(By Kirsten Race, Mindful Life)
The other morning I was on a hike with my daughter. 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 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 easy, 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?
Using mindfulness to nurture seeds of happiness in your child:
1. Mindful Listening: Wherever you are, stop, close your eyes and listen to the farthest sound you can hear. Do this whether you live on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, or are camping in the mountains of Colorado. Now share what you heard.
2. 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 bus ride home from camp, on a trip to your local grocery store. Then discuss it.
3. Mindful Smelling: My kids love to drive by “fart part,” the park that has a sulphur spring. Brings a smile to everyone’s face. Obviously this one works much better while walking through the botanic gardens than on a New York City subway platform in the summer time, but you would be surprised how many wonderful scents often go unnoticed.
4. Three Breath Hug: The next time you find yourself in the middle of a melt down (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 with feel a whole lot better!
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.”
1. 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!
2. We decided to pay attention to all of the things we could see. We noticed all of the details in the wild flowers 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.
3. We smelled the flowers. We noticed the smell of the pine trees and the smell of wet dogs.
4. 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 both of our moods had occurred. Macy mentioned that she thought she had taken good care of her seeds of peace and happiness and she could feel them growing inside her mind. While my intention was not to change my mood, I noticed how much more relaxed and peaceful I felt as well.