‘Mindfulness’ – a word that is floating around a lot these days. The natural questions which come to mind are; is this just another buzzword? Does it really work? Or is it just a trendy parenting fad?
As a Parent and Child Life coach, I use a wide range of strategies for both parents and children to encourage healthy emotional regulation and strong relationships. I provide tools which teach positive mindset skills, happiness and resilience to help children and parents to cope with the challenges that life brings. And I have to say Mindfulness has been my number one ‘weapon’ of choice when tackling emotional and behavioural problems with the kids that I coach. It gives children something special, something they can use for life. It gives them coping mechanisms.
As parents we often place sending our children to dance classes and clubs to build their skillset at the top of our lists, but we can fail to give them an emotional skillset. Why? Because the way parenting trends have evolved means many of us as children were not given such a skillset ourselves, so naturally we are not always fully equipped as parent to provide this to our children. Giving children and parents, these skills and coping strategies is my heartfelt mission driven primarily by the 11-year-old girl I once was. The traces of my ‘little girl’s’ anxiety, anger, emotional pain from losing my father at a young age, not to mention a huge knock in confidence and my lack of ability to cope stayed with my adult for many years thus self-causing poor emotional regulation, difficulties in relationships and a struggle with my mental health. Now looking back, I realise I also bore witness to my mother’s struggle, her confusion with knowing how to provide me with the ability to manage my emotions and behaviour, how could she? When sadly she didn’t have these skills herself. The result was heart break and damage. This is the kind of heartbreak that is preventable for other families, and Mindfulness has a huge part to play in that. You may find yourself asking ‘Is it just for children who have experienced loss or trauma?’ No it’s useful for every child as a preventative strategy for mental health issues and simply as a way to cope with everyday stresses and problems.
Ok ok, so you can tell I’m a fan, and now you just want to know what Mindfulness really is, why it matters and how it works right?
Mindfulness is both a practice and everyday attitude that teaches children precisely how to notice their feelings in any given moment and to know exactly how to build in a pause between impulse and reactivity. Mindfulness activates the regulating and calming part of the brain, so that when a child perceives a threat and feels fear from a challenge in life, they can enter a calmer state a lot quicker. It works by re-training the brain into a new habit as such, that habit is to go straight to the breath when an uncomfortable feeling arises. We know behind every behaviour is a thought or feeling. Mindfulness allows us to notice this uncomfortable thought or feeling and use the breath as an anchor to ground us, before we react into a less favourable behaviour. It also cleverly brings more awareness to the quality of our thoughts over time, so we can begin to change unhelpful thought patterns.
From a scientific point of view, a combination of the breath and certain neurons calm the ‘triggering’ part of the brain and carry oxygen to where it is needed in the body which calms and releases tension. Brain scans have also shown a reduction in the size of the reactive region of the brain, and increased connectivity between the rational calming pre-frontal cortex and the ‘reactive’ part of the brain. Physiologically, this means the calming neurons get to where they need to be a lot quicker.
When my research and training revealed these findings, I of course became an even bigger fan, and I had an even stronger feeling that this was the answer to many mental health problems for both adults and children. Pausing to consciously choosing your thoughts. Pausing to get to know your thoughts. Pausing to allow these thoughts to change behaviours. Pausing and allowing the breath to calm tense parts of the body. Pausing to re-wire your brain consciously towards positivity. This for me was the answer. I only wished this was available for my 11-year-old self, luckily, I still I feel her still receiving it now, after all we all have an inner child who can benefit from Mindfulness right now.
For me it made unmanageable moments feel manageable, and gave me a ‘go to’ technique to use in everyday life when I felt angry, anxious or overwhelmed. As well as being great for my own inner child, I’ve seen profound in the children and pre-teens who have taken my 16-week Mindfulness programme and I would definitely recommend it to families. I saw many children in reactive states, displaying anger or anxiety in my role as a teacher and Coach and the 16-week course was the answer for these children.
