Category Archives: Mindful Parenting

Now More Than Ever: The Importance of Finding Mentors for Our Children


Photo Credit: Lauren Hammond,

Tuesday night I had such a vivid and disturbing dream, one that brought up emotions so intense, I was forced to ride the waves of them all day the next day. In the dream I was in a small boat, at night, with an overwhelming sense that I needed to escape. The particulars of the situation are fuzzy, as they so often are in dreams, but there were unidentified people that I urgently needed to get away from. First, though, I needed to find my two boys and get them on the boat with me – I couldn’t leave them behind. Finally, as the three of us were about to take off into the watery darkness, not knowing where we were or where we were going, only aware that we needed to get away, I woke up, heart pounding and mind racing.

Having gone to bed before the official results of the presidential election were announced, but guessing the outcome already, my subconscious had clearly chosen “flight” from its menu of threat responses. As I woke to the sound of rain, the feeling of adrenaline still coursing through my body, my conscious thoughts picked up where my dream left off. We are no longer safe, but where can we go? What can we do? Is it time to make a new life somewhere else? And then sadness set in, thinking of everything we would be leaving behind, all our friends, the boys’ activities, our home. I decided to get up and take the dog for an early walk even though it was raining – I needed to move, to think.

Walking through the streets, passing neighbors out walking their dogs or driving by as they headed to work, I started wondering how others were handling this shocking outcome. I knew there would be some calling out for us to “come together” now that this awful election was over, but that’s not an option I could choose – as much as our divisiveness is hurting so many in our country, I wasn’t sure how to “come together” in an authentic way yet. Likewise, I suspected that others would be encouraging us to “dust ourselves off” and regroup for the next election. As much as I wished I could be, I wasn’t there yet, either.

As I arrived back home, mind still whirling, one of my mentors called me. I expressed my distress to him, my fear of where our country and world are headed, my faltering faith in humanity, and my uncertainty about what to do next.

His advice: “Wind your watch.”

This person is an airline pilot, and he explained to me that when something goes wrong in the cockpit, the first thing he and other pilots are trained to do is pause, to take in everything that’s going on before making any decisions on how to respond. This is his own plan for responding to the current political situation, too – to wait, to watch, and then decide how to respond. So, while I may still decide that “flight” is the best option (or may eventually choose “fight” instead), with time it will likely become more clear which response will be most healthy and constructive. The point is, I don’t have to decide right now, and in fact shouldn’t decide right now.

Wise advice, right? And a perspective I couldn’t have arrived at on my own, especially given the emotional state I was in. My other take-away from the conversation was this: we all need mentors. When we talk about mentors it’s usually in the context of gaining some sort of professional experience, guidance, or connections, and rarely (at least in my experience) about the value of personal or emotional mentors, people who can act as sounding boards, help steady us when we’re lost and confused, and serve as role models. For our children, especially those of us with particularly sensitive and attuned children, mentors are perhaps even more important as our kids work to shape their identity and find their place in the world. As parents struggling to figure out the best way to raise children in our current cultural climate of anger and divisiveness, finding mentors who teach, explicitly and implicitly, the qualities we want our children to develop as they grow into adulthood, and ultimately into leadership roles, is of critical importance. For me, these qualities include tolerance and compassion, first and foremost, and also critical thinking, the differences between facts and feelings, how to listen well, and the importance of reading and educating oneself.

As it turns out, there may be some cause for hope about this younger generation we’re raising. Those who are just a few years older than my kids overwhelmingly voted for a diverse, inclusive vision of our future. So, they’re on the right path, and we can help our future leaders continue to blaze the way. I know that one of my first priorities is going to be connecting my children with constructive personal mentors, people who want to have a positive impact on the world and can help show my boys how to ride their own emotional waves when they inevitably arise and, as Michelle  Obama said, to “go high” even when others don’t. And after that? No idea – probably just more walking, winding and watching for now.


If you would like to read more about this topic, click on this graphic to check out related posts at GHF:


Reflections in a Pond: Recognizing Giftedness in Our Children and Ourselves

Lori DunlapWhen people ask me where I grew up, I cringe a little. I hate answering that question, more than almost any other, because I didn’t really grow up anywhere. Not in any one place, that is. So it’s hard to give the expected one-word answer and keep the flow of conversation going, when the true answer requires a story, or at the very least a rather long list.

You see, my dad was in the Army the whole time I was growing up, which meant that we moved every six months to three years. Well, except for the year I was in first grade – that year we moved twice in six months, so I ended up going to three different first grades. Throughout elementary school I was sometimes in school with other military kids, but mostly I went to school with non-military ones, especially once I entered junior high and high school. While all of this moving around required me to learn how to fit in and make friends quickly, I still ended up feeling like an outsider most of the time.

