A Very Brief Guide to Using Mindfulness with Children and Adolescents

A Very Brief Guide to Using Mindfulness with Children and Adolescents

A Very Brief Guide to Using Mindfulness with Children and Adolescents

So you have heard about mindfulness, perhaps used it yourself, and you think it would help a child you are either parent to or work with. I have written here a very brief, step-by-step guide to using mindfulness with children, based on my experience using mindfulness in my work with children and adolescents for the last 6 years. Below are two definitions of mindfulness. The first is my own definition, and the second is the clinical definition. After this, you will find my step-by-step guide:

‘Mindfulness is listening to yourself and your environment with compassion, curiosity and acceptance.’

‘Mindfulness is the regulation of psychological and autonomic arousal by increasing perceptual distance from somatic pain and maladaptive thoughts and emotions.’

  1. The first most important step is that you ideally would not be recommending mindfulness unless you practise it yourself. If you are clearly struggling with an aspect of your own mind, be it stress, anxiety, low moods, et cetera, then the child will likely find your suggestions of mindfulness hypocritical, and they will resist. Children are much smarter and intuitive than most people give them credit. So, if you are interested first in learning mindfulness yourself, you can get in touch with me, find an MBCT, MBSR course near you, or use the excellent Headspace app. Here is a brilliant animation by Headspace which explains mindfulness practice.

2. Once you have a practice in place, and you can truly know from personal experience the benefits of mindfulness, you will be more able to mindfully check your expectations. If you are hoping that this is going to be a miracle cure, stopping tantrums, bringing A-grades at school, whatever, then you are likely to be disappointed. It is also very likely that the child in question will be picking up on your frustration with them, and internalising it, creating inner conflict. You may well find that simply practising mindfulness yourself will have the amazing knock-on effect of making the children you are concerned about more calm. I can tell you this is a very likely outcome.

3. Having said this, there is a large and growing evidence-base for the benefits of mindfulness with children. Here is a good overview.

4. It is vital to remember that children are naturally mindful. I am sure you have seen a child fully absorbed in sensory play with a simple object. Well, this is our natural state of mindfulness, our heritage.

 5. But children lose touch with their natural mindfulness, especially in the modern world, as their attention gets divided and their minds get clogged up with information.

6. To bring children back to their natural state, play is the way. It is not necessary, and is in fact counter-productive, for children to be forced to sit down for lengths of time, eyes closed, trying really hard to focus. This kind of approach just adds another layer of adult neurosis into their sensitive, rapidly forming brains. One of the most effective mindfulness tricks I have used in the last years has been the very simple and fun Noise Game. In this game, you simply have the child, the group (yes…that’s including you) jump up and down and make as much noise and movement as possible for one minute. After a minute, you shout STOP, and get the child/ren to be as still as possible for one minute. You can talk them through this second minute, getting them to notice their heartbeat, feet on the floor, sounds in the room. This is really a variation of musical statues, which again, can be turned into a mindfulness exercise in the same way.

 7. Most games can be turned into exercises in mindfulness if you ask the right questions in the right way.  Just getting the child to tune into their senses whilst playing any game makes mindfulness something fun to do, rather than another chore, like doing homework.

 8. This is especially true in nature. Simply by noticing things in nature with our senses, the children naturally learn from us, and we subtly encourage them to do the same. Of course phones will ideally be switched off.

 9. For adolescents, the only real difference is that they may not be so keen to play games with you. In this case, I have found it really helpful to engage adolescents through tapping into their own interests. Whether they like sports, dance, singing, reading, most interests and activities can be enhanced with a dash of mindfulness. Engaging their senses, or getting them to notice the rise and fall of their breath, before, during or after these activities they love will enhance their enjoyment of the activity, and is also likely to improve their performance.

 10.If you are very concerned about your child or teenager’s mental health, and these simple playful exercises are not enough, then please get in touch for a free consultation. At the moment, there are no mindfulness for children programmes that I know of in London, other than programmes delivered in schools by .b (I am a qualified .b teacher) and other similar organisations. I can offer a tailored mindfulness programme individually or as a group, depending on the needs.

 11. So, the key lesson from this very brief guide is that mindfulness is our natural state, and that generally children and adolescents can tune back into this state easily, if they are encouraged in a playful, accepting, and compassionate way, by somebody who practises mindfulness themselves.

