Tag Archives: The Mindful Child

Join February’s Unconference: Sitting in a circle and talking about what’s really alive for people

by  Susan Kaiser Greenland

kaisergreenlandsusanSusan Kaiser Greenland, JD, Author, Educator, is the developer and co-founder of the Inner Kids mindful awareness program for children, teens and their families. She is author of The Mindful Child: How to Help Your Kid Manage Stress and Become Happier, Kinder, and More Compassionate (Free Press, 2010).

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Have you heard that 2014 will usher in an era of mindful living? It must be true because J. Walter Thompson, a giant advertising agency with considerable qualitative, quantitative and desk research prowess, has identified the top 10 trends for 2014 and mindful living is tenth on the list. What’s more, mindfulness is implicit in several of the top 10 trends. In keeping with this year’s second trend “Do You Speak Visual?” here’s a video teaser:

It’s a funny video and so is characterizing mindfulness as a new trend given its ancient roots in the East and, through Pop icons like Alan Watts, the Beat poets, John Lennon and George Harrison, its decades old roots in the Western zeitgeist. But there’s no denying that mindfulness has become trendy and with popularization insiders are both happy and concerned. If you’re curious about the positive aspects of the growing mindfulness movement check out Mindful Magazine published by seasoned veterans in the field and, if you’re interested in insiders’ concerns, read Ron Purser and David Loy’s Huffington Post article Beyond McMindfulness.

The trendiness of mindfulness has created an explosion of interest in sharing it with children, teens and families and not unlike popularization itself, growing interest in kids’ mindfulness has created it’s own set of plusses and minuses. Last year, Amy Saltzman and Steve Hickman reached out to Mark Greenberg and me to ask if we’d join them in hosting a symposium connected with this year’s Bridging the Hearts and Minds of Youth Conference at UCSD. Together we polled a handful of our colleagues and were especially struck by the following three responses:

* From Chris McKenna with Mindful Schools: “We are looking for issues that are really alive for people and not just theoretical.”

* From Lisa Flook a scientist with The University of Wisconsin, Madison: “How do we engage mindfully (with heartfulness and skillfulness) together and what are mechanisms for explicitly addressing this ongoing group process?”

* From Wynn Kinder with Wellness Works: “ Collaboration and cooperation are messy.”

bridging2014badgeWe went back to the drawing board and the symposium morphed into an Unconference with this Native American adage in mind: “In the circle, we are all equal. When in the circle, no one is in front of you. No one is behind you. No one is above you. No one is below you”.  Steve carved out a morning for mindfulness veterans, newcomers, and those in-between to sit in a circle and (borrowing from Chris) talk about what’s “really alive for them.” We chose this format with professional group facilitators to ensure the “mindful, heartful and skillful process” that Lisa highlights in her comments above. And, we promise to remember Wynn’s prompt that “collaboration and cooperation are messy”.

Here how the Unconference morning will break down:

* The 1440 Foundation has generously underwritten a significant portion of the event including breakfast starting at 7am.

* We’re honored that Sharon Salzberg will lead a meditation at 8:30am.

* Small, facilitated groups will meet for an hour and a half.

* We’ll conclude with a panel discussion moderated by Mark Greenberg.

Like much of the cutting-edge and field development work that’s happening in the mindfulness world, the Bridging the Hearts and Minds Unconference wouldn’t be possible without a generous grant from the 1440 Foundation.

Veterans slated to join our working circles include Sharon Salzberg from IMS, Mark Greenberg and Christa Turksma from CARE, Jim Gimian and Barry Boyce from Mindful Magazine, Vinny Ferraro and Megan Cowan from Mindful Schools, Lisa Flook from University of Wisconsin, Madison, Randye Semple with USC and UCLA, Lidia Zylowska co-founder UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center, Wynne Kinder from Wellness Works, Chris Willard who wrote A Child’s Mind, Rona Wilensky, Lesley Grant with Marin Mindfulness, Amy Saltzman from Still Quiet Place, Steve Hickman with UCSD and me.

We hope you’ll join us.

The Unconference will be held on the morning of February 7, 2014.  For more information and to register visit the UCSD website.