Being the “new kid” is hard, no matter how many times you’ve done it. And, no matter how hard I tried, I could never have the history, the shared stories and memories, of kids who had gone to school together their whole lives. Add to this that I had been identified as gifted, and was taken out of my classes on a regular basis to participate in gifted courses, and you can see that any hope of feeling part of the crowd was basically gone.

Jump forward to adulthood, and I still feel on the outside much of the time, although for different reasons now. I love reading, especially books about psychology, sociology, neuroscience, and philosophy, but finding people who are interested in these same things and share my enjoyment of discussing big ideas, of delving into deeper conversations, is hard to do. Also, I don’t do small talk well – it exhausts me and I start feeling restless after just a few minutes. In short, I’m usually the mom sitting to the side of the group of moms during gymnastics lessons and swimming practices, reading while the other moms chat and knit. We’re friendly – we’re just not on the same wavelength.

It didn’t occur to me that I might be a “gifted adult” until fairly recently, though, when I learned that my son is also gifted. Somehow the “gifted” label seemed like something that only applied in school, something that didn’t really have any relevance once I reached adulthood. As I see myself reflected back to me in my son these days, it’s so very clear how much he’s like me when I was his age, and how much we have in common even now. We both love talking about ideas, developing new theories about the world, immersing ourselves in our interests. But, most of all, we both feel things deeply, and incredibly strongly. When we’re in sync, it’s glorious; when we’re not, well…

On those days it’s like pebbles have been thrown into our respective emotional ponds, and the resulting ripples collide and bounce off of each other. Sometimes, I’m the one responsible (albeit unintentionally) for throwing the pebbles in his pond, and other days, vice versa. In short, our separate emotions can set the other off, or intensify what’s already there. And it’s these times when I try to remember that it’s my job, as the adult, to recognize the dynamic and try to calm the waters before “those little wave a-flowing to a great big wave have grown.” While it’s not easy to manage my own emotions in addition to his, with intention and practice, I’m getting better at it. The key is to find my own reflection in the ripples, and then to seek the calmer water underneath. Recognizing and allowing – that’s the goal for both of us.


Drop A Pebble in The Water

Drop a pebble in the water:
just a splash, and it is gone;
But there’s half-a-hundred ripples
Circling on and on and on,
Spreading, spreading from the center,
flowing on out to the sea.
And there is no way of telling
where the end is going to be.

Drop a pebble in the water:
in a minute you forget,
But there’s little waves a-flowing,
and there’s ripples circling yet,
And those little waves a-flowing
to a great big wave have grown;
You’ve disturbed a mighty river
just by dropping in a stone.

~ James W. Foley ~



If you’d like to read what others are sharing on this topic, click on this image and jump over to the GHF March Blog Hop!

March Blog Hop

Is Parenting the Ultimate Lesson in Non-Attachment?

As my teenage son turned away from me, tears in his eyes and disappointment on his face, I knew immediately that I had Contemplating 2just made an enormous mistake, that I had missed something very important. It had been a typical, casual conversation that had suddenly gone wrong. But how?

More at:

On Energy Waves and Minor Miracles

Great WallLately I’ve been noticing how people are like cell phones – we regularly send out energy waves of our own, and not just light or sound energy that we can perceive with our eyes and ears, but the invisible kind, too.  I can’t prove it, nor do I know if anyone else can, but I’m certain that it’s true, and here’s how I know:  my kids told me.  Here’s how the Great Wall in China inspired this insight, and how it has changed my daily routine…

From the Outside Looking In

000_0308My feet felt like they were on fire.  The stands were surprisingly full, and I was glad I’d arrived early enough to grab a seat that was mostly in the shade.  My sandal-clad feet were in the sun, though, and I noticed that the skin on top was already turning red – I’d need to move soon, probably to a place where I’d have to stand.  I decided to relax for a few more minutes as I looked out over the inner field of the high school track, looking for Sam, my 7th grade son, who was about to run in the first meet of the season.

I scanned the various clusters of boys in his team’s black t-shirts, and looked for his coach’s signature bright-orange hat. Where was he?  Finally, I spotted a single figure sauntering along the perimeter, gazing off into the distance, hand tracing along the yellow tape separating the discus area from the rest of the field.  There he was.  My heart squeezed a little, taking my mind off my feet temporarily. I wasn’t surprised that he was off on the side by himself, alone in the crowd, but it panged me nonetheless.  My sweetly earnest, creative, introverted son – how I wished he were part of the group.

