Practicing Mindfulness Has Benefits for Adults and Children

In a stressful world, meditation and meditative moments can offer us a shield to protect us mentally as well as physically. Practicing mindfulness can benefit us whether we’re adults or children.

I was reading the Time issue on mindfulness, and it mentioned the effect that meditation can have on students. Those who practiced mindfulness exercises had higher math scores.

There is a lot of evidence that meditation or mindfulness exercises also have positive benefits for adults, too.

I’ve heard about the evidence before, but it always seemed like something that was for people who had time for it. Then I read an article that stated that the people who feel like they don’t have time for it, are jumping up to try to go do other, more “productive” things, are likely the ones most in need. That’s me.

I already have meditative moments when I attend services on Sundays at my Unitarian Universalist congregation. Maybe my appreciation of those reflective, calming times primed me, helped me realize that I need more of those calm moments of reflection, not just a few minutes on Sunday.

meditation can benefit adults and childrenSo, I’m starting to try the meditation thing on a regular basis. I downloaded Headspace and gave that a try for the first time tonight. It was only 3 minutes, and I think I can manage that just fine. Half an hour would seem like more of a commitment.

Engaging Kids in Practicing Mindfulness

I signed up my daughter for yoga classes at the YMCA one session, and she loved it. The class wasn’t the calm sort of yoga that you may envision for adults; these were 2-4 year old kids, and getting them to sit still for a long time was not going to happen. But, they did learn movements, and after a few weeks, they all had most of them down. It was lovely to watch. If you have a local organization offering kids yoga or meditation classes, consider it. It may sound funny, but it can be an easy way to start having kids sit still.

My daughter liked the yoga from the classes enough that I looked online for additional ways for her to engage with yoga, and that’s how I found Cosmic Kids Yoga on YouTube. I highly recommend it. The yoga adventures (yes, adventures) may be about 20 minutes long. They aren’t super calm but get kids in the habit of learning poses while being active participants in a story that the instructor narrates. After watching one of these videos and following along, my daughter does seem to be a bit calmer, and it teaches her to follow instructions as well. It may be worth just trying even if it doesn’t click for your kid.

Sources & Further Reading

Jabr, Ferris. “Why Your Brain Needs More Downtime.” Scientific American. 15 Oct. 2013.

Oaklander, Mandy. “Mindfulness Exercises Improve Kids’ Math Scores.” Time. 26 Jan 2015.

Google ‘benefits of mindfulness’ and you’ll find plenty more. Just be sure that the source is legit. When in doubt, ask a librarian or shoot me an email – I’m happy to help.

Rejecting Myths about What Life “Should” Be

An Idea Is Spread…

Growing up, there was one path of living as an adult that was acceptable: you marry, have kids, and then become a doting grandparent. All of this means that you are expected to stay married and at least try to have kids. Those couples who are unable to conceive are pitied and whispered about, but at least they are expected to try. And, if you deviate from this lifestyle, by getting divorced, realizing you’re gay, deciding not to have a family, or even doing things that seem like you aren’t ‘living right’, like going out as a couple on the weekends or vacationing without your kids, people wonder about you, whisper about you, pray for your soul and all of that religious, social nonsense.

Having only one kind of lifestyle as acceptable doesn’t leave much room for acceptance if people deviate, does it? Instead of keeping to these ideas, though, what if indeed we were rejecting the myths we grew up with?

…and Discovered to Be a Myth…

There are many paths in life, and I am grateful to be continuing to learn that there are more acceptable, happy paths than I had imagined. What a blessing to continue to learn.

…A Myth That Hurts People…

rejecting myths we grew up with can take away the fear

The lifestyle I was as the only acceptable one growing up made me think that once I was a parent, my life should focus on work and family, and while those are certainly big components of my life, they aren’t everything I can or even should do. It’s important to bring happiness to myself for the sake of my own pleasure and individuality, too. Whether it’s having dinner with a friend or hiring a babysitter so that I can go on a date at a rooftime movie showing, these experiences are good. Back in the small town I grew up in, I may be judged terribly if I chose to spend an evening on myself or even take my daughter with me to a fancy dinner. “Why is she spending so much?” “Why isn’t she setting a good example?”

