to trust.
With light and love,
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A large part of becoming awakened and growing up as our children need us to has to do with letting go of our attachment to, need of, and dependency on our own parents….By binding ourselves to our own parents for approval, permission, a sense of belonging, and love, we keep ourselves small and childlike. This symbiosis of selves ultimately leaves little room for each to grow and thrive. It then gets projected onto our children, enslaving them to our parental fold beyond what’s healthy”
-Dr. Shefali Tsabary “The Awakened Family”
When you birth a child, you birth two new people. Your baby and you. You are never the same, never disconnected to this life that came of you. It even feels like you could never be independent from that soul–the one in front of you and the one within you. But you were once a new life in front of doting parents, and so were they. What age is it time to let them be free again (are we ever?) and who decides?
Everyone grows up with some level of attachment to our parents–in some cultures and some families, that attachment is stronger than others. Initial attachment is our emotional bond to our parents that gives them the desire to take care of our primary needs (eating, sleeping, safety) and eventually becomes the “engine of subsequent social, emotional, and cognitive development.” The confusing reality of this is that in order to be able to have a healthy attachment to your child-which has multitudes of short term and long term health benefits to you both, one must be able to honestly assess their own emotional bond to their parents. One must ask, how did my parents do at keeping me safe, seen, secure and soothed?
Many of us do not want to assess our attachment to our parents in any sort of negative light because we were told to “honor thy mother and father.” But honor does not mean cover up, sideline, or perverse the truth. Honor means telling the truth (sometimes to ourselves, first) about them, and their journey through life–because, whether they understood this or not, they were your first iteration of the universe’s expression of wholeness. If that iteration had a facade of wholeness and perfection, or at least a good-enough version, we may still trust them to be the truth in our lives. And if not your life, than in the life of your child. So many of us turn to our parents in our own parenthood looking for answers, truths, affirmation of how we are doing. Someone to say ‘you are ok. You are doing a good job.” Mostly that is okay, until you allow that fine line of affirmation to be blurred into an outright acceptance of truth and you end up trusting your parents more than you trust yourself. It is not a parent’s job to set your boundaries in an adult child’s way of being with their child, that is your job. It is a hard part, maybe the hardest, of growing up. Letting go.
You let them in as much as you need or want them there, but honestly assess whether you are giving them this power over your parenting because you need them or because you want them. Confronting your own independence takes maturity, trust, consciousness and vulnerability. Maturity to acknowledge that you are a grown up (even if you don’t always feel that way when you feel like you got lured into an argument with a child). Trust to allow this process of unfolding your children to happen naturally with the good and bad. Consciousness to awaken out of your blind acceptance of enculturation–of your parents and yourself. And finally, vulnerability to admit you may have been wrong and will be wrong in the future.
Setting parents free is different than kicking them out; it is a gift to you- and to them- and a way of stating that “you did a good job here but your job here is done, I’ll take full responsibility for my development from here.” It is a mature way of accepting your own adulthood and relieving them from any unintended damage they may have unconsciously done while raising you. It is freeing both of you from dependence, codependence, and enmeshment and gives you the chance to have a mature adult relationship, as intimate as your boundaries allow, with your parents.
Not from our culture and not from our parents will we learn to parent. We will learn only when we are willing to accept ourselves as unfolding on a perfect timeline for our evolution and that of our children.
Conscious Parenting series will be starting again soon! Details at: “Upcoming Events.”
Read More about Attachment here: https://www.psychologytoday.com/basics/attachment
PS. I love you Mom and Dad–now more than ever.
This past weekend my husband and I decided to go to our local ski mountain and teach our kids how to ski. We are not frequent skiers, in fact this was the first time we had skied together in countless years. But we decided we needed to get out of town and this was the perfect opportunity to do so. We told the kids (ages 4 and 5) when they woke up on Sunday morning that this was the plan (and they were very excited!) and by 7:45am we were off. We knew, logically, that taking kids skiing for the first time was bound to be difficult. Borrowing equipment, filling out forms, waiting in lines, trying oddly fitting equipment on, climbing the stairs holding hands with a kid on one side and 2 pairs of skis (theirs and ours) on the other, (not to mention the actual skiing part!)….we knew it was going to be a lot. But we had the desire to ski and the kids were excited so we went despite all of the reasons we could have opted not to.