This wasn’t the first time I’d watched from the sidelines as Sam separated himself from the others on the field.  When he was four we signed him up for soccer, thinking it would be a good way for him to run off some of his little-boy energy and meet some kids his age.  That was during his dinosaur phase, the years when he had memorized the names of every dinosaur in every picture book we had (more than most libraries), and would spend hours a day setting up elaborate scenes for his brightly-colored, hard plastic T-rexes and Stegosauruses.  Soccer, it turned out, held little appeal for him – the ball and net were basically invisible. Instead, he ran up and down the field following the herd of other children who were chasing the ball, hunched over in a T-rex pose, elbows pressed in, ”claws” facing forward.

At the time my husband and I were both very frustrated – we wanted him to be part of the team and make friends with the other kids.  We encouraged him to practice for the games, and spent many afternoons kicking the ball with him in the back yard, and running and dribbling it around the park.  He always went along with us, and listened respectfully as we talked about his responsibility to the team, but it never “took” – at the first opportunity he was back to stomping and roaring.  These days we laughed about those times, wishing we’d lightened up about the silly soccer game, but now I was feeling those familiar feelings of frustration again.  I still wanted him to be part of the team, to make friends.

Finally, too hot to stay where I was, I walked up to the shaded area at the top of the stands where I could still see the track but, as I suspected, had to stand.  I shifted my attention to the other shade-seeking people packed into the viewing area with me and noticed how increasingly noisy it was – the many animated conversations, the clapping and cheering, happy voices calling out to each other.  And it was in that moment, as I stood there quietly in the middle of all that commotion, that I suddenly realized that I, like Sam, was also alone in the crowd.

Growing up as an introvert was hard for me, and I had hoped that neither of my boys would face this particular challenge. My younger son is more outgoing and social, like his dad, so navigating social situations comes easily for him. Sam, however, is like me and prefers to be alone most of the time, quietly reading or working on his own projects – this is how we recharge our batteries.  In an extroverted culture like ours we are often misunderstood, and often feel separate and different.  Watching Sam wander alone around the field that day, waiting for his track events to start, my heart ached.  I didn’t know how to help him.

As we drove home after the meet, Sam told me how much he liked running, even though he was “really, really nervous” before each of his events. “Running is one of my things,” he happily declared.  While pleased to hear this, I was still carrying the weight of the worry and anxiety that had begun earlier, still trying to figure out what I could do.  I decided to ask about whether he was getting to know any of the other boys on the team, whether there were any he liked particularly. “Mom, I’m there to run. I talk to the other guys sometimes, but mostly I’m focusing on running.”  His tone told me that he knew I was going somewhere with this.  I pushed ahead anyway, insisting how nice it would be to make a friend on the team, how he could try to talk to the boys before practice or on the bus on the way to the meets. “They’re usually playing games on their phones, or horsing around. Stop worrying, Mom, I’m fine.” In other words:  end of conversation.

So, I did what I do:  I sat and felt all of my heavy emotions and noticed all of the roiling thoughts about it over the next few days.  And as I sat, I began (slowly) to realize that Sam was teaching me something I needed to learn and, in truth, had needed to learn for quite a while:  to allow him to be who he is. Instead of imposing my “stuff” on him, all of my worries and terrible visions of the future, I needed to trust and allow.  In my desire for him to have a better life than mine, to avoid the particular suffering I have known, I was projecting my wishes onto him and inadvertently sending the message that something was wrong with him. My ego had gotten in the way (again).

Knowing this does not make letting go any easier, at least not yet.  However, in the moments when I can observe my sons or listen to them without attachment or the need to control, I experience a deep and genuine sense of peace, and know that I am on the right path. In the moments when I just can’t achieve this, it helps to remember the words from Kahlil Gibran’s poem, “Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.”  This may be the hardest truth of parenting, but this is the job we signed up for – we need to be “the bow that is stable” so our children “may go swift and far.”  And that’s what Sam was both showing and telling me that day as he ran around the track – he wants to go swift and far.  All I need to worry about is getting there earlier – oh, and remembering to bring sun block.


On Children
 Kahlil Gibran

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.


Does Meditation Stress You Out?

You know how sometimes you feel like you’re the only one struggling to do something that’s good for you, something your doctor, dentist, psychologist tells you to do?  Like flossing your teeth after every meal, or drinking a gallon of water every day, or getting up at the break of dawn (or earlier) to run five miles.  So you don’t talk about it, right? You just pretend you do all of these things because that’s what everyone else does, and you don’t want to look like an unhealthy slacker. Sound familiar?

Well here’s some breaking news:  nobody does all of the things we’re supposed to do to be healthy.  If we did we’d blind each other with our glaringly white teeth, and the part of the day when we weren’t running we’d be in the bathroom ridding ourselves of all the excess water.  We’d have no time for anything else.  But even though I think we all recognize, at least on some level, that it’s impossible to do everything right all of the time, we still feel bad about it.  Take, for example, meditating.