So I Reject The Myth…

But, I would be setting a good example if these things are done in moderation. I’m not advocating partying all night or being needlessly extravagant. Letting my daughter see that I care about my own happiness lets her understand that her own happiness is important, too. There are so many news stories about moms helping their children develop positive body images. It’s also important to help children develop healthy lifestyle images as well.

…Because We ALL Should Reject It…

A healthy lifestyle includes the choices we make as well as ones that are made for us, too. For some people, the choices we as a society make have very negative consequences.

…And Realize Other Myths Surrounding Us and the Pain They Cause…

We are stronger with our differencesWhile June is celebrated as LGBT Pride month, all is not a celebration even after years of cultural improvement. Individuals who choose to love in any way other than heterosexual, married ways can still be persecuted and judged, even if just in the nasty social ways that small town life can be viperous.

There are also differences we encounter in life just through our skin. I grew up in a deeply racist home and town. I remember my mother telling me to get out of a swimming pool when a group of black kids arrived. She didn’t want me in the same pool water as them. I can’t imagine what it might have felt like as a black child overhearing that kind of blind hatred. I truly hope that they did not hear the cruelty my mother espoused. But, even if they didn’t hear that, I know that they lived with racism in other ways in that small town. That breaks my heart.  The Daily Show has a heart-wrenching video discussing the verdict in the Philando Castile case .

 

Watch that, and then listen to Audre Lorde reading her poem “Power”. The text of the poem is here if you’d like to read along. That recording was made in 1977, 40 years ago, and unfortunately it could have been written today.

I Choose Love

There are more ways to live that lead to happiness than may be initially visible. There is more love in this world than appears on the surface sometimes, and I hope that by loving and accepting others regardless of their skin color, accent, sexual orientation, personal history, etc. that I help to make this world and this society a better place for our children to live. That continues to be my hope, and sometimes I encounter sparks of humanity that fan the flame of hope for more and yet more love in this world.

 

“My Little Pony” is Worth Watching. There. I Said It.

While watching the first episode of My Little Pony, my reaction was something like “really? that? um, no.” It just seemed a bit… goofy. But, my daughter wanted to see a second episode, and I let her. I’m glad. It’s actually a really good show, as much as I feel a bit embarrassed saying that. My daughter enjoys watching it, and I, as an adult who isn’t into the brony world, also enjoy it. My Little Pony is worth watching and is of surprisingly high quality.

The show promotes positive themes, including ” kindness, loyalty, honesty, generosity, laughter and magic.” And the episodes really do explore those concepts quite nicely. The characters are goofy but lovable. A great breakdown of the characters is noted on “Why I Am a Brony.” No character is perfect. They all have quirks and seem real, characters that even I as an adult can relate to.

Girls a bit different but very similar being friendsDifferences among the ponies allow for early discussion about more mature topics like race, gender, disability, and anything else that makes us humans different from one another. When children see the ridiculousness of segregating based on who has a horn vs. wings vs. none, I hope it makes the color of one’s skin a similarly odd thing for children to consider as a reason to treat anyone differently.

The show promotes not just learning but reflection on lessons learned. Of course I love that the pony central to the plot at least in the first season is so into books. But, her book learning isn’t enough for everything and isn’t perfect anyway. She has to consider real-world learning that she discovers for herself and reflect on the lessons learned by writing to her mentor, the princess, each week. Just reading isn’t enough to learn; you can experience learning in a variety of ways, and reflecting on the things you encounter allows for a deeper understanding of the issues and yourself. That is a magical message!

These are just some of the positive messages that come through in the show. The episodes seem to exude a sort of calm and reflection even in some of the wilder episodes. I don’t worry about my daughter being so wound up after watching these that she won’t be able to get ready for bed.

If you’re interested in watching, the full series is on Netflix. If you don’t have access to that, there are clips (not full episodes) on the official My Little Pony website. Full episodes are listed as $1.99 on YouTube.

Books That Promote Positive Perspectives on Friendship

The Berenstain Bears' New Neighbors addresses judging others based on appearances and a lack of other information

The Berenstain Bears’ New Neighbors by Stan and Jan Berenstain

Recommended ages: 3 – 8

It’s very thinly veiled that Papa Bear has a racist reaction to the new neighbors, who are pandas. Without speaking to them, he watches what they do and makes negative judgments. While he does come around and ends up liking them, it can be an uncomfortable book to read with children if you’re worried about the conversation around race and differences. This book does promote understanding and respect for others despite their differences in a similar way to My Little Pony.