Making Happiness a Habit through Mindfulness

Susan Kaiser Greenland, JD, Author, Educator, is the developer and co-founder of the Inner Kids mindful awareness program for children, teens and their families. She is author of The Mindful Child: How to Help Your Kid Manage Stress and Become Happier, Kinder, and More Compassionate (Free Press, 2010). Susan teaches children, parents and professionals around the world and consults with various organizations on teaching mindful awareness in an age-appropriate and secular manner. We are grateful to have Susan Kaiser Greenland delivering the opening keynote address The Mindful Child: Teaching the New ABCs of Attention, Balance and Compassion at our Bridging the Hearts & Minds of Youth Conference. Her keynote will explore the development of greater concentration, mindfulness and compassion with children and young adults.

What if happiness was a habit that we could teach children? We can. Qualities that lead away from happiness (strong negative emotions) and qualities that lead toward happiness (ethical actions) are all rooted in habits developed in the past. Mindfulness helps children and teens recognize the habits that lead to happiness and break the ones that don’t.

Habits are easy to make, hard to break and everybody has them. Some habits are physical (cracking knuckles and twirling hair), some are verbal (using certain words or phrases) and some are psychological (worrying, daydreaming, judging and over-analyzing). By repeating a habit we reinforce the brain circuits associated with it and make the habit stronger. The stronger the habit, the stronger the neural pathways, and the stronger the effort and determination required to break it. If teenagers check their Facebook pages first thing in the morning, every morning, checking Facebook will soon become their default, automatic response to waking up. If they hike or meditate first thing in the morning, every morning, hiking or meditating will soon become their default, automatic response to waking up. The more a habit is repeated the stronger it becomes and the more likely it is to become a person’s automatic response to a specific experience.

There is a well-established, evidence-based curriculum that uses mindfulness to develop life-skills that make people happy. It rest on three universal qualities attention, balance and compassion. Countless parents and educators, who have tried this curriculum themselves, are now passionate about teaching mindfulness to youth. They form the basis of an emerging grassroots movement to bring mindfulness to education.

Mindfulness is a refined process of attention that allows children to see the world through a lens of attention, balance and compassion. When children learn to look at the world with attention, balance and compassion they soon learn to be in the world with attention, balance and compassion.

Making compassion a habit.
To make compassion a habit all kids need to do is promise that everything they do will be kind and compassionate and keep that promise. Sound easy? Anyone who has ever taken a vow, and then tried to keep it, knows that saying you’ll speak and act in a certain way is easier said than done. The best way to keep a promise is to make it a habit and that’s where mindfulness can help. Mindfulness is the mental quality by which children and teens remember to check-in with themselves throughout the day and make sure they are on track. Mindfulness helps kids remember their intention to be kind and compassionate and notice if they’re acting and speaking in accordance with it. We don’t expect children to be perfect, any more than we expect perfection of ourselves, but using mindfulness to notice when they swerve off track and away from their intention allows them to correct their course.

Making concentration a habit.
Concentrating on one thing and nothing else is a crucial skill in school. Students who have the capacity to direct their attention toward what they’re studying, and keep it there, have an obvious advantage over those who are easily distracted. To develop concentration, and make it a habit, students use mindfulness to periodically check-in and make sure they are still paying attention to their chosen object. “Has my mind wandered or become dull?” “Am I paying attention to my homework, or am I thinking about the past or future? ” “Am I alert or have I faded into a sleepy state of mind?”

Making balance a habit.
Once children and teens use mindfulness to develop compassion by remembering to check-in to make sure they’re actions are aligned with their intentions, and refine their attention by checking-in to make sure they’re paying attention to their chosen object, they are ready to use mindfulness to develop emotional balance. The strong and stable faculty of attention that children and teens develop practicing concentration becomes more refined when they use it to see what’s happening in, to and around them clearly even when what’s happening is emotionally upsetting or charged. Like developing attention and compassion, when developing balance students check-in periodically and notice what they’re attending to. Mindfulness in developing emotional balance goes deeper by developing discernment a powerful quality of wisdom through which children and teens notice, among other things, patterns and habits of action and speech.

Hope motivates change.
I’ve worked with parents around the world and they have one thing in common: Parents want to be happy and they want their children to be happy. They’re worried that the current educational system doesn’t teach the life skills necessary to solve the myriad problems their children will surely inherit. Many parents feel hopeless. When they learn that mindfulness training is – an evidenced based curriculum; with a long, reliable track record; universal in its approach; and taught in a secular way – they feel hopeful again. Hope motivates change and explains the growing, grassroots social-action movement for mindful education.