Meditation is getting a lot of coverage these days, and everyone seems to be talking about it.  I’ve been struggling with some health issues these past few months, requiring many trips to various health practitioners, and without a doubt (and regardless of the diagnosis given, which varies wildly from doctor to doctor), the one thing they’ve all been consistent about is telling me to meditate.  I don’t disagree that meditation can have health benefits — I’ve read the research and know first-hand that I feel better, mentally and physically, when I meditate regularly. But I think we need to be careful about latching on to meditation as the “silver bullet” for whatever ails you.  In fact, according to a recent article in the Boston Globe, The Stress of Not Meditating, telling someone they need to meditate can actually cause them stress.

“Nothing’s more stressful than hearing about the advantages of something you’re not doing.”

So, if you are one of the many who wants to be “calm and happy and live in the now” but who also has a mile-long list of things you can accomplish with that extra 15 minutes, you are not alone.  If you are feeling stressed because you know you should meditate, your doctor, yoga teacher, or best friend has told you that you need to do it, take heart in knowing that even the person recommending it to you probably doesn’t do it, at least not regularly (although they might not admit it). 

So should you give up on the idea entirely?  Well, that’s up to you.  But before you do, consider this:

  1. Meditation is only one form of mindfulness practice.  If sitting on a cushion for thirty minutes a day isn’t something you want to do, there are other options.  You can breathe deeply and mindfully at stop lights, or spend the first 10 minutes of your lunch time eating slowly and quietly.  The idea is to incorporate small mindful moments into activities you do regularly; anything that brings on a relaxation response counts.
  2. You may already do things that approximate meditation.  Many activities like gardening, hiking, or playing music bring our brains close to a meditative state. In short, if you lose track of time doing a favorite activity (i.e. reach a state of “flow”), you’re receiving some of the same physiological benefits as you would get through meditating on a cushion.
  3. There are no rules. There are many types of meditation, so you should explore the options and choose something that works for you.  Also, starting slowly is perfectly acceptable — if five minutes on the cushion (or chair or bed) is all you can or want to do, just do that.  The meditation police will never know and, even if they did, they don’t write tickets.

So whether you decide to jump on the meditation bandwagon or not, I think the  healthiest choice any of us can make is to be honest with ourselves and everyone else about what is important to us and what we value.  We are free to make our own choices, free to decide what works for us, and also free to release the guilt, shame, and fear about all the rest.  “Seek the middle path” as Buddha advised — it’s all about balance, not perfection.

Minding the Gap

Meditation, Week 4

The previous posts this month have all focused on the benefits of regular meditation and mindfulness practices and how, even when we are aware of the physical and psychological benefits of these practices, it can still be difficult to make time for them.  So if it’s difficult to be mindful on a typical day, what about the days and moments when we really need them — moments of extreme stress or overwhelming emotions?  What then?

This is how a mother of a young son described her situation after reading my last post, Mindfulness Blooming. She wrote that she would like her son to:
…think it through before he says things that he knows is wrong or mean. 
I like the whole approach about ‘choice’ – make a good choice or that 
was a good choice. But his bad behavior is getting very, very repetitive 
and frustrating because he’s so impulsive.”

Anyone who has been a parent of young children can certainly relate to this and, if we’re being honest, we must admit that even as adults we have impulsive moments when we react unconsciously and say or do something we later regret.  How does mindfulness come into play in these situations?

The short answer is:  by creating space.  Mindfulness is the process of creating a moment of space, a gap, between when we experience an emotion and when we choose a response to it.  The trigger for the emotion can be almost anything:  something we see, something someone says or does to us, or even a thought we have.  No matter how hard we might try (and believe me, I have tried!), we cannot control what other people do, nor can we control our emotional response to it, but what we can control is how we respond. 

  • First, we need to name the emotion, and often there are more than one. This may sound simple, but when emotions are strong and mixed together, it often takes some time to untangle them.  And there is science that supports how important the naming process is — just saying to ourselves “I’m angry” helps our prefrontal cortex, the decision-making part of our brain, begin to “unflood” so we can think more clearly.
  • Next, we need to focus on our bodies.  Again, this sounds easy, but as we all know, pausing in the heat of the moment long enough to notice what’s happening in our body can be tough.  If we pay attention, though, there are often physical cues that go along with an emotion that can eventually be “early warning” indicators as we become more aware.   

