What Children Can Teach Us About Mindfulness

I was recently talking about mindfulness and mindful practices with a friend and she proceeded to ask me; do you practice or do any mindfulness activities with my 2 year old son?

I took a moment to ponder this question and thought 'well we practice deep breathing that we then encourage him to use when upset or angry' but other than that the answer was no. But then I realised that I participated in mindfulness activities with my son all the time, it's just he was teaching me! He is one of the most mindful people I know. He is rarely thinking in the past and rarely thinking about the future. He is almost always in the 'now'.

So my 2 year old is, in fact, my mindfulness coach. When I dedicate time to play or explore with him, he is constantly helping me move beyond my thoughts about the past or future by bringing me back to the current moment - whether it be working to fill up the dump truck with dirt, watching a millipede clamber over blades of grass or touching sticky eucalyptus sap.

This week is Mental Health Week and I'd encourage you to dedicate 30 minutes of time in nature with your child (or by yourself) and practice being truly mindful. Noticing what sights, sounds and smells draw your attention and follow them just like your 2 year old self would havw. Or maybe just follow your two year old - he or she will know what to do.

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People Like Us

I have been listening and reading a lot of Seth Godin’s work. He is a thought leader and entrepreneur. He has been an inspiration to me. So many of his ideas have daily relevance to how we think and live our lives. His mantra is ‘people like us do things like this’ and I think this is so very relevant to us as parents.

For me, this is almost the exact opposite as the saying “do as I say, not as I do”. I have heard many parents yell these words to their children “don’t you yell at me”. ‘Do as I say not as I do’ creates distance. It says, I don’t need to abide by this rule because I am bigger and more powerful. It says ‘do as I say, not as I do’. This is not how good leaders lead. In these moments, we seem to forget that it’s our human condition to copy and follow behaviours, especially from those we look up to.

Instead, we need to make a choice to think ‘people like us do things like this’. We need to show in our actions how we want our children to be. This creates connection. It is not in the telling or lecturing but rather in the doing that people and children take notice. It’s in seeing gratitude, kindness, determination, grit, persistence or whatever else we want to instil that they will think ‘oh, so people like us do things like this’. And next we need to notice and highlight that in our children.

So you need to decide, ‘do as I say not as I do’ or ‘people like us do things like this’. If you do something that you start seeing in your children and you don’t like it, the answer is to start working to change that in yourself - not in your children.

It’s damn hard to accept that we are always sending the message to our children ‘people like us do things like this’, as we often want our children to be different to us - to be without our negative attributes. But within this idea, we can send the message that ‘people like us’ make mistakes and ‘people like us’ can work hard to grow and change. This is possibly the best gift we can give our children.

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How Do You Parent?

How do you make decisions about what you focus on in your role as parent? Do you rely on instinct?

Of course, we all do in one way or another as it saves energy. But instinct without reflection and focus means that we are relying on our past and societal constructs to guide how we live and bring up our children. I want to advocate for values-based parenting, a different way of approaching life, decisions and our responses from those values that we hold most dearly. This helps to hold these things central and provides us and our children with a guide.

Take a moment to consider what your family value most? It could be a huge range of things - for us it is kindness, curiosity and courage. This is therefore, what we focus on. In social interactions, academic performance, sporting endeavours, hobbies etc. we find highlight moments where these are present in ourselves or others in the family. This is how we decide what measure ourselves against and not society!

P.S There will be more on this in the coming months and hopefully an opportunity to participate in person early next year.

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Forget The End Product

I chose to acknowledge gifts that have been created for me by recognising the kindness and thought that went into it, rather than the end product. For me, thoughtfulness is the most important part to me not how beautiful I think it is (or isn’t - how often do we lie to our kids!!). What we talk about is what we measure and for me the end product is not the most important part of the process. 

