Tag Archives: Association for Mindfulness in Education

Cut Yourself Some SLACK!

Re-posted with gracious permission from Amy Saltzman’s The Still Quite Place blog  and website. Amy Saltman, MD, Mindfulness Teacher & Holistic Physician is Creator and Director of Still Quiet Place, Co-founder and Director of the Association for Mindfulness in Education.  Amy is recognized by her peers as a visionary and pioneer in the fields of holistic medicine and mindfulness in K-12 education. She has conducted research studies evaluating the benefits of teaching mindfulness to child-parent pairs, and to children in low-income elementary schools.

One day when my son was three, I walked into my bedroom to find him seated on the floor cutting thin green foam that he had pealed off  some clothing hangers. I asked “J, honey, what are you doing?” He replied “I am cutting slack.”  If a three year old can cut himself some slack then perhaps we mothers can do it too.

THE CRAZY PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS

Most of us say “ I just want my kids to be happy….” However often, we so desperately want our kids to be happy that we make ourselves and our children a bit crazy in the process.

Loving our children and wanting them to be happy is absolutely natural. Yet somewhere along the way this natural impulse gets distorted.

Our culture tells us that happiness is found through “success”, accomplishment and the accumulation of things. And here is where things get crazy. When we identify as our role of parent, and  measure our “success” as parents on the happiness of our children, we find ourselves frantically pursuing the activities and things we think will make our children happy.

CIRCULAR THINKING

This circular thinking “I’ll be successful when my kids are happy”, and “my kids will be happy when they are successful” has us scurrying around trying to make our kids happier, usually by trying to make them more successful in their endeavors—baseball, bassoon, ballet…. Ironically every time we do this we are teaching our children to calibrate their happiness on external circumstances.

GUILT-FEAR-JUDGMENT

This is where the fear and guilt and judgment come in. Even though we rarely admit it, we are terrified that we are doing it “wrong”, that we have already irrevocably damaged our kids, and that they will need years of therapy to lead even remotely normal lives. This fear fills us with guilt and doubt. We compare ourselves to other mothers, and often assume that they have it more together; what my wise mentor calls comparing their outsides (the stylishly dressed mother we see at the school book faire) to our insides (the more or less incessant chatter of “shoulda, woulda, coulda”). We harshly scrutinize and judge our parenting and theirs. This fear, doubt and judgment fuels the various “mommy wars” (tiger mom, pussycat mom, working mom, stay at home mom, breast feeding mom, bottle feeding mom). As a result, we often parent poorly out of reactivity and paralysis.

DEEP BREATHS

So what’s the alternative? How about cutting yourselves, and other parents, some slack? How do you feel when you read that sentence? Take a slow deep breath, let out a long sigh, allow the corners of your mouth to curve up just slightly and whisper or shout “ I am going to cut myself some slack!”

HOW TO CUT SLACK

While this sounds good in theory, most of us need some slack cutting instructions.

  • Stop when you notice you are stressed out, beating yourself up, critically assessing your pathetic parenting, stop. Take at least 3 and preferably 10 deep breaths. And stop trying so hard to be the perfect parent.
  • Lighten Up With a sense of humor (which is not the same as self deprecation), acknowledge that in this moment despite your best intentions, you are not being the mother you want to be.
  • Accept that you are doing the best you can. Seriously, if you could do better in this moment you would.
  • Cultivate compassion for how extraordinarily challenging it is to be “good” parent even some of the time, much less all the time.
  • Choose what you want to do next—take 5 in the bathroom to recollect yourself, announce a “do over”, apologize to your child for snapping at her when really you were frustrated by a recent phone call with a colleague, set a clearer limit, get support….

And if worse comes to worse go into your closet with your children and several pairs of child-safe scissors, and cut everyone a piece of SLACK.

A Course in Mindful ParentingJoin our own UC San Diego Center for Mindfulness Youth & Family Programs Director Lorraine M. Hobbs M.A., CHom. and Lucas LearnMann in A Course in Mindful Parenting. Please check our schedule and registrations page as this course is presented on an ongoing monthly basis at our UCSD CFM meditation room. Whether you come for one session or on a repeated monthly basis we invite you to join Lorraine and Lucas in learning how to cut yourselves and your children some slack.

Mindfulness for Children No Fad Either- Response to LA Times Article

Amy Saltzman, MD
Mindfulness Teacher & Holistic Physician
Creator and Director: Still Quiet Place Co-founder and Director: Association for Mindfulness in Education She is recognized by her peers as a visionary and pioneer in the fields of holistic medicine and mindfulness in K-12 education. She has conducted research studies evaluating the benefits of teaching mindfulness to child-parent pairs, and to children in low-income elementary schools.

Amy will be co-presenting, along with Margaret Cullen the workshop entitled SMART in Education: Mindfulness-Based Emotional Balance for Educators at the upcoming Bridging the Hearts & Minds of Youth: Mindfulness in Clinical Practice, Education and Research conference, February 4-5, 2012 at the Catamaran Hotel in San Diego.

Experts Say, Mindfulness For Children is “No Fad” Either.

The real experts are the children. “Jessica”, a fourth grade student, participated in a Still Quiet Place course, an eight week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction course offered at Henry Ford Elementary School. The school serves a low-income population in Redwood City, California. On the last day of class “Jessica” wrote

When I am sad or kind of in a bad mood I take about 10 breaths and I get relaxed. I also forget about my worries. I learned this from Mindfulness. I enjoy coming here because I forget about my troubles and I forget about all the things in my life that is sad. My sadness just fades.