For kids the “minding the gap” process is the same, we just need to coach them through it gently and patiently.  I describe one of the first times I did this with my son, Ben, in an earlier post Developing Minds.  Since that event, I’ve also noticed that sometimes I can tell even before my boys do that something has affected them — with my older son, Sam, it’s often a particular look in his eye that alerts me, and I can then ask him how he’s feeling, which helps him in directing his attention.  

Finally, there’s another aspect of parenting mindfully that I don’t think is addressed as frequently as it should be, and that is “self compassion”. I was first introduced to this idea at a meditation retreat, and it deeply resonated with me.  As parents, we work hard to raise our children and provide them with everything they need, and its easy to blame ourselves or feel discouraged when our kids don’t behave in the way we would like them to, when they continue to struggle with particular issues.  We need to be patient with them and with ourselves.  For me this can be difficult sometimes, but I find that trying to look at myself from the perspective of someone who loves me helps, as does including myself when I do lovingkindness meditations.  We can all benefit from a little extra compassion from any source. So this week, practice saying to yourself…

May I be happy,
May I be well,
May I be free from pain and suffering.
Activities for Meditation, Week 4

This week’s activities have been selected to help you:

  1. Consider ideas for parenting mindfully,
  2. Find emotional and mental space in everyday moments,and
  3. Have some fun with your kids doing random acts of kindness.


When you have five minutes…

Watch this 2-minute video of Dr. Christine Carter talking about mindful parenting:  

What can you do this week to be a more mindful parent, and create space between your emotions and your actions?



When you have 15 minutes… 

Notice the “wallpaper” in your own mind.   This mindfulness practice comes from Rick Hanson, and is something you can do standing in line at the grocery store, or any time you have a few minutes this week.  Here’s how:
“Enjoy emptiness in the forms that speak to you: perhaps the quiet at night 
when everyone’s asleep but you, a blank page in your journal, a friend’s 
receptive listening, an open counter as you begin to cook (love this one myself), 
a hole in your schedule, the space between thoughts 
as your mind calms and becomes still, or a Saturday with no plans at all.” 



When you have 30 minutes or more… 

Do random acts of kindness.  Here’s a list of ideas to get you started, but it will be especially fun if you and your kids add your own ideas that are especially meaningful or enjoyable to you. 
  1. Take food to the food bank.
  2. Leave flowers on the doorstep of someone you sense might benefit from some extra kindness this week. 
  3. Offer to babysit for someone with young kids.
  4. Pick up trash in a neighborhood park.
  5. Write a thank-you note to someone whose work you appreciate:  the local police/fire department, a teacher, your mailman… 


Mindfulness Blooming

Meditation, Week 3

Spring has felt more like summer in the Pacific Northwest this week, so my family and I have been spending a lot of time out on the back deck soaking in the sunshine.  A couple of days ago I was sitting outside reading and got up to come inside just as my nine-year-old son, Ben, was coming out to tell me something.  We ended up standing a talking for a moment about whatever it was, and as we turned to come back in the house, Ben startled me when he suddenly exclaimed “Mama, look!” 

Turning and expecting to see some problem I would have to deal with (usually the cause of such exclamations), I was surprised to realize he was pointing to the trees.  The leaves are that beautiful bright shade of spring green right now, and the angle of the sun at that moment was catching the leaves in a way that made them particularly brilliant, with a light breeze moving the leaves just enough to enhance the sparkling effect.  He reached out to hold my hand, and we stood silently for a minute, admiring the view.  

This was one of those rare and precious parenting moments when I had the feeling “Hey, I’m really on the right track here.”  You see, I have an addiction that I wasn’t even aware of until fairly recently that would have previously made this moment unlikely, and I’ve been working hard to recover from it. No, not alcohol, not drugs, not gambling – the addiction tohurrying.  For years now, even in situations when I’m not under any time pressure to get someplace or meet some sort of deadline, I still hurry, rushing myself and everyone else along to do whatever we’re doing quickly so we don’t waste any time.  

The irony of the situation, in retrospect, is that even though I’ve had a regular meditation practice for a while now, remaining mindful throughout the day is still a challenge.  Regularly hurrying through my days, I know that I’ve rushed past many potential moments of connection like the one I had looking at the leaves with Ben, which is really the whole point of meditation and mindfulness, right? Being in the present moment.  And what’s more, given that energy and emotions are contagious, I’ve also been infecting my family with my “hurry up” energy.

But lately I’ve been practicing being more mindful throughout the day, and I’ve been trying to help my kids do this, too.  Just role-modeling mindfulness would not be enough, however, because implicit learning, or learning without the awareness that we’re learning something, is fairly weak.  So, I’ve been talking to the boys a lot about mindfulness, and I’ve also made a habit of saying out loud things like, “Wow, I’m feeling a little scattered here. Let me take a breath and try to focus.”  Much better than snapping at everyone to be quiet, or hurry up! In short, I’ve been developing my mindful parenting skills.

