David Gelles, a reporter for the New York Times, asserts that it is “the simple practice of bringing a gentle, accepting attitude to the present moment. In children, it can relieve stress and anxiety, and in turn, promote happiness” (check out his website at davidgelles.com, which explores the S.T.O.P. method). In 2014, Sarah Rudell Beach expressed in a Huffpost, “There is an emerging body of research that indicates mindfulness can help children improve their abilities to pay attention, to calm down when they are upset and to make better decisions. In short, it helps with emotional regulation and cognitive focus.” While I agree wholeheartedly with Ms. Beach’s statement, I’d like to expand upon it. “Mindfulness, when followed by acceptance and problem-solving, serves to promote more positive outcomes for children.”
First, as it relates to my practice, mindfulness allows children to “pay attention” to an intended focus. This often proves a daunting challenge for those with ADHD, dyslexia, autism, anxiety or other co-morbidity. “Deeply noticing” our bodies and how we feel, as well as the environment in which we exist, can lead to mindfulness. It can enable a child to share emotions, experiences and perspectives. When a child knows “where he is,” it helps him to problem-solve where he “needs/wants to go.” For those who want to teach children mindfulness, it becomes important to explain the concept in simple language. Many children are familiar with meditation. One valuable resource for parents is parentingchaos.com, which provides “15 Mindfulness and Relaxation Apps for Kids with Anxiety. Once a child possess mindfulness skills, acceptance comes into play.
Acceptance often means to children, “I must do it, even though I do not want to, so now I will figure out how!” It is NOT surrender, but a choice to allow what cannot be changed at a particular point in time. When children do not have a plan, they may procrastinate or say they “can’t” do something. There is a difference between “can’t” and “won’t!” Once children find acceptance, they can initiate plans of action. This feels good! No more stress. No more arguing with parents. No more procrastination. Instead, choices may be explored, and decisions reached. Acceptance allows children to cope with the reality of situations and move forward with problem-solving.
Many adults and children believe that problem-solving is limited to academic pursuits. Nothing could be further from the truth! Most everyone would agree that a “process of elimination” strategy works well for multiple-choice tests. However, each day, we face issues or situations for which we seek to find viable solutions. If a boy is invited to play with another, and the last play date did not go well, an opportunity for problem-solving presents itself. What are the boy’s choices? He can refuse the invitation, accept with the hope that the next play date will go better, or he can express how he feels to the other child. Problem-solving provides children with the freedom to choose options. It empowers a child, allows him to utilize various strategies, and leads to positive outcomes.
Often, I re-evaluate the mission statement for my practice. In part, I believe that every child is a work in progress. Each one deserves to achieve academic, personal and social growth. Children require a “tool box” to enable them to overcome challenges, gain new perspective and confidence, and develop a skill-set and realize self-actualization. I hope this exploration provides you with “food for thought,” and that mindfulness, acceptance and problem-solving make it into your child’s “tool box” soon!