By Rossana Magalhaes, HRI Guest Blogger
You might have heard the word “mindfulness” a lot lately. Whether in articles, books, or scientific research, the benefits of mindfulness are clear. Mindfulness is paying attention, with intention, to the present moment, in a non-judgmental way (1). This applies to adults, adolescents, and even your young children. Yet, I have noticed that the work of mindfulness can seem mysterious to some of us. As back-to-school time approaches, mindfulness might be a great help to you and your children.
In my practice as a therapist I hear comments such as, “Oh no, I cannot stop my mind, it is too busy;” or “I don’t think I can sit still for hours.” This makes perfect sense! I also feel sometimes that I cannot stop my mind. As parents, I am sure it seems next to impossible to imagine getting your kids to stop for a moment and be present. Guess what? It is okay.
Yes, it is okay to intentionally practice mindfulness even with a busy mind. Mindfulness meditation is more about noticing and accepting how busy the mind is, and intentionally training the mind to pay attention to the present moment, rather than completely stopping the mind.
The ability to pay attention in the present moment is available to all of us. We may doubt it because we are not trained to notice it. So, if we consider meditation as a mind training, perhaps the resistance will be changed to curiosity, such as: “Okay, let’s be curious about how to begin training the mind.”
You might be asking, “But, why should I care? I have so many other things to do!” That is where science comes in the picture. There are many benefits that come from practicing mindfulness and mindfulness meditation, however one of the most important is brain development! Research shows that mindfulness meditation opens the possibility of growth in the gray matter of the lower brain stem. (2). The gray area is the area in the brain involved in muscle control, memory, emotions, speech, decision making, and self-regulation. This could be a great strength for our kids in both the academic world as well as in their social development.
Parents of teenagers might be interested to know that the practice of mindfulness and mindfulness meditation has been associated with improvement of the Executive Function for adolescents. The Executive Functions (EF) includes the ability to plan, remember, prioritize, pay attention, and so on. (3)
Science and scientific information might not be the most motivational factors for kids and adolescents, right? So, why not try an experiment with them before class starts in a couple of weeks. Here is an idea for a project that provides a great visual of a mindfulness practice.
- First: A quick trip to the dollar store, if you do not have the materials at home. We need: Play Dough, Toothpicks, Glue, Tissue Paper (white, orange, yellow and brown, or the colors that would represent the four seasons, summer, fall, winter, spring), cotton balls, note cards, markers, and artificial flowers (if you wish).
- The Project: Using the play dough we shape a mountain. Then, we decide the season we will cover the mountain with, using the tissue paper to cover the dough mountain. Then for example, if they decide to have a summer mountain, kids could draw the sun, flowers, birds on the note card, cut it, and glue it using the toothpicks, and decorate the mountain. Invite kids to change the season on the mountain. They can choose another season and change the tissue paper as well as the toothpick with the drawings.
- Reflection: The mountain is the same. The seasons change and with it the outside of the mountain also changes. Yet, the mountain is still solid and stable, no matter what is happening on the outside. Encourage kids to reflect on things that happen on their outside, such as disappointments, anger, changes that will happen when school starts, and ask them to see themselves as stable as the mountain. We can incorporate belly breathing as a way to help them connect with their instability inside. Even if the connection is only a couple of seconds, it is a good start.
Have fun connecting with your kids and teenagers.
Rossana Magalhaes, LPCA, is a counselor at Family Solutions. She can be reached at 336-899-8800, extension 25. Please visit the Family Solutions web-site at www.famsolutions.org.
(1) Definitions adapted from Jon Kabat-Ziin’s Mindfulness definition, © 1990 Jon Kabat-Zinn, Full Catastrophe Living.
(2) David R. Hamilton, PHD. Author of “I Heart Me: The Science of Self-love” and “How Your Mind Can Heal Your Body.”
(3) Riggs, N. R., Black, D. S. and Ritt-Olson, A.Riggs, N., Black, D., & Ritt-Olson, A. (2014). Associations Between Dispositional Mindfulness and Executive Function in Early Adolescence. Journal Of Child And Family Studies, 24(9), 2745-2751. doi:10.1007/s10826-014-0077-3