I choose to acknowledge the thoughtfulness and kindness involved in creating and giving the gift. I might comment on different aspects of the art (e.g. “you used so many colours”) or the process (e.g. “that bit was tough but you kept going”) but very rarely give judgement (e.g. avoiding “It's so pretty”). Our words tell our children what is important to us, so in turn this tells them what should be important to them. If we choose to priotise the end product that is what children will focus on (increasing anxiety), not the process of creating or giving, which is really what we ought to celebrate (increasing self-worth and highlighting important values linked to happiness). 

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Find Intention, Find Emotions

Finding empathy for our children can be hard to find when they are becoming emotional over something simple, like their sandwiches being cut in the wrong shape. As a result, we can end up using the logical part of our brain to coax (not coach) our children through these moments. More often than not this isn't effective as we aren't meeting them where they are at.

The alternative is finding the intentions and emotions, then naming these. This is effective on many levels but ultimately it empowers children as they experience being both ‘seen’ and ‘heard’. 

A quick story, one of many that I could share. In the past, I have run a breakfast program with pre-schooler aged children. On one occasion, I was at the table with David (not his real name) and he had just finished a glass of milk. He was ready to wash up his cup - this was part of the expectation of having breakfast - but as he moved around the table another boy, Gavin (also not his real name) got up and got to the washing bucket just before David. This led to a meltdown for David. He dropped his cup, started crying and hid under the table. My response was to calmly sit next to the table, which David allowed. I chose at this moment to retell the story about what had just happened with the milk, but use his intentions and emotions. Something along these lines:

“You were ready to wash your cup and as you walked around the table Gavin got up and got to the washing bucket before you... (space to process) You thought you were going to be next... (more space to process) You were ready to wash your cup and when Gavin got there, it made you upset... (even more space to process). You really wanted to be next to wash up”.

With a few nods and noises that symbolised agreements he calmed down. I asked if he wanted me to stay sitting next to him a little longer, he said yes. I stayed for another minute before leaving and saying, “I am going to go back to the breakfast table now. When you are ready, you can come back to the breakfast area to clean up.” Surely enough 30 seconds later he came out from under the table to clean up his cup. No reasoning or additional dialogue needed. No coaxing him out of his emotions or into what I wanted him to do. It was just about providing the time and space to allow him to be seen and heard. 

In these moments, I believe that children do the most powerful learning of all. They learn that they are forgivable and that it’s okay to make mistakes. They develop a greater awareness of themselves by our reflections back to them. These are core skills that will support them to navigate life. 

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Where There Is A Can’t, There Must Be A Can

Where ever there is a ‘don't’, we need to provide a ‘do’. 

Where ever there is a ‘can't’, we need to provide a ‘can’.

Children’s have an undeveloped the pre frontal contex in their brain making it near impossible for them to know what they need to or can do, when they are told don’t. We can help them out by giving them one or two alternatives in these moments. 

“You can’t touch this but instead you can ...”

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Responding to Burns

When you pick up something really hot, what do you do? You drop it because that’s what your brain tells your body to do in order to keep it safe. 

This example is an obvious physical response but we have emotional knee jerk responses everyday too, within all of our relationships. This often happens without conscious thought, and without reflection can go on for our entire lives. 

Circle of Security, a wonderful approach and model to being a parent, talks about shark music. This is music that plays in the background during moments that feel uncomfortable for us a parents and distracts us from seeing what our child needs in that moment. 

For example, our child’s need to stay close to us whilst they warm up in new environments might make us feel uncomfortable (aka shark music). It might lead to us trying to push them out to explore and play when they aren’t yet ready. Everyone’s shark music is likely to be different and can be in response to any emotion that our child experiences (e.g. anger, frustration, shyness, sadness etc.). If we can understand our own shark music then we are going to be far better at supporting our children through these emotions. 

Here is a link to wonderful video created by Circle of Security explaining the concept further via a clever animation. 


What is your shark music?

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What If?

Did you ever see that drawing of the old lady and the young girl, the one where at one moment you could see either the old lady or the young girl but never both at the same time? 

Well I think that it is the same for our children. 

What if, instead of seeing a bratty trouble maker who causes a ruckus at the restaurant, we saw a child who has lots of energy, finds it hard to sit still and is excited about the new environment to explore. 

