Why introduce mindfulness to kids?
If you already have a mindfulness practice – whether it is meditation, mindful inquiry, releasing or all three – at some point you may feel you’d like to introduce your children to your practices. With mindfulness we learn acceptance of feelings and thoughts that are often judged, punished and suppressed in Western culture. This releases us from the constant battle with thoughts and feelings and allows us to feel compassion for ourselves and others. Children can benefit from learning that acceptance just as much as adults do.
Deepak Chopra, author of many books including, 7 Spiritual Laws For Parents, suggests six as the youngest age to introduce children to meditation. In her first book, Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life, Byron Katie says that children as young as five can question their thoughts using The Work. As Katie points out, children can misunderstand things just as adults can. Many psychologists reckon we form many of our unhelpful beliefs in early childhood – so questioning them in early childhood would possibly make it easier to let them go. My own children began to learn mindfulness practices at about 5 and 6.
Reasons not to introduce your kids to mindfulness
- You are very new to mindfulness
- You want to use it to “fix” them, or think they “need” it
- With your new awareness you feel guilty, and want to make up for it by teaching them processes that will get rid of the damage you have caused
- You want to spare them from suffering like you suffered (either as a child, teen or adult)
If you are nodding along because you have already done one of those three things I listed above, don’t worry. So did I; my kids are teenagers now and they are fine. Just stop now, and take time to reassess things. Byron Katie frequently says, “If I think someone needs to do inquiry, I need to do inquiry.” Hale Dwoskin, CEO of The Sedona Method, a process for releasing emotions, says something very similar. In his book, A New Earth, Eckhart Tolle says,
If you have young children, give them help, guidance, and protection to the best of your ability, but even more important, give them space – space to be. They come into this world through you, but they are not “yours.”
I was possibly not as good at giving my kids space as was ideal when they were little. (Over-protective? Moi? Never!) But I’m human, and to be human is to be flawed. We will suffer, our kids will suffer. That’s okay.
Yes, if I was to do it all over again, I’d probably hold off introducing them to inquiry and instead question the belief they needed it. But I also clearly remember the first day my elder daughter did an inquiry at the age of six. She was feeling upset about something at school, and was stunned and delighted when I encouraged her to express her anger with a teacher. (This not generally being the norm at school.) Soon she was equally delighted to discover that what she felt annoyed about was actually coming from herself and her desire to do well. (And, no, since you ask, she didn’t instantly stop putting pressure on herself.)
How to introduce mindfulness to your kids
If you do decide that you are ready to introduce mindfulness to your children, and they are ready for it, then as best you can, introduce it as a tool you find useful and that brings you joy, rather than as something that they need.
Tiger-Tiger, Is It True
Tiger-Tiger, Is It True is a picture book and aimed at young kids, probably aged 5 – 8. By the time we bought it my children were a little old for it, but they did find it relaxing to listen to at bedtime.
In Tiger-Tiger, Is It True, the main character is a little tiger. (That surprised you, didn’t it?) He wakes up feeling a bit grumpy and everything seems to go wrong, so that by the time school is over he’s in tears. But a turtle sees him crying and asks what’s up. Tiger-Tiger says that nobody cares about him, not his parents, not his friends – nobody. The turtle asks if this is true, and if he can absolutely know there’s, “nobody in the whole wide world who cares about you?” Tiger-Tiger realises he can’t know this. Turtle guides him to see how it feels inside to believe that, and what it’s like when he doesn’t think it. They also turn the thought around and Tiger-Tiger remembers how some people do show that they like him, how he cares about people and about himself. He is amazed to see that, “…it’s not my parents or my friends who bug me. It’s just my thinking about them that makes me mad.” And Tiger-Tiger now feels much happier.
I think this is a great book for introducing children to mindfulness and could act as a starting point for exploring how what we think affects how we feel. It is straightforward and easy to understand, even for young children. In my family’s experience, it can also be reassuring to children.
Milton’s Secret is also a picture book, but aimed at slightly older children. (According to Amazon it’s for ages 7 – 100, and I do think adults will enjoy it too.) A bigger boy pushes Milton, leaving him feeling anxious about going to school, but he doesn’t tell his parents what has happened. Instead he lies awake wondering why this happened to him and worrying about what might happen the next day. In the morning, he finds his cat has been injured. His mom cleans up the cat, but Milton feels at how quickly it is purring again, after being beaten up. His grandpa is visiting and explains that this is because cats live in the now, unlike humans who so often dwell on the past or worry about the future. (Eckhart Tolle has said he learned many lessons from his cat, so this may well be one of those!)
Grandpa knows something is bothering Milton, and eventually persuades him to tell. He then encourages Milton to see that he is worrying about what was and what might be, not what is now. That night Milton has a dream that introduces him to how to feel the aliveness in his body, and this helps him to feel safer and more focused on now. (This is an introduction to what, when talking to adults, Tolle refers to as the “inner body.” You can feel it by just pausing a moment to notice sensations in your body. You will feel a tingly sensation – it’s easiest to notice in extremities such as hands or feet.)
With his new awareness, Milton feels much safer, and even notices sadness in the boy he has previously feared.
One of my daughters enjoyed this book, the other was less enthusiastic – so possibly it appeals more to quiet sensitive kids than boisterous ones. Milton’s Secret is beautifully illustrated, with the pictures adding to understanding. For example, when Milton lies awake worrying, the artist has included his thoughts as images floating above him. However, it is a bit complex, and, I think, not quite so accessible as Byron Katie’s book, though I think the use of the cat to show how we worry about past and future is excellent. I had a look at reviews on Amazon, and one mental health professional pointed out that it’s not a good idea to suggest children keep things secret and that this needs to be discussed with children. I do agree, although the secret occurs in Milton’s dream, so parents could explain that it was Milton’s mind rather than a person who suggested this be a secret.
Both books could be beneficial when introducing mindfulness to your children and can be soothing as well as guide your child to understand that how they think about things has an effect on how they feel. However it would be best to read the books with your child, rather than leaving them to it. This is especially true for Milton’s Secret.
Finally, if you would like a free copy of either of these books in hardback – just enter below, and be sure to leave a comment saying which book you’d like.
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