Could mindfulness help you and your children learn to live for moment?
18:09 11 January 2016
As busy parents and grandparents, life can seem frenetic and exhausting with no clear end in sight.
But children could actually be just the tonic we need for a calmer, happy existence. Naomi Gornall explores how.
In this modern age of technology and endless consumer choices, it can be increasingly difficult to stop for just a minute and be present.
When you become a parent or grandparent, that frantic lifestyle is intensified, and whether you have a young baby to care for whose needs are constant, or older children, whose social lives are packed with after school activities and classmates’ parties, it can be hard to take a breather and slow down.
That’s where mindfulness comes in, a key part of which is about living in the moment.
With its roots in Buddhism, mindfulness (a simple form of meditation) became more popular in the west in the late 70s after an American professor, Jon Kabat-Zinn, founded a mindfulness-based stress-reduction programme.
Thanks to its proven benefits, including a reduction in stress and improving levels of happiness, it is now widely recognised, from the NHS recommending courses to patients with depression, to corporate firms providing training for employees.
Teaching mindfulness to children to calm them down and increase their awareness has become quite commonplace now, but there is also a lot us grown ups can learn from them.
Whether it is a baby watching snow, a toddler feeling trickling water from a tap, or a 5-year-old collecting conkers, children have that incredible ability to become totally immersed in a moment, which so often passes adults by.
Suffolk-based psychologist Martin Wilks, who is also a mindfulness teacher, believes that children can help us regain our sense of presence that forms a fundamental part of mindfulness.
“One of the very important parts to mindfulness is being able to live more in the present and children are great examples of that. What enables children to live so much in the present is their early psycho-spiritual developmental stage. There is an eagerness, rapturous curiosity of everything in the present moment and that is beautiful. We tend to have less of this capacity as adults and one of the reasons is that we become fascinated and distracted by other things.
“We become more aware of criticism; self-monitoring, self-evaluation - this starts predominantly in our mid-teens and continues to feel like an important issue throughout life. As adults, mindfulness can help us reach through that fog.”
Mr Wilks further explained that although children can aid our mindfulness practice, they themselves are not yet fully capable of it, as it requires a more complex cognitive ability.
He added: “Mindfulness is about more than regaining a child-like capacity to be in the moment.
“It is literally about coming to our senses, which requires us to turn our attentional focus away from all the ‘what ifs’ ‘if onlys’ and ‘what do people think of me’s?’ and anchor in the present moment. This does not mean we should come back to a child-like state though. It is a mature mind that has developed that ‘meta-cognitive’ ability to observe such thoughts. If you can notice the thought you are having, then you do not need to be ‘had’ by that thought.”
He highlighted ways to practise mindfulness techniques with children, such as joining them in being aware of the senses, and said the simplest thing we can do is to learn from them.
Fortunately as parents and grandparents, it does not take a drastic change of lifestyle to incorporate mindfulness into our lives. It can be as simple as walking a little slower with our children and being aware of what is around us.
As Mark Williams and Danny Penman explained in their bestselling book ‘Mindfulness; Finding Peace in a Frantic World’: “Pure awareness transcends thinking. It allows you to look at the world once again with open eyes. And when you do so, a sense of wonder and quiet contentment begins to reappear in your life.”
‘My son teaches me’
Rosie Dhoopun from Helmingham said that since having her son, Rafferty, now eight, she has learnt to embrace mindfulness more.
“When Rafferty was little, we used to go to the playground and have to spend hours there. I had to learn to be a lot more present and patient with him. We all tend to rush around, doing 100 things at once but children learn a lot at a playground, so I slowed down and started to notice things more.
“More recently, we were walking through town, and I was walking at quite a fast pace, when he suddenly stopped and said ‘look at this flower’, He had noticed a flower growing in a crack of a garden wall. I would have never noticed it before. He’s very interested in nature and often stops and points things out to me.”
Rosie runs antenatal classes (‘Nature to Nuture’), with a focus on teaching pregnant women how to be more mindful and self-aware of their feelings and changes taking place during their pregnancy.
As well as learning from Rafferty, Rosie also encourages him to be more mindful at times.
She said: “I talk to him about being grounded, breathing properly and slowing down. It has made him a bit calmer.”
‘I do sometimes lose it!’
Angie Lee-Foster, a yoga teacher from Hacheston who recently launched her own business (‘Big Sky Yoga’), is a mum to Francesca, 13, and Esme, four, and practises mindfulness with them.
She said: “To me mindfulness means being present in the moment, knowing and experiencing what you are doing, what you are thinking and how you are feeling. Children are very in the moment and that can be joyful.
“It’s hard of course being a parent because children are demanding and different ages have different and often competing demands so I’m definitely not perfect and I do find myself losing my temper, but less so when I have been doing yoga or practising some breathing or meditation.
“When my four-year-old was a baby, she took hours to go to sleep and rather than sit by her cot or bed feeling frustrated and resentful, I often used this time to meditate and found it was a peaceful and precious time for both of us.
“Unsurprisingly she went to sleep quicker as I believe we can sense ease or discomfort in someone so I think she felt more relaxed as I was more settled. Now she often joins me on the yoga mat!
“It’s about finding moments to stay in tune with yourself so you can be more in tune with your children.”