What we were not prepared for was the actual reality of how frustrating the process of teaching kids how to ski would be. Since neither of us are really well-versed in how to teach skiing we got onto the snow, put their skis on and tried to send them for a lesson. We wanted to stick around for the lesson since it was their first time ever at the mountain and we didn’t know the instructors. The first child flat out refused to attend a lesson after realizing how hard skiing would be from first touching snow to about 100 yds away from where the lesson began. The second child agreed to do the lesson (despite the fact that on the way there he professed to be an “expert skier”–gotta love 5 year old’s confidence). He quite the lesson 20 minutes later after realizing that skiing is actually VERY hard!
This is where I really notice my own negative self-talk coming up. I could almost witness these automatic thoughts coming up (thank you mindfulness practice for teaching me how to “witness my thoughts”) and saying:
Actual thoughts during the day:
- Why did we bother taking our children skiing?
- What did we expect?
- Why is my child refusing to take a lesson? Doesn’t he want to learn how to ski?
- Can’t I go for a run down the slopes? I really want to go…and I have to sit here and watch them NOT ski??! This is not fair.
- They’re tired. They’re hungry. Again.
- We never get to do anything fun because they are so whiny.
- Why won’t they listen?
- My child is so floppy/lazy/uncoordinated.
- This cost a lot of money and they are just sitting here watching…we could have done that for free!
I literally had all of these thoughts. I am not proud but that is the nature of automatic thoughts. They are not conscious, but rather appear when some emotion deep inside of us is triggered. The goal of conscious parenting is to notice those thoughts, try to figure out where they are coming from, and try to find a mature and conscious resolution to that trigger.
So we took a break, went to the lodge to get a snack and just relax. We ended up sitting in the lodge for about an hour with a friend and her daughter who we ran into there. They have been skiing many times and while we were there her 3 year old daughter went up the chair lift with her and skied down an adult-sized slope (without being attached to her mom. Impressive no?!) During that hour I turned to my husband probably at least 4 times and said “let’s just get out of here, do you want to go? …ugh…Let’s go!”. But something kept us there for a little longer and eventually our friend decided to take her daughter to the snow tube run they had set up as a special event that day. As we left the lodge, my eldest turned to me and said “I want to try skiing again!”.
So this was the moment of truth. Do I tell my child that he lost his opportunity so we are done? Do I tell them I am tired (from the entire shlep of this and/or of hearing them whine)? Something told me to let them have a second chance.
At that point, my friend offered to take my eldest up the “magic carpet” and down the “bunny hill” to give him an initial taste of skiing and teach him how to make a “pizza’ out of his skis while I took her daughter to do a couple snow-tube rides with my other son. She also gave me some parental empathy (which is basically like alchemy, if you ask me) that changed my entire perspective. She said, simply, “taking kids to ski for the first time is such a shelp and is so annoying”. Ahhh yes!! Literally that was all I needed to readjust my attitude and be a calm, conscious, and mature parent again. My entire mindset about the day shifted when I heard that this was all a normal first-time experience (again, which I logically knew but had quickly forgotten in the heat of the moment). I relaxed, smiled, and accepted the as-is of this situation.
Some magic happened during those 20 minutes and my eldest went down the bunny hill with my friend two times and actually enjoyed himself (in fact his exact words were “ok, now I really am a good skier, just let me go down alone!!). My youngest relaxed and after 3 snow tube runs with his buddy, and seeing his brother enjoy skiing, decided that he wanted to try again too. I then took him down 3 bunny hill runs and we had an amazing time.
We left the mountain an hour later on a high. This day, which could have easily become a really bad memory, became a really exciting beginning for us and something we decided we wanted to do more of in the future. Having fun together as a family, being outdoors together, getting exercise together: these are the things we want for our family and skiing was it. It just takes some teaching and learning–for all of us–to make this vision a reality.
As we drove away, the new monologue in my brain–my new automatic self talk became:
- What a fun day.
- Learning to ski is really hard!
- Skiing with kids is really hard!
- Watching your kid stand on skis is charming, hilarious, and impressive.
- We all laughed so much together.
- I’m glad we took that break and reset.
- I’m glad we stayed.
- My kids are champs for getting up and trying again over and over and over again.
- My kids are brave.
- My kids are strong.
- I cannot wait to go skiing again!
What a day!
What automatic thoughts show up when you are triggered? How does that effect the way you parent? How could challenging those thoughts change you and your relationship with your child?
