Mindfulness seems to be a trending topic at the moment. It seems every second person I speak to is starting a practice or is reading about mindfulness. There are so many apps and information targeted particularly at adults. The app Smiling Minds is free and, has been developed in Australia for school aged children both in the whole classroom context and individually. I like it because: it’s free, it was developed in Australia ( a similar environment to ours) and, I’ve tried it myself and liked it.
Mindfulness is a way of teaching our minds to focus on what we are doing in the moment. We have all experienced those times when we’ve eaten a meal whilst thinking about something we are supposed to be doing for work and if asked would have no idea what or how much we ate! For children who are struggling to regulate their emotions, it can be helpful to encourage them to focus on what is happening in the moment. Often children will be upset about an event that has happened in the past or may happen in the future. In the present moment they are safe and there should be no need for upset. Similarly for children with difficulty with working memory, if their minds are darting all over the place thinking about what has happened, and what might happen they will have a smaller amount of space to focus on what is happening in the present moment. They can struggle to remember what they should be doing or what their teacher or parent just said to them.
In Smiling Minds activities are separated by age levels so you can select mindfulness activities appropriate for age and stage. There are silent activities which require sitting still as well as activities that require movement for those who find sitting silently difficult. The benefits advertised for mindfulness activities are broad. It is important to note that the evidence is still accumulating about the generalised effectiveness of mindfulness practices especially when it comes to children and educational outcomes. So, if your child is interested in mindfulness, and enjoys Smiling Minds then great, continue to support them to access the app, but if your child finds the activities difficult, don’t push them to keep trying.
If you’ve given mindfulness a try for yourself or your children I’d love to hear how you feel it has impacted you as a parent and your child in terms of their learning.
The idea comes from the British pediatrician and psychoanalyst Donald W. Winnicott who was born in 1896. In his book Playing and Reality, (London: Tavistock, 1971) Winnicott proposed the idea of the good enough mother. As might be expected for a man of his time, he saw active parenting, particularly of infants, as the domain of mothers. If we shift the concept into current times, and consider that the idea of good enough applies to the people/person who is actively parenting rather than gender, it is a useful way of thinking for all of us involved in parenting or working with children and young people.
In essence, Winnicott is suggesting that initially parents provide everything an infant needs. At times parents even anticipate what they might need. For example, mums and dads swaddle their babies and lie them down soon after a feed knowing that their baby often needs to sleep after eating. As parents settle into the routines of the new baby they may momentarily delay providing what is needed. A baby may be left to cry for a moment before mum or dad comes to get them up from a sleep because the caregiver may be playing with a sibling or completing a household or work task. As children grow and develop this becomes a familiar pattern in that the early total devotion to an infant isn’t possible to sustain in the real world of siblings, work and household commitments. Often parents feel guilty about this split of roles and responsibilities. The good enough parenting concept helps us to make sense of the realities of parenting. The delays in delivering what an infant and child want are actually a good thing. They help our infant begin to develop their idea of self-concept, that they are separate from their caregivers and helps them to feel secure in their relationships with their caregivers. They learn that when their needs are not satisfied immediately there is no cause for concern.
So next time your child demands your attention for entertainment or food or other and you have to say ‘in a minute’ or ‘not right now’ instead of feeling guilty pat yourself on the back and tell yourself that you are being a good enough parent and that is in fact being an excellent parent!
Robyn Stead, Child Psychologist and Educator, lives and works in central Auckland.