The Mindful Child

We all know kids who are out of control.  We all know adults who are out of control.  And we all don’t want to have those kids or be those adults.

Enter: mindfulness.

I’ve posted numerous times on this topic only because it’s extremely important to me.  There’s the post on Building Emotional Intelligence, based on the book of the same title.  There’s the post on Eating an Orange, a sort of meditation encouraged by Thich Nhat Hanh.  There’s the post on Karma, or changing practice into habit.  I’ve learned so many tools over the years that have given me tangible ways to manage my stress and engage with my present living moments.

I’m reading The Mindful Child by Susan Kaiser Greenland, Cofounder and Executive Director of the Inner Kids Foundation, a program affiliated with the Mindful Awareness Research Center at UCLA.  Greenland teaches mindful awareness to children and teens, and this book is a way to teach the techniques to parents everywhere.  Thank goodness.

Mindful awareness is simply paying close attention to what’s inside of you—your thoughts, feelings, and emotions—so that you can better understand what is occurring to you.  It’s as though you’re a fly on the wall, observing (astutely) what’s going on around you, how you’re feeling, and how you’re reacting.  The book is full of practical suggestions, so if you’re interested in teaching your child(ren) or yourself how to be mindful, I would suggest picking up a copy.

Greenland compares our minds to the surface of a pond.  When the water is still, you can see clear through to the bottom.  When the water is ruffled by wind, you can’t see what’s underneath.  All our restlessness obscures the quiet within, and clutters the clarity with which we want to see the world.

Liliana and I did one of Greenland’s suggested activities the other day.  I love these visuals!  It makes the concept so clear.

Clear Mind Game (taken from pg. 63)

Take a clear glass cylinder full of water, put it on a table, and ask your children to look through and see what’s on the other side.  They’ll probably see you or whatever’s sitting on the tabletop.  Pour a cupful of baking soda in the water and shake the cylinder.  What does it look like now?  Can they still see through to the other side?  Probably not: the baking soda clouds the water and obscures their vision.  Just like baking soda in water, thoughts and emotions can create havoc in our heads and cloud our otherwise clear minds.  After a minute or two, take another look at the water.  What happens when you leave it alone?  Sure enough, the more the water rests, the more the baking soda settles, and the clearer the water becomes.  Soon, all the baking soda will settle to the bottom of the cylinder and your children will be able to see through the glass again.  The same holds true with our minds.  The longer we rest in the steady rhythm of our breathing, the more our thoughts and emotions settle down and the clearer our minds become.

One more awareness “activity” to calm a child down.  Some children find it difficult to sit still, but discover it’s easier to calm themselves when they’re lying down.

Starfish Stretch

Before beginning the stretch, I talk to kids about how starfish have five limbs that come together in the center of their bodies.  Almost everything a starfish does starts from its center.  Starfish eat from their centers and their movements start from their centers.  We talk about how people do a lot from our centers, too.  We even breathe from our centers.  Then, everyone finds a place on the floor where they are able to lie on their backs and stretch their arms and legs out to the sides like a starfish, without touching anyone else.  We imagine that our two arms, two legs, and heads (including our necks) are the five limbs of the starfish.  While taking a deep breath into our abdomens (or our centers), we stretch all five limbs out against the floor like a starfish, imagining that the movement starts in our middles and spreads out through our arms, legs, necks, and chests into our hands, feet, and heads.  After stretching as we inhale, we exhale and relax, resting our bodies against the floor—arms, legs, back, hands, feet, necks, and heads.  Then we stretch our five limbs (including our heads and necks) again, while breathing in.  When we breathe out, we release and let any tension that we held in our bodies fall into the floor and the earth below.

Isn’t that marvelous?  So simple, and yet so profound.  I’m SO incorporating this into our lives.  “I’m a little stressed, Liliana.  I’m going to do the starfish stretch.  You wanna do it with me?”  I know she will.  And what another great technique for life’s toolbox.

[Post image: Starfish by moodfish on stock.xchng]


  1. Redlefty
    Sep 01, 2011

    Metawareness, yes indeed!

    I started teaching my kids meditation as soon as they could understand my words and instructions. They have different names for it now but generally call it “breathing time”.

    You’re right; I bet your clan will love it!

    • Elissa
      Sep 02, 2011

      So you’re ahead of me on this…it’s good to know it works! 🙂

  2. dasephix
    Sep 02, 2011

    Wow! This is excellent. I was not aware that there were programs and books dedicated to developing mindfulness in teens and children. I wish that I had started practicing meditation during my junior high through high school years, ha ha.

    Pema Chodron’s audio book, Don’t Bite the Hook, has been an excellent reminder for me when I get stuck in heavy emotions. Then again, I could be doing a lot more practicing if anything!

    I just love the idea that people are making this more available to teens and children, and I honestly believe that it is a practice that can shift the paradigms in society, toward a deeper sense of compassion for others but especially for oneself.

    I’ve had to go about it in the past, where my thoughts and emotions would often cloud my judgment and greatly reduce my capacity to engage life when I was anxious and depressed. What I find so wonderful about it, is that it is a way to recognize the associated feelings before they become unmanageable. Funny though, that the irony of all my emotional trials was that they were also the source for my breadth of perspective and my peace.

    Had I had these tools introduced to me during my youth, perhaps I wouldn’t have fallen into the whirlwind of adolescence, without the aid of the “observing” mind. But, I am glad to have experienced in all its glorious-wretchedness. I’d love to work with troubled teens someday in some capacity, because I think a lot of them may find mindfulness practice useful. I’m just really glad to know that the mindfulness movement is really rooting itself!

    Thanks again!

    • Elissa
      Sep 02, 2011

      I’m with you on this one. I wish this were something taught in schools (along with how to fight properly, how to set up personal boundaries, etc.). It seems like everyone could learn how to handle stress and how to observe oneself objectively (as objectively as possible!).

      I hadn’t heard of Don’t Bite the Hook…looking it up now…thanks for that suggestion!

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The quote I live by

Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them. It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you need to live the question. Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day.
--Rainer Maria Rilke in Letters to a Young Poet

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