(C) 2017, Nurture: Family Education & Guidance
No, your triggers are not your children. Or even their behaviors. Your triggers are yours and only yours. They are activated when your inner child is scared, vulnerable, or uncomfortable in some other way. When a parent is particularly triggered (emotionally upset) by an undesirable behavior in their child (typical examples: rude behavior, messy room, sibling rivalry) they may want to ask themselves: 1. Why did this happen today, and not yesterday? 2. Is my reaction typical or is this a unique reaction? 3. Do I have an unmet need that this is forcing me to confront? 4. Is this typical of other parents in this situation? 5. Does this trigger reflect something implicit or explicit about my way of being in our family? (Another way of saying this is: Am I who I want to be in this relationship with these children?) 6. What happened in my childhood that may have contributed to these feelings? 7. How can I find a pause before I react next time so that I can respond more effectively? Be in touch. I can help you go through this evaluation…I empower parents to find joy in the hardest job they’ll ever love. Parenting is art but there’s a lot of science to it too that I can help you understand. We are all in this together. [email protected] (c) 2017. Nurture: Family Education and Guidance
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So we parents are convinced that we want more time and space in our lives. To do this, we have chosen to integrate a mindfulness practice in our lives. This may be a formal meditation, or this may be through different techniques to slow down and focus on our breath more frequently. Either way, this eventually leads parents to experience great relief, optimism, and desire to share this journey with their children. Kids can reap the benefits of mindfulness and it can help them self-regulate and learn to concentrate their attention. Before you embark on bringing this journey to your children be aware of your intentions and do not push these activities. I repeat: do NOT push these activities on your children. If they resist, no matter how well-intentioned you may be, drop it. The best way to encourage your child to slow down, listen to their body, and breathe is to authentically role model this behavior through your own practice. Children will naturally drawn to mindfulness when they are interested and forcing them will be counterproductive.
That being said, below are several resources I recommend to share a mindfulness journey with your children starting with focusing on their breath. (Future posts will focus on mindfulness of body, emotions, heart, and more–so sign up for our mailing list!)
1. Hoberman Sphere: Use this fun toy to visually show how breath expands and contracts and the appropriate speed to do so to calm down. My child liked playing with this toy more than using it to monitor his breath, so I took my own advice and abandoned (for now) us using it together. Instead, I used it alone and found it very helpful in staying focused on the cadence of my breath and sustaining attention on my breath.
2. Noticing Breath: Have your child get a special stuffed animal lay down. Put it on your belly and have them notice what it does when you breathe (go up and down). Now put it on your head or legs and have them notice what it does when you breathe (nothing). Have them lay down. Have them try moving it slowly up and down 5 times. Ask them how they feel when they take 5 deep breaths.
3. Breathing Technique: Have your child inhale like they are smelling a flower and exhale like they are blowing out a candle. I did this with my kids at a family yoga class we recently attended. It is a relatable visual for the kids which will help them understand the 2 main parts of their breath more clearly (inhale and exhale). If you have another tangible object for them to inhale and another to exhale (like a balloon), use it! It will make the “lesson” more fun and memorable.
4. “Calm” App. We carry our phones with us wherever we go, so this app is nice because it is practically always at an arms lengths aways! This program has some neat features which kids (and grownups) will enjoy using including: a visual breath tracker telling you when to breathe in and when to breathe out. It also has a “sleep story” feature where you can listen to a calming story before bed. The app can record the frequency of your meditations which is helpful. I personally don’t love having an app be a part of my mindfulness routine, but if it works for you, go for it!
5. The Boy Who Searched for Silence by Andrew Newman: I got this book at Dr. Shefali’s Tsabary’s Evolve conference last year. She gave a beautiful endorsement of this book. This book is a beautiful tale of boy who is looking for silence and the amazing feeling he experience he has when he finds it. My son is inexplicably drawn to this story and I am fascinated that he keeps picking it for bedtime. Instead of asking him, I am just riding the wave and enjoying the process…I hope you do too. This book gets 5 stars from us.
Again, a note of caution about getting so excited about your mindfulness journey that you force it on your children. You can expose them to what you are learning, but they will reject it if it gets pushed on them. The breath is their most sacred home that they will find peace in–whenever they choose to go on that journey. Don’t taint it with your expectations, judgements, and intentions.
What other mindfulness of breath tools do you recommend?
@2017 Nurture: Family Education & Guidance, nurturefamilyeducation.com
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Introduction to Conscious Parenting
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“It’s just ice cream! We’ll get you another! Stop crying!”
“Your hair is a disaster, stop screaming and let me brush it. Now!”
“Are you seriously crying over Legos? You have so many! Stop throwing them, or else!”
“No, for the 10th time, you are not getting that toy with behavior like that.”
