Thoughtful Parenting: Seeds of happiness

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At a glance

Life for most kids today presents:

■ A schedule that is too busy

■ Pressure to perform

■ Too much media

■ Lack of face-to-face relationships

■ A brain that is in a constant state of fight or flight

The result:

■ Decreased academic performance

■ Problems with attention

■ Impulsive behaviors

■ Depression and anxiety

■ Social struggles

■ Sleep difficulties

Mindfulness helps children develop:

■ Better focus and concentration

■ Compassion

■ Increased sense of calm

■ An understanding of how their brain works

■ Increased stimulation in the prefrontal cortex of the brain

The result:

■ Increased self-awareness

■ Skillful response to difficult emotions

■ Increased empathy and understanding of others

■ Natural conflict resolution skills

■ Better school performance

■ Happier, healthier kids

The other morning, I took my daughter on a short hike with my dog up the Spring Creek Trail. It was a perfect setting, yet my daughter could not stop complaining that she was too tired to walk “all the way to the pond,” and she might get stung by a bee, and that she had pebbles in her shoe and every other grievance she could claim. 

It took every ounce of my effort not to say “screw it” and return to the car, never to take her on a hike again. Somehow, and this doesn’t come easily, I decided to try to take a more mindful approach. I told her that I needed her to help me with some of my work. This piqued her interest. What ensued amazed and inspired me and is a great lesson for all parents.

When I talk to young kids about mindfulness, I often talk about how we have all kinds of seeds in our brains — seeds of anger, sadness, jealousy and of disappointment. We also have seeds of happiness and of peace. Just like in a real garden, the seeds that grow and flourish are the ones to which we pay attention. So, which seeds do you want to grow — seeds of happiness and peace, or seeds of discontent?

Here are ways to use mindfulness to nurture seeds of happiness in your child:

■ Mindful listening: Wherever you are, stop, close your eyes and listen to the farthest sound you can hear. Do this whether you are stuck in your cubicle at work or are camping in the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area. Now, share what you heard. This simple practice brings our awareness to the present moment and stimulates the part of our brain that helps us pay attention.

■ Mindful seeing: Dr. Seuss teaches mindful seeing in “And to Think That I saw it on Mulberry Street.” All the dad asks of the child is to pay attention to what he sees on his way home from school. Ask your child to do the same on a walk, on the ride home from camp or on a trip to the grocery store. Then discuss it.

■ Mindful smelling: My kids love to drive by “fart park”; it never fails to bring a smile to their face. Obviously, this one works much better while walking through the Yampa River Botanic Gardens or on a hike in the Flat Tops. You would be surprised how many wonderful scents often go unnoticed.   

■ Three-breath hug: The next time you find yourself in the middle of a meltdown (either your own or your child’s), try a three-breath hug. It is as simple as it sounds but incredibly powerful. Simply embrace your child and take three deep breaths together. You both will feel a whole lot better.

Now, this is how I used mindfulness to nurture seeds of happiness in my grumpy daughter. I asked my daughter how we might be able to practice mindfulness on our hike. She said, “We can practice it by paying attention to all of the things around us right now.”

We took a seat on a rock and just listened to the sounds around us. We heard the river flowing, birds chirping, dogs running. Macy was certain she could hear the sounds of butterfly wings.

We decided to pay attention to all of the things we could see. We noticed all of the details in the wildflowers that were blooming. We looked at the patterns of the veins in the petals, and we noticed that some flowers hung upside down, and some opened to the sky to soak in the sun. 

We smelled the flowers. We noticed the smell of the pine trees and the smell of wet dogs. 

We then started to search for rocks that we could skip across the pond. We scoured every inch of the trail trying to find the perfect skipping stones.

By the end of our hike, not only had we walked twice as far as we originally intended, but a major shift in our moods had occurred. My daughter mentioned that she thought she had taken good care of her seeds of peace and happiness and that she could feel a change inside her mind. While my intention was not to change my mood, I noticed how much more relaxed and peaceful I felt, as well. 

Kristen Race, Ph.D., is the founder of Mindful Life, www.mindfullifetoday.com, an organization dedicated to providing mindful solutions to help families become more resilient to the stress in their lives. She has been a member of the First Impressions executive committee for the past five years.

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