Mindful Parenting

So what does it mean to mindfully parent?  Mindfulness, as described by Dr. Dan Siegel, is “paying attention, in the present moment, on purpose, without grasping onto judgments.”  Which means that we can think of mindful parenting as the practice of intentionally bringing purposeful awareness to everyday parenting situations in order to cultivate and deepen the parent-child connection.  And there is a clear benefit to mindful parenting, too – a significant and growing body of research showing that kids who are deeply connected to their parents demonstrate higher levels of:
  • Self-esteem
  • Confidence to explore and experiment
  • Communication skills with people of all ages
  • Academic performance
  • Adaptability to change
As Susan Kaiser Greenland, author of The Mindful Child, so beautifully describes it:

“Making the choice to exercise restraint, empathy, compassion and even-handedness time and time again is how these qualities become habitual in both parent and child. When our kids see us being kind to others, we’re both practicing kindness ourselves and modeling it for them; when they watch us exercise patience while waiting our turn in the grocery line or when stuck in traffic, we’re both modeling patience to our kids and practicing it ourselves.”

Mindful Children

So in addition to role modeling mindfulness, how can we teach it to our kids?  How can we become mindful families?  Here are a few ideas:
  • If you meditate, practice where your kids can see you.  Never force them to join, and don’t even say anything about it. Just let them be curious and ask on their own.
  • Create mindful moments.  Finding opportunities to be mindful is simple, no matter how busy you are, because mindfulness can be woven into common daily experiences (see some suggestions in “Activities” below). When you’re feeling overwhelmed or distracted by your own emotions, name the feeling you’re having, and say what you’re doing (out loud if your kids are nearby).  For example, “I’m so frustrated – I didn’t expect this traffic and I’m worried we’re going to be late. I need to take a breath and calm down.” 
  • Focus on the small stuff.  It’s the small moments that matter, not the big exciting ones. Pointing out an interesting cloud, or sitting quietly together having a snack – these are the experiences that make your kids feel connected. 
  • Give your undivided attention.  This is what your kids want (even teenagers!) more than anything.  Let them choose the moment, and be ready to seize the opportunity when it arrives.  Make eye contact, listen more than you speak, and stay as open as possible — no judging! Even if it’s just for a few minutes, it matters.

Activities for Meditation, Week3

This week’s activities have been selected to help you:
  1. Practice incorporating mindfulness into your regular daily routine,
  2. Share your meditation and/or mindfulness practice with your kids,
  3. Experience other forms of meditation, including an eating and walking.


When you have five minutes…

1.  On your own:   Sign up for “interrupters” from Mindful.  You can choose to have regular “mindful interruptors” sent to you by Twitter or email that remind you to be aware of your present moment.  An example of one:  “Get out of your chair. Stand up straight. Slowly bend forward from your waist. Let your hands dangle and your head drop. Ah.”

2.  With your child:  Try an eating meditation (a classic!).  Here’s the process, as described by Christopher Willard in “A Child’s Mind”.  All you need are some grapes (or raisins are often used, too):

“…study the grapes for a few minutes, examining them in the light, playing with them in your fingers, bringing them to your lips… notice if you salivate.  Then, gently, without biting into it, place the grape on your tongue, and notice any urges that come up.  Notice what your tongue and mouth do, or want to do, as you taste the grape.  When you are ready, bite into the grape, noticing the flavors and textures. How is your stomach feeling? And the rest of your body? After swallowing, notice any left over flavor remaining in your mouth… and thoughts in your mind.”


When you have 15 minutes… 

1.  On your own:  Watch this 10 minute video with Susan Kaiser Greenland talking about how to incorporate mindfulness practices into your child’s life. Think about mindfulness activities you would like to include in your schedule this week.

2.  With your child:  Find one opportunity to give each child your undivided attention. Wait until they seem to be interested in talking about something, and be prepared to stop whatever your doing to give them your full and undivided attention.



When you have 30 minutes or more…

1.  On your own:  Do a walking meditation.  There are different ways to do walking meditations, and this is a simple set of instructions for one form from Mindful.  As they describe it: “This one relies on a pace that is close to how we might walk in everyday life, and in fact it can be adapted for walking in the street—just as long as you remember to pay attention to street lights, other people, and not looking like a zombie.”

