Raising a Mindful Child

Raising Mindful Children

A dialogue with

Ronald Siegel, PsyD and Elisha Goldstein, PhD

The National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine nicabmwww.nicabm.com

Raising Mindful Children                                                                                                      2

Raising Mindful Children

with Ronald Siegel, PsyD and Elisha Goldstein, PhD

Dr. Goldstein: One of the central pieces that comes into treating children versus treating adults is the idea of making mindfulness a little more playful and imaginative at times.

Make Mindfulness Playful

With children, I would say that it’s great to bring in images. So if you’re focusing on breathing, if you’re bringing attention to the breath for the child, maybe they’re laying down, but you’re asking them to see if they can fill up their abdomen or their stomach like a balloon. They get this playful idea going because they associate balloons with parties or birthdays. So, we can teach the breath with the image of the balloon – filling up like a balloon and then letting the air out.

Basically, you’re teaching them to breathe, and at the same time you’re making it playful; you’re making it imaginative. Susan Kaiser Greenland has a great way of bringing more of the compassion practices to children.

She asks them to send friendly wishes to their friends. First they start out with sending friendly wishes to themselves, so they imagine themselves as happy, having fun, and being healthy and safe. Then, they send those friendly wishes out to a friend and maybe to an acquaintance, to their family, or even to someone they’re having difficulty with.

In doing that kind of practice, they find that they might start naturally sending friendly wishes in some way, which has been found, at least in my experience, to create a sense of good feeling…or even a sense of resiliency during the more difficult times.

Shorter Practices for Shorter Attention Spans

Dr. Siegel: The other thing to keep in mind is simply that kids have shorter attention spans than adults. They’re less likely to be able to focus on more subtle objects of attention. So with kids, we want to use coarser objects of attention, such as the sound of the ringing of a bell, perhaps. Or we could use the sensations of eating an apple, or some kind of movement through space, just something that’s coarser, a more tangible object of awareness.

Then, we want to structure it so that the periods of meditation (if you’re doing formal meditation) are going to be shorter. You’d also want to structure it so there might be some inherent interest. So, for instance, if you were listening to the sound of a bell, you might ask the kids to listen to the bell and also count how many times it rings.

I’ve tried this with adult audiences. Adults usually find that the counting is intrusive; it takes away from really listening well. But kids often find the counting to be helpful – it’s like a latency-age game.

Teach By Example

The place where we make the most progress in introducing mindfulness practices with children isn’t in working with the children directly, it’s in working with children’s caregivers and helping them to be able to be present with their kids, flexible in reaction, and to not be so personally reactive to the various things that the kids do.

The National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine http://www.nicabm.com