All parents are faced, at some point, with children who are seemingly not able to control their emotions and are acting in socially and culturally inappropriate ways. One expects young toddlers to do this, but as kids grow older, say 3-6 years old, we hope that they are able to start recognizing their feelings more objectively (instead of just feeling those feelings) and respond more maturely. This can be very frustrating when a parent doesn’t know how to help their child deal with their big emotions–usually negative. When children do not understand their feelings they are unable to problem-solve the issue at hand and help themselves out of emotions that might not be serving them.
Self-regulation is the processes that allows people to appropriately respond to their environment. It goes hand-in-hand with mindfulness which is the ability to recognize a present-moment thought or feeling without judgment because both are about insight and awareness of oneself. It is important for people to have the ability to notice what emotions one is feeling and how intensely one is having those emotions so that they can respond appropriately instead of a quick and thoughtless reaction. Self-regulation is important for people all ages and learning it begins at birth. To teach self-regulation, parents must model appropriate self-regulation, give their child hints and cues on how to appropriate self-regulate, and give their children practice by gradually withdrawing their support. Babies regulate by “co-regulating” or attuning to their caregiver and the process evolves as the child becomes more independent, develops more self-awareness, and develops a vocabulary. It is a slow process that develops over many, many years.
An important first step is to get your child to start recognizing the physical sensations of their emotions. Without awareness of how the emotion presents in your child’s body it seems more overwhelming and helpless than it actually is. To start this in your home, parents should attune themselves to their own physical sensations of big emotions and start noticing their child’s. Take cautions not to judge physical reactions, but just notice them. Find a safe and quiet time to debrief with you child after a big emotional outburst when they (and especially you) are calm and in an accepting state of mind. Talking to a child in the midst of a tantrum will not be productive because their brain is unable to receive and process complex information in that heightened state. In the middle of a tantrum parents should first keep their child safe from himself or harming others and then respond lovingly and empathetically to their physical sensations (ex. “I see that you are sad because your ice cream fell. I would be sad about that too. Can I give you a hug?” or “I know you are frustrated that your brother keeps taking your Legos. It is annoying when people just take things without asking. Can I sit with you while you calm down and then we can figure out a solution”.)
Next, help your child label their emotions (aka. “name it to tame it”). Start this by reading stories to your children about kids who have similar big emotions. You can also hang up an age appropriate feelings chart in some common area of the home. An age appropriate feelings chart for little kids, who are more concrete thinkers, is one with pictures of actual human faces and only exhibiting 10-12 different emotions, or else it will be too overwhelming to use. Many adults will appreciate having an adult version too so that they can get back to identifying the nuanced feelings throughout the day, becoming more attuned with their own emotional landscape, and role-modeling naming the feelings.
After recognizing and naming the emotions, it is important to help your child calm down. When your child is experiencing a big emotion, a part of their brain called the amygdala takes over and tells them to fight, flight, or freeze. This has an important function in helping people respond quickly to danger but children need to learn to control this impulse and take a moment to choose a better response. Helping your child to learn how to relax can be done in a variety of ways, some examples include: taking them away from the chaotic space to somewhere quiet and private, talking to them in a softer voice, getting at or below their eye level, slowing your breathing, listening to music, and many mindfulness practices geared towards children.
Finally, by helping the child to focus on something good–the sunshine, a cookie, a parent coming home soon, not with the intention of distracting the child but rather to remind them of something positive is a great way to diffuse attention away from the big emotion and onto something happy.
Coaching your child through these tough times will be difficult but children need their parents to be the calm, unconditional leader to help them mature through their developmentally normal emotional outbursts.
Resources to learn more:
The Whole Brain Child by Dr. Daniel Siegel and Dr. Tina Payne Bryson
Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child by Dr. John Gottman
Printable Feelings Chart for Little (2-5) and Bigger Kids (6-11):
Great for little kids (2-5 y.o.) because it uses real human faces to show emotions which is more concrete for little learners.
To further this lesson with your children: have them look through magazines and cut out pictures of faces and then label them with the correct emotion.
Once kids are able to read a more advanced chart without pictures is appropriate. This one is great because it allows users to identify and accurately label the intensity of the feeling.
Feelings Chart for Adults who want to improve their Emotional Intelligence (EQ):
How many of these words do you use to describe your day-to-day emotional world? How would being more specific with your emotions help you interact better with your children, spouse, co-workers, or other close relationships?
(c) 2017, Nurture: Family Education and Guidance, nurturefamilyeducation.com