2.  With your child:  Do a body scan (great to do before going to bed!)  Here’s how:

  • Lie down on a bed or some other comfortable place.
  • Take a few minutes to breathe slowly and deeply; feel gravity pulling you down.
  • When you’re ready, bring your awareness to your face, including your eyes, nose, and mouth, and squeeze your face muscles together as tightly as you can, holding for a count of 10. 
  • Release and breathe.
  • Bring your awareness to your neck and shoulders.  Squeeze these muscles, bringing your shoulders as close to your ears as possible for a count of 10.
  • Release and breathe.
  • Continue moving down your body, progressively tightening and releasing the muscles in your arms and hands, abdomen, buttocks, thighs and calves, and finally feet, holding each for 10 beats.
  • Relax and breathe deeply.

Want to learn more? Go further?  There are several great books that I highly recommend, two of which include CDs with guided mindfulness and meditation exercises.  You can click on the titles below to transfer to the “Teach Your Own” store at Amazon, read descriptions of each, and order any that are of interest.

  1. The Mindful Child, by Susan Kaiser Greenland
  2. The Whole-Brain Child, by Dr. Dan Siegel
  3. Building Emotional Intelligence, by Linda Lantieri and Daniel Goleman (includes CD)
  4. Planting Seeds, by Thich Nhat Hanh  (includes CD)
  5. Child’s Mind, by Christopher Willard

When mindfulness embraces the ones we love,
they bloom like flowers.
~ Thich Nhat Hanh

Your Body and Brain on Meditation

May 2013,  Week 2

So by now hopefully you’ve experienced it – the peace and centering that comes from taking a few quiet moments to yourself.  If not, maybe you’re still not sure what all of the buzz is about, or maybe you’re unconvinced that making time for meditation is worth your time and effort. (If you missed last week’s MindPooling post introducing meditation and mindfulness, you can find it here, along with some helpful links to help you get started at the end of the post).

If you’re in the “not certain” group, the only way to know for sure is to try a few meditation sessions or develop some mindfulness practices and see for yourself (see the link to guided meditations at the end of the post “Do You Meditate?”). Trying to describe meditation is like trying to describe crème brûlée (I’m something of a fanatic about this dessert) to someone who has never tasted it:  I can list the ingredients, tell you how it was prepared, and compare the taste to another food, but you can’t really know what it is like until you try it for yourself.

If you are in the “unconvinced” group, or maybe you’re convinced but you’re having difficulty making meditation part of your regular routine, looking at the science behind meditation may help.  You have likely heard about (and maybe experienced) the reduction in stress and anxiety that comes with meditation, but did you also know that a regular practice can have physical impacts on your body?  For example, researchers are finding that meditation can:

  1. Reduce your blood pressure,
  2. Change the structure of your brain, increasing the connections (and size) of the areas responsible for decision making, attention, and memory,
  3. Affect how your genes are expressed,
  4. Decrease the occurrences of stress-related illness, and 
  5. Slow down the aging process.
Researchers have also found that you don’t have to be a Buddhist monk to gain these benefits — meditating just 30 minutes a day is all it takes!

If you have tried meditation but are still having difficulty making it part of your routine, here are a couple of additional tips:
  1. Schedule it. All healthy behaviors need to be scheduled until they become a habit. Ideally you should schedule it at the same time every day, and connect it to something you already do every day (like after you brush your teeth).
  2. Work up to it.  Thirty or forty minutes of meditation will be hard if you’re just starting out.  Start with just 5-10 minute sessions, and add 5 minutes a week.
  3. Start with guided meditations.  A guided meditation, especially one geared for beginners, will give you the assurance that you’re “doing it right”.  It will take a few sessions to get the hang of it, so be patient with yourself.
  4. Make peace with restlessness.  It’s completely normal for everyone, even experienced meditators, to feel restless while they are trying to sit still.  One way to help with this is to do some gentle stretching beforehand (yoga is actually a physical preparation for meditation).  When you do start feeling restless (because it will happen sooner or later!), don’t react — see if you can just notice what restlessness feels like in your body.  Some people have found that this is particularly challenging for them, so do your best to keep working with it, and keep in mind that restlessness has never killed anyone, so you’ll be fine!

Activities for Meditation, Week 2

This week’s activities have been selected to help you:
  1. Understand how meditation can affect your health and well-being,
  2. Be more aware of how your thoughts affect your emotions and actions,
  3. Experience how focusing on one concept like gratefulness can affect you.


When you have one minute…
Learn more details about how meditation affects your body and mind:  Mindfulness Meditation Could Lower Cortisol
When you have 15 minutes… 
Spend some time noticing how your thoughts affect your emotions, and how your emotions affect your actions.  If you’d like to take it a step further, experiment with the idea of “not believing everything you think” and choose an opposite thought to one you just had. Does it change how you feel?