I am very happy to offer an initial consultation to explore mindfulness further with you. Alternatively, should you wish to explore this in your own time, here are a couple of resources I can vouch for:

themindfulparent.org/

Elise Snel, Sitting Like a Frog

However you decide to implement mindfulness with the children you have in mind, may you all find peace in the process.

Louis

A Quiet Evolution in Education

A Quiet Evolution in Education

A Quiet Evolution in Education

Let me just try to shed some light on the current state and future trends of the education system in the United Kingdom.

At the moment, more schools have more freedom to choose their curriculum. Free schools and academies are increasing under the current government (3,200 schools in England have become free from management of the local government in the last 3 years). These schools have much less obligation to follow the national curriculum. The current government has created this development with policy, because they believe that with freedom comes increased competition, and more competition will drive up standards.

One problem with this argument is that competition also exaggerates the importance of league tables. Free schools and academies are tending to be more focused on getting the best results. This has two main effects: a) increasing the pressure to focus on those subjects that bring a school to the top of the league tables (i.e. academic subjects that can more easily be turned into concrete results) b) increasing the pressure to get rid of pupils who are not naturally academic. So, there is a kind of educational eugenics programme naturally occurring as a result of the increase in free schools and academies, whereby anything that is not able to boost a school’s performance in the league tables is slowly being killed off. I should know: I was the leader of a therapeutic education provision for four years which operated as a last-chance saloon for teenagers who, for many different reasons, did not fit into (and so were excluded or ‘manage-moved’ from) academies that were focused on results.

The other problem with the argument about competition is that it cleverly hides the political ideology behind it. The government are desperate to prove that their policy works. So desperate in fact, that they will happily (although secretly) intervene to prevent so-called ‘free’ schools from failing. With such intervention always looming if a school doesn’t match what the government decides are the right standards, the idea that such schools are ‘free’, and so naturally improving through the invisible hand of the market, is simply not true.

So, you, as a typical citizen, caring about the sort of education your child receives, may consider setting up your own school one day. You may feel that with a group of like-minded, local friends, you could do a better job of educating children than the other schools out there. However, if you wanted to set up a school that was less concerned with results, and more concerned with other values, laying a ‘solid foundation’, as you might say, then you would find it extremely difficult in the current, competitive climate.

I wonder whether there is a way to encourage more people (government included) to think more laterally about education. As Ken Robinson so eloquently puts it, schools kill creativity. if there is little creativity allowed in schools, then schools will just be conveyor belts to feed the economy and society as it is, rather than encouraging critical or compassionate thinking.

It is almost as though the educational system is so inflexible because the system that designs it is protecting itself against any challenge. I would argue that the rigidity of education, the lack of free thinking allowed within the current competitive system, explains why young people are so disengaged from politics these days. According to a recent Hansard study, only 12% of young people (18-24 year olds) plan to vote in the 2015 general election. Things have gotten so bad that we have even had a national comedian, Russell Brand, popping up on Newsnight (and in other unusual territories), promoting apathy as “a rational reaction to a system that no longer represents, hears or addresses the vast majority of people.” But Russell goes on to suggest that any revolution needs to be spiritual before it can be political. Before you freak out about the word ‘spiritual’ and some of its less desirable connotations, he defines spiritual as follows:

By spiritual I mean the acknowledgement that our connection to one another and the planet must be prioritised. Buckminster Fuller outlines what ought be our collective objectives succinctly: “to make the world work for 100 per cent of humanity in the shortest possible time through spontaneous co-operation without ecological offence or the disadvantage of anyone”. This maxim is the very essence of “easier said than done” as it implies the dismantling of our entire socio-economic machinery. By teatime.

I agree with Russell to some extent. But, I believe more concrete thinking is needed about how we might start such a ‘spiritual’ revolution. I don’t claim to have the solution to this hiding up my sleeve. But I do believe that the best place to start asking these questions is is with our children, who are literally the future of the planet and our only hope. The main question I am left with is: how can we ensure that this ‘spiritual’ consciousness, the sense of connectedness and the natural, moral responsibility that flows from that, be allowed to flourish amongst children, given that subjects such as RE, dance, art, music are being relegated so that schools can compete in league tables? Answers, on a postcard, by teatime, please.