Mindfulness teacher Susan Kaiser Greenland has worked with kids for a long time. She graciously answers questions about her work below.
How were you inspired to teach mindfulness to children? A couple of things happened. When I began experimenting with mindfulness and children I had two young children myself, one in pre-kindergarten and another in first grade. It just made sense to me that if mindfulness was helpful for adults it would be helpful for children too, especially in the area of attention. Over time I came to learn that while mindfulness does support the development of attention in children, it also does much more, for instance, it also supports the development of kindness, empathy, and clarity. But the most subtle thing that happened to me shortly before I began practicing with my own children was sitting retreat with Ken Mcleod at Mt Baldy where I had an insight that changed the way I looked at practicing with my own children and freed me up to think it was even possible. It had to do with just ‘opening the door’ to the room in which I was already practicing every morning inviting them into my practice (especially inviting/integrating my son into my own practice) as opposed to the other way around.
At what age is it appropriate to begin mindfulness training for children? In many respects, our practice with our own children starts during pregnancy, while they are still inside us. Mindfulness with young children in many respects has more to do with how we are, with what we embody than with mindful activities we teach them. But, for training children in mindfulness on their own, outside of the home environment, we’ve found preschool to be a good place to begin.
What are the advantages to having more mindful children? It’s not just about making our own lives easier, is it? Having more mindful children doesn’t necessarily make our lives easier, in the short run. Teach your kids about mindfulness and they’ll be the first ones to call you on it when you’re not embodying mindfulness yourself! But for me the greatest advantage of mindfulness and children is the development of greater emotional and intellectual clarity and life-skills that give children some tools to calm their minds and bodies. With clarity comes not only improved concentration but wisdom with respect to bringing kindness and compassion into their actions and relationships.
What if our kids don’t listen to us? How can we teach them mindfulness techniques? I hate to sound like a broken record but mindfulness with children begins and ends with our own practice, it’s all about embodiment. Kids learn by example so if you model a kind, compassionate, attuned and less reactive stance they’ll internalize that stance themselves in a way that’s, in many respects, more powerful than if we just talk to our kids about being mindful, kind, compassionate and attentive.