What if, instead of seeing a clingy, crying kid who refuses to go a play, we saw a child who has an anxiety around interacting with others and engaging in new environments. 

What if, instead of seeing the kid that is ‘attention seeking’, we saw a child who just needs their cup filled with connection before they can go exploring again or do their own thing. 

Does the way you see and think about these children change the way you respond to and support them? How are you thinking about your children and is this current way of thinking helpful for you both? 

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Don't Treat Them Like You Want To Be Treated

We were always told as children ‘treat others as you want to be treated’ and it made sense as it gave us, as children, foundation thst showed us to consider how others might feel. But now we are adults, so can give this simplistic phrase a little more thought. 

I believe that we actually shouldn’t treat everyone the same. This includes our children who are at different developmental stages and have different strengths, weakness and personalities. We feel like there should be equity and eveness however this doesn't make sense if our goal is to support them to flourish. If we can acknowledge that each individual has different needs and preferences by treating them the same actually moves is away from our goal. Evenness equals average and average equals satisfactory. We want more than this. 

When we can acknowledge that homework is easier for one child than the other, when we can acknowledge that sport is easier for one than the other, when we can acknowledge that going to new places, trying new foods, sitting quietly, making friends, riding a bike, seeking help, talking in front of groups is easier for one child than others - only then can be begin to see them and treat them like they need to be treated. 

We aren’t a production line trying to create children who are exactly the same nor should we treat them that way. Herein lies permission to treat each of your children different, not to favour one or the other, but in order to support them to be the individual that they are and let their strengths shine. 

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Start Locally

Historically, a child’s world has slowly grown larger as they have grown older. They start in the small space in the womb, then slowly learn about their parents, home, then their backyard and community, then their school, and then beyond. This is a gradual process that gives the child an opportunity to become grounded locally and learn about who they are before they explore the beyond. 

That is changing and very quickly. Children have access to the internet at younger and younger ages, which is showing them a world of wonderful and infintite opportunity. It’s just all happening a little too early. Before their roots have been firmly planted they are opened up to an unlimited number of worlds. I believe there is a big and long lasting cost here. 

The other shift in recent times has been about children’s exploration. Previously children have had ample opportunity to explore their physical local environment from backyards to neighbourhoods, for most children now this doesn’t happen (for various number of reasons). Child still have the need to explore however now it happens on the digital platform, again limiting their connection on a local level. 

Sense of belonging is so important for mental health and well-being so without these opportunities to connect and explore locally, it is becoming more and more difficult for children to grow up feeling grounded and connected. Telling stories about our history as parents and proving space for children to get to know their local environment and neighbourhood are two ways to instill this. What else can you do to provide a strong grounding before our children who explore their physical or digital ‘beyond’?

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Setting Limits, Meeting Needs

Our 21 month old is a crashing, bashing, climbing, running and rolling type of kid. Always on the move, which has at times made extended indoor periods tricky for him (and therefore us). He would climb on the back of the couch and the table, which is where we decided to set limits. But if we ignore these needs in this situation it will be an ongoing frustration for the whole family. So we decided to continue to try to meet his need to jump, crash and climb (this isn’t him being naughty but curious and challenging himself - more on this in later posts) - so we made him a crash mat, by filling a quilt cover with foam off cuts. 

He was no longer allowed to climb these other areas but could stand on the ottoman or couch and crash onto his crash mat. He loves it and we would always redirect him here, if he was ever climbing anything else indoors. In these moments, he felt heard as we met his need and he knew the limits, which he mostly follows. 

Each of you will have your own limits but I encourage you explore the need that is being communicated within the behaviour that is being exhibited. Whether it be a physical, social or emotional need, there is always a need that sits behind behaviour. Once you find it, you can set limits and meet needs. 

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Where Are You Heading

Pilots know the destination for their plane and have a plan but spend 90% of their time off track, often due to weather conditions, before reaching their destination.

Whats your destination in your role as parent? What do you want foster in\\\your children? It doesn't matter if some of the time you are off course, as life has many seasons, but without an end in mind who knows where you'll end up. 