So, what do you make of it? Not fully convinced? On the fence? I’ll be honest when I first heard of mindfulness I thought ‘that’s just like counting to ten and breathing I’ve tried that, it doesn’t work!’ I was at that point in time yet to discover how much more mindfulness is than that. More than one article could ever get across. It really is totally experiential and to be done properly I highly recommend a professional course, this is where I personally made my most profound shifts.
If this does sound interesting to you there’s lots you can do to encourage Mindfulness yourselves in your home and family as a start to exploring mindfulness. I’ve included some of wonderful tips below.
How can you encourage Mindfulness in your home and family?
#1 Parents practice Mindfulness themselves first and foremost with a strong intention and reason
Instead of teaching your children how, show them by your example first. Modelling is the most effective way to encourage your children’s curiosity about mindfulness so they feel it is their choice. Children rarely do something that their role models do not embody. Also decide why you’re practicing. Set an intention behind it. This is a large part of the kid’s course. It can be for example to be more in the moment in your relationships and enjoy being playful, or for Mummy to shout less. Share these reasons with your children. If they see there is a true and real intention behind your practice, they too will learn from this example and want to find their own reason for practicing. Kids love and value honesty and real examples.
#2 Set your phone alarm for a mindful 3 minutes every few hours
Practice coming to the breath throughout the day and pausing to get to know your thoughts better. Gently notice thoughts and gently return to the breath. The goal is not to stop thoughts just to stop and notice. This can lead naturally to re-wiring towards positivity once you get to know the nature of your thoughts.
#3 A mindful attitude is grown through gratitude
When mindfulness is taught it is done so in a way that cultivates non-judgement and gratitude. So, try teaching gratitude for beautiful moments with your children, and having that open dialogue to bring this away from purely material things. This helps children to cultivate heartfelt positivity and happiness. This can be done in a number of ways for example a family gratitude journal or a gratitude jar where children can write what or who they are grateful for, and then perhaps explore them over dinner. Recent studies have shown that when we experience gratitude the parts of our brain associated with social bonding and stress relief light up and has health benefits too! So a grateful attitude really is good for your health.
#4 Mindful movement
This can be so many things, walking, dancing or Yoga. Try out Mindful walking perhaps, noticing how fast your walking or walking very slowly and purposefully bringing attention to the feeling of the surface beneath you, the contact your feet have with the ground. You can often use very fast movement with children and then encourage them to find where the breath is in their body after.
#5 Mindful listening
Try out actively listening to your child or other family members without jumping in, finishing their sentences or being distracted by your own to do list. If we listen from the heart and fully we can intuitively tap into and feel the emotions they are trying to express.
#6 Breathing exercises through concrete objects or visuals
For children breathing exercises are best taught through the use of a visual picture or association or a concrete object. Try using ping pong balls, filling the belly gradually with breath to the count of four then slowly releasing to the count of 8 whilst blowing the balls away from them. Similarly, this can be done with the concept of smelling a flower. These are great ways to get your child used to finding the breath and using it as a grounding tool.
These are just some brief ways to introduce mindfulness into the home. If you are curious about implementing mindfulness as a solid practice in order to receive the full benefit, and see the life changing effect the practices can have then feel free to get in touch, and also check out a whole host of online support for your family via Facebook:
Mindset and Life Coaching for Parents, individuals and Children
Find me on Facebook
Or click HERE Join my supportive group for daily support and content.
Since commencing my Mummy Said So blog I have followed and been in touch with Sharne on a regular basis. It was a delight when she agreed to share some in sight via Mummy Said So to help other parents understand mindfulness and the huge benefits it holds in teaching and developing new skills for our Children. The support and direction she provides for parents is on another level. Of Course she offers her services as a professional and you can pay to benefit from her expertise however; Sharne is on a mission, she wants to help as many children as she can so she works really hard to provide support, information and live daily feeds via Facebook so I hope all of our wonderful Mummy Said So readers will take the time to connect with Sharne whether this be via social media or direct because she is such an amazing influencer with goals that will only benefit yourself and the future of our Children.
Mummy Said So x