The Monsters' Monster invites readers to relax on the beach rather than being monstrousThe Monsters’ Monster by Patrick McDonnell

Recommended ages: 2 – 9

The people we think should behave one way don’t always conform to our expectations. And that can be a good thing. The three little monsters who create the big monster in this book are so cranky and intent on being monstrous that they aren’t sure what to make of the sweet monster they create. He teaches them how to stop being nasty and enjoy the little things in life, find happiness in the small moments and be kind to one another.

My Friends by Taro GomiMy Friends by Taro Gomi

Recommended ages: 0 – 3

The little girl learns something from each of her friends, animal and human friends. Everyone has special talents and something to offer regardless of their differences. We can each do something well, perhaps something that others around us aren’t very good at, and we can offer our talents to the world.

Summer is Great for Creating Childhood Memories and Shaping Identity

One of my strongest childhood memories in summer is of the grass getting so scorched that the sharp brown blades poked into my feet as I would run through the yard. I would play in the yard and woods till I was nothing but freckles by the time school rolled around in August.

My daughter is growing up in a more urban environment than I did, so I can’t let her run through the woods the way I did.

But, I can take her strawberry picking, on walks around the neighborhood, and to the parks where she can dig in the dirt with her friends when she’s tired of the playground equipment itself.

I can teach my daughter to plant seeds, water them, and watch seedlings sprout. She’s gained an active interest in growing and nurturing things as a result.

I can help her appreciate watching the wind blow through the trees and rain clouds rolling in. I can smile when rain hits my face, show her that it’s pleasant rather than bad to be stuck in the rain, and linger with her in the grocery store parking lot to savor the summer storm that will likely be gone by the time we leave with our groceries in hand.

Studies find that experiencing nature can reduce stress and encourage an appreciation and understanding of nature, so the time and effort are worth it, especially if the future of our environmental policies are something that you care about and would like your children to be concerned about as well.

Recommended Books

Beyond our own interactions with the natural world around us, we can further explore the environment through books and live through characters we encounter. I can’t hike a mountain right now with my daughter, but we can read about doing that. We can put ourselves in the shoes of characters gathering herbs in the forest and riding ocean waves on the other side of the world.

Gus Explores His World by Olivier Dunrea. A gosling explores nature
Gus Explores His World by Olivier Dunrea

A little gosling explores a barnyard and finds some eggs. This book is great for talking with little ones about their world, the outdoors, and childish games and curiosity. The rest of the Dunrea books are similarly recommended – simple, sweet plots that explore the goslings’ world and nature.

In the Garden: Who's Been Here?

In the Garden: Who’s Been Here? by Lindsay Barrett George

Recommended ages: 1 – 7

The images are more complex than a newborn may want, but beyond that, this book can be read to a wide range of ages and them pick up something. Two children wander through the garden, noticing that they aren’t the only ones out that day. This makes a nice conversation starter about what children see in their own worlds on a walk or just going into a yard for a bit.

The Gardener

The Gardener by Sarah Stewart

Recommended ages ~3-9

This may be a good choice for those in cities. The girl in this book goes to live in the city with her uncle but takes a bit of her more rural life with her, growing flowers that brighten the lives of those around her. No matter how urban your home, nature is around us, and we can connect with it in positive ways.

Where the Lilies Bloom

 

Where the Lilies Bloom by Vera and Bill Cleaver

Recommended ages ~9-12

I read this book growing up and have a soft spot for it. A poor girl tries to keep her siblings together after their parents are no longer around to help. They struggle but use the woods and the land to scrape by.

 

The Monsters' Monster invites readers to relax on the beach rather than being monstrous

 

The Monsters’ Monster by Patrick McDonnell

Recommended ages: ~3 – 9

This may seem like an odd choice, but 1) it’s an amazing book, and 2) if you get to the end of the book and still don’t want to go sit on a beach to watch the sunrise, I don’t know what book will make you want to do that. Seize life’s little moments and enjoy the small things, in nature and with friends. Why be a cranky monster when you can be happy?

Sources and Further Reading

Collado, Silvia, et al. “Experiencing nature in children’s summer camps: Affective, cognitive, and behavioural consequences.” Journal of Environmental Psychology. Vol 33. Mar 2013. Pages 37-44.