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Priming and Food on the Floor

Don’t imagine a pink elephant? I’m going to bet that most of you imagined a pink elephant. But why, I told you not to? 

‘Priming’ is a substance that prepares something for action and we are priming our children all the time with our words or actions. When we say “don’t throw the food on the floor” their brain hears ‘throw the food on the floor’. We have inadvertently primed our child’s brain to throw food onto the floor. 

For a toddler to use their rapidly developing, but still significantly underdeveloped brain, to come up with alternatives in that moment is very difficult. So our role is to be the ‘primer’ and help them with alternatives. As you can tell we have had a ‘food on the floor’ problem in our house where our 18 month old just seemed to have this innate need to throw food on the floor (aghh). We have replaced “don’t throw that on the floor” with “food goes on the plate or in your mouth”. With this shift we have set the expectation and primed the brain, which has led to about a 95% success rate, much to the disappointment of our dogs.

Any sentence that starts with ‘don’t’ is probably one we can reflect upon and instead explore how else we can support our children. What comes to mind for you? 

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Forgive Yourself

It can be easy to be so critical of your past self, of the things that you did as a parent or in other roles. We can say “I stuffed up” or “I shouldn’t have done that”. But this model of thinking, whilst entirely natural, leads to stagnation.

So rather than be critical of these observations, let’s forgive ourselves then celebrate them. Let’s think ‘look at where I am now, at what I now know and can do’. Look at what I have learnt since then. I know it’s a tough pill to swallow when it’s our children’s livelihood we are talking about, however, all we can control is the current and future. And if we aren’t having these uncomfortable moments of guilt then it means we probably aren’t learning. So take solace and find gratitude when these moments show their head, for it means you know more now than you did yesterday. 

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Bluey is Back

If you haven’t seen or heard about Bluey yet jump a board the Bluey train. Bluey is a a blue heeler who lives in Queensland with her Mum, Dad and sister Bingo. They go on all sorts of adventures - often with Dad as the main character.

The 7 minute episodes showcase parts of Australian modern culture which I love. They are funny and engaging for both children and adults but the reason I am sharing the show with you is because the way the parents approach and support the children throughout. It appears that the characters and their actions during the show have been very thoughtfully put together in a way that clearly incorporates current research when it comes to supporting children’s social and emotional development (in a way that I haven’t seen before). Examples have included giving children space to struggle when they can’t do something, naming emotions rather than focussing on behaviours and supporting problem solving without providing the answer. 

And funnily enough, my wife and I have had some great conversations after the show has finished about how the parents handled situations and how it fitted (or not) into our way of being (e.g. would we do it differently or how could we approach it more like that). We have also laughed about how similar some of the sketches are to our life. 

If you are going to turn on the TV in the next week or so (with or without kids😉), I strongly recommend giving Bluey a go. 

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In Criticism of Sharing

We, as parents so desperately want our children to share. Perhaps it comes from an insecurity or a cultural norm. But our approach often isn’t hugely helpful for a toddler in a developmental age where they are probably (hopefully) going to be as egocentric as they will ever be. It is expected. 

Yet we hold ‘sharing’ in such high regards. I was speaking to a friend the other day who shared the idea that if we were reading the news paper or a book and someone came up and wanted to read it, would be give it to them straight away? Unlikely. 

We can give our children the same opportunity, the same opportunity by saying ‘not yet’. It is okay to empower your child in this way. They don’t have to share straight away, in fact it is a pretty unreasonable request. And often in these moments parents will actually ‘snatch’ the toy off the child to give in to another child, in the name of sharing. Of course the intention is positive but just take a moment to see what that might look from the child’s eyes. 

“Not yet” is such a powerful tool. We have been encouraging our 20 month year old to say “not yet” and to practice hearing “not yet” (often from us as parents). In situations involving peers, I will then tell the waiting child (so that the playing child can also hear) that “he will give to to you when he is finished”. More often than not when the playing child is given control of the situation they will be finished within a minutes, sometimes it is literally seconds before they hand it over. With no fuss! In moments where it might take a bit longer, I’ll brainstorm with the waiting child what we can do while we are waiting. Which is supporting them in learning a very important life skill, delayed gratification. There are other ways to support children in this way, you might have other words or phrases that do the same thing.