Jessica’s statement, suggests that perhaps Dr. Hoffman’s perception (reported in the January 8th, 2011 LA Times article by Chris Woolston, Mindfulness is No Fad, Experts Say) that children may have trouble understanding or embracing Mindfulness is in error. Not only do children and adolescents understand and embrace Mindfulness, recent cutting-edge research indicates they can reap benefits from practicing Mindfulness, similar to those documented in adults.

As Mr. Woolston’s article highlighted, over 30 years of scientific research with adults has shown that Mindfulness decreases stress, depression, anxiety, and hostility, and enhances compassion, empathy and executive function; executive function is a term that describes the related processes of goal-directed behavior, planning, organized search and impulse control. As a pioneer in the emerging field of offering Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction to children and teens please allow me to share the ground-breaking work indicating that Mindfulness for children is “no fad” either.

Mindfulness is simply paying attention to your life, here and now, with kindness and curiosity. This ability to pay attention is a natural, innate human capacity. Children as young as three can learn to attend to the breath,the five senses, thoughts, and emotions. Slightly older children can attend to impulses and actions, and their effects on others and the world.

For the last decade, colleagues and I have been offering age-adapted Mindfulness-based curricula to at risk youth. (See side bar) Unfortunately, research by Soniya Luthar Ph. D. from Columbia Teachers College shows that many of our youth are at risk. Her data indicate that affluent teens have rates of depression, anxiety and illicit drug similar to their low-income peers.[1] Daily headlines remind us that our children are being diagnosed with depression, anxiety, ADHD, eating disorders, cutting, addictions, suicidal tendencies and other self-destructive behaviors at epidemic rates; cruelty, bullying and violence are on the rise. Most, if not all of our children could benefit from learning to focus their attention, to become less reactive, and to be more compassionate with themselves and others. Those of us involved in this emerging field are motivated by a shared commitment to offer children and adolescents life long skills that will enhance their well-being. We are rigorously investigating whether children and adolescents can reap benefits from practicing Mindfulness, similar to those extensively documented in adults.

For the last decade we have been working in clinics and schools to scientifically assess whether Mindfulness training can enhance children’s attention, executive function, learning, compassion, empathy and general well-being. The preliminary data are encouraging; below are summaries of four recent studies that demonstrate the benefits of offering Mindfulness children and adolescents.

In a randomized controlled trial conducted by Maria Napoli, Ph.D., first, second, and third graders participated in a bi-weekly, 12-session integrative program of Mindfulness and relaxation. The students showed significant increases in attention and social skills, and decreases in test anxiety and ADHD behaviors.[2]

Lisa Flook, Ph.D. and her colleagues at the Mindfulness Awareness Research Center at UCLA studied second and third graders who did Mindfulness Awareness Practices for 30 minutes twice a week for 8 weeks. Children who began the study with poor executive function had gains in behavioral regulation, meta-cognition, and overall global executive control. These results indicate training in Mindfulness benefits children with executive function difficulties (the children most likely to have difficulties and cause disruptions in the classroom) .[3]

In a study with 4th-7th graders and their parents, that I conducted in collaboration with the Department of Psychology at Stanford, the children participated in 75 minutes of Mindfulness training for 8 consecutive weeks. At the conclusion of the study the children demonstrated increased ability to orient their attention, as measured by an objective computerized Attention Network Task, and decreased anxiety. In written narrative the children also reported decreased emotional reactivity, and increased impulse control.[4]

In research on teaching Mindfulness to adolescents conducted by Gina Biegel, MA, MFT, the teens reported reduced symptoms of anxiety, depression and somatic (physical) distress, and increased self-esteem and sleep quality. Independent clinicians documented a higher percentage of diagnostic improvement in the Mindfulness group (vs. the control group). In layperson’s terms, this means that adolescents who were initially diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety were no longer depressed or anxious.[5]

While these studies are preliminary, they reinforce what “Jessica”, in 4th grade, already knows—Mindfulness for Children is “No Passing Fad”. In closing I’ll defer to another expert, a fifth grade girl from Menlo Park, California.

Mindfulness is a great class because you can chill out, and relax. It will cool you down and make you less stressed. You should try it if you are mad or sad or just want to feel better. That’s what I do. Try it!
[1] Luthar, S., The Culture of Affluence; the Psychological Costs of Material Wealth, Child Development, 2003; 74 (6), 1581-1593.

[2] Napoli, M. ”Mindfulness Training for Elementary School Students: The Attention Academy” Journal of Applied School Psychology (2005) Vol. 21(1)

[3] Flook, L. “Effects of Mindful Awareness Practices on Executive Functions in Elementary School Children” Journal of Applied School Psychology (2010) 26: 1, 70 -95

[4] Saltzman, A., (2008) “Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction for School-Age Children, 139-162. In L. Grecco, Acceptance and Mindfulness Treatments for Children and Adolescents: A Practitioner’ Guide, Oakland, New Harbinger, 2008,

[5] Biegel, G. “Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction for the Treatment of Adolescent

Psychiatric Outpatients: A Randomized Clinical Trial” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology (2009) Vol. 77, No. 5: 855–866