Life is full of opportunities to learn, explore, connect and grow—for both parents and children. Many of us may benefit from making a conscious commitment to pause to open our eyes and hearts to these continuous opportunities for connection. Connection with friends, family, animals, nature, and most importantly, connection to ourselves may influence our unique moment-to-moment experiences in a meaningful way.
We can empower our kids to tune into their thoughts and feelings. Using Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D.’s definition of mindfulness (moment-to-moment, non-judgmental awareness), we can teach our children a superpower. The power of noticing, the power of choosing a response to whatever he or she may be thinking or feeling, and the power to place effort toward not judging whatever thoughts or feelings arise, is a worthwhile lesson. While it may not be as initially appealing as the superpower of flying, super human strength ,or teleportation, the skill of being mindful to the present moment may assist both children and adults in development of tools to support communication, focus, sleep, emotional regulation, and resilience. This superpower, especially if learned and practiced early, may provide lifelong benefit when faced with life’s challenges, and also a sense of increased awareness of pleasure and gratitude when faced with life’s gifts.
Here are a few techniques to help our children develop these tools that may be practiced as a family:
At an early age, The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents discuss concepts such as happy, sad, angry and other emotions. Start first with simple pictures of faces and stories with young children and then further expand the details of the emotions with older children. Opening up communication regarding feelings may help teach our children that they are not alone, and that it is helpful to learn from our emotions rather than judge our feelings. This conversation can then expand with older children to inquire, “When you feel (happy, sad, angry) what do you feel in your body?” If a person recognizes the tight shoulders, tense jaw, or shallow breathing that come with a given emotion, it may lead to increased awareness and a decreased risk of autopilot response. Children often become upset when they feel that they have lost control. This heightened awareness of thoughts and feelings, without judgement, may empower the child to feel more “in charge” of his or her own body, leading to less reactivity. Similarly, encouraging increased awareness to pleasant sensations may also lead to a heightened connection to positive experiences, such as a walk in the park or reading a favorite book. Open dialogue with family may assist in this process, such as the parent offering an explanation of what sensations he/she felt when they became angry, sad or happy. The key point of the dialogue is that the superpower is not about changing the feeling, but instead, it is about becoming non-judgmentally aware that one is having the feeling and then choosing a response to it.
We can teach our children to notice how our bodies feel when we concentrate on our breath. Where do we feel the breath? In our belly? Our nose? Our chest? Just take a few moments and notice. Practicing this skill, even for seconds to minutes, may strengthen our ability to turn inward and notice what is happening in our mind and body. Perhaps we can sit under a tree, close our eyes and notice any sensations: Our own breath, the wind lightly blowing in our face, the smell of the cool fall air, the feel of the grass in our fingers… just notice. When faced with a difficult emotion, we can teach our kids to put that same skill into action. Take a few seconds to tune in to our bodies and breathe, noticing any pleasant or unpleasant sensations. Then, after becoming aware, the power of pause may enhance our power to respond—to any life situation, good or bad. Just like the clouds move in the sky, our emotions can come and go as well. It is helpful to take a moment to tune into whatever we are feeling and take the time to notice.
We want our children to learn and grow from life experiences. Some of the best opportunities for learning come from making mistakes. Parents may encourage children to notice small successes that occur when learning from mistakes. They can also help children notice and understand whatever thoughts or feelings may arise after making a mistake. Seeing mistakes as an opportunity to learn may assist in the development of growth mindset, which is key to success as an adult. Another superpower is the ability to find goodness amidst difficulty, finding the rose amidst the thorns. Three Good Things, a simple, daily gratitude activity of finding three, small, good things about each day prior to bed, can be a powerful activity to practice together as a family. This easy, brief activity has been shown to increase likelihood of developing resilience—the ability to bounce back, even when life gets tough.
I’d select the superpower of resilience any day over flying, super human strength, or teleportation. And even though I may have a hard time convincing my own kids of that…I will keep trying.
By Eve Hoover, M.S.P.A.S., PA-C
The information contained in this article is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, care, or treatment. Always consult a qualified healthcare provider for any questions regarding any possible health or medical condition.
Eve Hoover, M.S.P.A.S., PA-C, is an Assistant Professor in the Physician Assistant Studies Program at the Midwestern University College of Health Sciences in Glendale, Arizona. She recently completed her Doctorate of Medical Science with Mindfulness in Healthcare Education as the focus of her scholarly work. Eve has enjoyed many years of primary care practice, with a large pediatric patient population. She is a certified mindfulness meditation instructor and has presented at several multidisciplinary national conferences on her primary research interest, Student and Clinician Well-Being.
Rippstein-Leuenberger K, Mauthner O, Bryan Sexton J, Schwendimann R. A qualitative analysis of the Three Good Things intervention in healthcare workers. BMJ open. 2017;7(5):e015826.