“The thought manifests as the word;
The word manifests as the deed;
The deed develops into habit;
And habit hardens into character.
So watch the thought and its ways with care,
And let it spring from love,
Born out of compassion for all human beings.
As the shadow follows the body,
As we think, so we become.” – Saying of the Buddha
When you have 20 minutes or more…
Try a gratitude meditation!  Many people report that gratitude meditations have a strong influence on how their body feels, and helps them meet the challenges of the day with more compassion and strength.  Here’s a description of the process as provided by Phil Stutz and Barry Michels in “The Tools”:
  1. “Start by silently stating to yourself specific things in your life you’re grateful for, particularly items you’d normally take for granted.  Go slowly so you really feel the gratefulness for each item.”
  2. “After about thirty seconds, stop thinking and focus on the physical sensation of gratefulness.  You’ll feel it coming directly from your heart.”
  3. “As this energy emanates from your heart, your chest will soften and open. In this state you will feel an overwhelming presence approach you, filled with the power of infinite giving.”

And don’t forget…. Please share your experiences and thoughts with others on the “Teach Your Own” page on Facebook here:  Teach Your Own.   You can “Like” the page if you’re interested in receiving the next MindPooling postsThe final two meditation posts this month will discuss mindfulness and meditation for kids!
Note:  If you’d like to learn more about MindPooling, check out the MindPooling Overview.

Do You Meditate?

May 2013,  Week 1 

It seems that information about meditation is everywhere these days. Recently researchers’ interest in the brain and the effects mindfulness practices like meditation have increased, and their studies are revealing a strong connection between our thoughts and our emotional well-being and physical health.  This is great news for those of us whose internal energy meters are permanently pegged at “overwhelm” because the results of the research is consistently positive:  regularly meditating and engaging in other mindfulness practices helps us manage our stress more effectively, and reduces the physical damage stress wreaks on our bodies.  What’s more, it’s not just adults who benefit, but kids as well. 

For families who already incorporate meditation or mindfulness into their regular routine, sometimes it is part of their spiritual practice, but even more often their intention is to help kids build important life skills that will help them navigate the difficult and challenging experiences of life.  Kids (and adults) who practice mindfulness have an easier time:
  • Calming down when they are overwhelmed by big emotions like anger or sadness 
  • Focusing and concentrating 
  • Managing stress and anxiety 
  • Cultivating compassion and gratitude

I began meditating about nine years ago when I was pregnant with my second son, and have had a fairly regular practice since then.  Surprisingly, it didn’t occur to me until just last year that meditation might be something both of my sons could learn and benefit from the same way I do.  I wrote about a particular “big emotion” moment in the Developing Minds post (followed by Developing Minds, Part II), and it was this event that inspired me to do further research and begin teaching my sons to meditate. 

If you’re interested in developing a personal or family mindfulness practice, the good news is that there’s a tremendous amount of information out there and lots of great tools available.  The bad news? There’s a tremendous amount of information and lots of tools.  Don’t be deterred,  because the benefits are amazing.  Both of my boys have taken to meditating before going to sleep at night (bed time has become such a calm, peaceful time), and they are noticeably more in control of their emotions — even the big, overwhelming ones!  

So whether you are new to meditation, or want to recommit to your practice, check out the list below for activities you can do this week.  And stay tuned for next week (learn how here), as we learn more about the science behind meditation, and prepare to teach our kids!

Activities for Meditation, Week 1

If you do all of these activities this week, you will:

  1. Begin increasing your level of mindfulness,
  2. Learn about meditation (or recommit to your practice if you already meditate),
  3. Experience a few short meditation sessions.

    When you have one minute…
    Practice becoming more mindful.  Choose something you do every day, multiple times a day, like touch a doorknob or stop at a stop signThen, each time you touch a door knob, for example, that is your cue to: 

    1. Pause, 
    2. Notice your breathing (fast, slow, shallow?),
    3. Do a quick body scan, noting any areas of tension or discomfort, and
    4. Breathe into those areas of your body.
    When you have 15 minutes… 
    Learn more about mindfulness and meditation.
    1. Watch this excellent TED Talk by Andy Puddicombe describing meditation and mindfulness (10 minutes)
    2. Decide if you’d like to try a couple of meditations and, if so, when and where you will do them.
    When you have 20 minutes or more…
    Try a guided meditation!  

    1. Go to this link:  Guided Meditations   
    2. Choose one of the meditations from the list of options that is of interest to you.  If you are new to meditation I suggest choosing the one entitled “Complete Meditation Instructions” (19 minutes).
    3. Once you feel more comfortable with what to do, explore some of the other meditations.

    And don’t forget to share your experiences and thoughts with others on the “Teach Your Own” page:  Teach Your Own  Our goal is to support each other and learn by sharing!



    If you’d like to learn more about MindPooling, 

    check out the MindPooling Overview.