Corraliza, Jose A. et al. “Nature as a Moderator of Stress in urban Children.” Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences. Vol 38. 2012. Pages 253-263.

Duerden, Matt D. and Peter A. Witt. “The Impact of Direct and Indirect Experiences on the Development of Environmental Knowledge, Attitudes, and Behavior.” Journal of Environmental Psychology. Vol. 30. Issue 4. Dec 2010. Pages 379-392.

 

 

Note: Sunscreen is great. Please use it. Certain generations were not so great about it. I will be forever freckled as a result of too little sunscreen as a kid.

Refusing to Grow Up has Benefits

When I was growing up, I thought that adults were smart, knew a lot, and generally were rather competent. I thought they had life kind of figured out, at least most of them. Now I know better: I’ll never really grow up and in many ways won’t deviate much from my childhood self. There is freedom and terror in knowing that there’s no magical transition from being a child to being adult, and actively refusing to grow up can be very positive.

Refusing to grow up. Stool that says 'Don't grow up, it's a trap'First, the Negatives

On the down side, this means that we’re all kind of idiots in our ways. The same ways that we were goofing up when we were kids are likely to carry over for decades. Did you procrastinate as a kid? You’re likely still doing that, right?

It’s disappointing to me that I’ll never be smart in the way that I thought adults around me were. While I realize now that they were struggling to learn on a daily basis, too, I wish that we all had things a bit more figured out, as individuals and as society.

In so many ways I feel like a failure that surely must be because I haven’t quite grown up. I’m in my 30s, though. My failures aren’t because I’m not competent enough or adult enough. They’re because I’m human. Messing things up is a side effect of living.

Now, the BenefitsWoman reading on a tablet computer

On the positive side, never really growing up means that we can embrace our limitations in a freeing way, if we choose to.

I don’t have to take myself seriously and always try to act mature. Like I tell my daughter, there is a time and place for all kinds of behavior. I may not be able to play hide-and-seek in an office setting when I need to focus on payable work, but I can play with my daughter on the playground, running around and even getting on the swings. neener neener to other adults who won’t join in the play. Are they just trying to act mature, or are they just scared?

Never feeling like a completely formed adult also lets me embrace the fact that I will not reach that level of intelligence I thought adults had. Instead, I can focus on lifelong learning, of trying to reach a goal that I know is ridiculous and unachievable, but it being that high a goal spurs me onward so that hopefully I never stop learning and getting better.

It’s Important for My Daughter that in Some Ways I Never Grow Up

If I truly take to heart the concept that none of us are adults in some ways, that we’re all struggling to be ourselves, to live as best we can, loving and screwing up, and trying hard but still making mistakes, perhaps I’ll have more patience with others and with myself. Perhaps a bit of grace will come out in my actions and in the way I treat others. If I can treat myself with acceptance and understanding, perhaps my daughter will see this, take it to heart, and be more accepting and think more positively of herself and her world as well.

I’m okay never growing up.

 

To celebrate adults channeling their inner child, consider these books:

Mr Tiger Goes WildMr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown

An adorable book! Mr. Tiger is always proper, and he gets sick of it. This book discusses how it’s okay to go wild in some places, like the wilderness. Sometimes, too, society needs to change, and it’s empowering for kids to see the effect that Mr. Tiger has on his friends and city.

 

Don't Be Silly, Mrs. Millie!

Don’t Be Silly, Mrs. Millie! by Judy Cox

By teasing her students and saying silly things, Mrs. Millie makes them laugh while learning. A lovely example of how adults can be silly and engage more deeply with kids as a result.

 

 

 

The Book with No Pictures The Book with No Pictures by B. J. Novak

I dare you to read this book without laughing. The author is playing a joke on the adult reading the page, and children love that. The book forces the reader to say very silly things and act a little ridiculous in the process. While reading you can show kids why you’re having to say such silly things by pointing at the words as you read. That should be an educational exercise along with the sheer hilarity of sharing the book.

this is a mooseThis is a Moose by Richard T. Morris

The animals in this book don’t behave like normal animals in the wild. Instead, they’re astronauts, doctors, and lacrosse players. Revolting against what ‘should’ happen allows them to do the amazing things like go to the moon. Revolt against ‘should’!

 

For other book recommendations in the same age range as these items, please refer to Perfect for Preschool (Ages 2-5) and Excellent for Early Readers (Ages 6-9).