As with anything, this isn’t a foolproof guarunteed approach but it will teach both the player and the waiter far more skills than an adult taking toys and distributing them as they see fit. 

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I’m So *Insert Negative Adjective Here*

When a child says “I’m so dumb” (or “I’m so *insert negative adjective here*”), we probably find we automatically respond with “No, you aren’t. You are clever” because that is what we are told to say. Because we feel that this will make it better. My question is, do you honestly think that they believe you? Whenever a child says anything and we respond in a way that is supportive but is the exact opposite to the feeling the child has expressed, what makes you think that they will take your word as gospel? They probably won’t. The child will likely just think, ‘they don’t get it, they don’t get me’. 

If we can manage to sit the the discomfort and pain of this feeling with our children we will learn a lot more, will feel understood and trust will be strengthened. 

An example response might be “You’re feeling dumb at the moment? That’s hard for me to hear but I’m so grateful that you told me. Can you help me understand what makes you feel this way?” No need to come in and try to be the fixer. All the fix it method is doing is putting duct tape over the split. It will continue to show it’s head or worse, it won’t, until it finally explodes. 

It is hard, vulnerable often uncomfortable but so powerful to lean into the discomfort. 

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Trust or Responsibilty - Which Comes First?

What comes first trust or responsibility? It’s like the chicken and the egg. 

We all want children who are responsible but how can they feel responsible without a sense of trust. It’s very difficult. Trust must come first. And even the smallest moments of placed trust are significant. 

This is important as in the same way that you can’t run a marathon without training, we shouldn’t place trust in our children for the first time when they drive a car or go to a fellow teenagers party. 

Children may need coaching and encouragement to act responsible but this must happen after receiving trust - I’m not talking about micro managing but rather developing stratagies and skills before trust (more blog posts on this later.) 

Find ways to show trust daily in your 18 month old (e.g. enable them to carry their plate to the table), 3 year old (e.g. enclosures them to make all or parts of their own breakfast), 10 year old (e.g. allow them to go to the park with cousins or friends and no adults). Oh and remember mistakes will happen (this is a guarantee) be ready to accept them and use them as learning opportunities - not in the lecture way but in a reflective problem solving way. They must hear the message “I can be trusted” loud and clear and they will repay you later with responsibility.

How will you place trust in your child today?

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”One More” Must Be “One More”

We’ve all done it, said “one more” before our child repeats those fated words yet again... “one more” and we think ‘ah surely one more will be okay and it beats the potential meltdown’. So then you have one more, before your child says those fated words yet again. Now, I am in a pickle.

In these moments, it’s like “One more” is having a midlife crisis, it’s lost its purpose and is feeling very confused. It’s time that we give “one more” it’s meaning back! Children get so much from predictability, so when “one more” could mean two, three or four more on most occasions child come to expect it, which is fine... until ‘one more’ is the only option (as you really really need to get going). In these moments, we have one very unhappy camper as ‘one more’ doesn’t mean ‘one more’ anymore.  

At home, we practice “one more” when we have the time to support with a potential big upset and more often than not (still not foolproof that’s for sure!) he happy finishes whatever we are doing after ‘one more’. He now knows exactly what to expect when I say “one more”. So this one's simple, if you say “one more” then you gotta put on you big boy or girl panties and stick with just ‘one more’ (whilst you wait with baited breathe for the response). This will get easier for you and your children over time, I promise. 

PS There will be more to come on ‘setting boundaries with kindness’ soon.

PSS (or PPS?) sorry this post contained ‘one more’ so many times but there was no other way!

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I’m Not An Expert

And I don’t think experts can exist in the parenthood arena.  Sure, there are people that have plenty of experience and wonderful research based knowledge to share. Much of this information is useful for many people, however there is no piece of information will fit for everyone. You are the expert of your life. You have your own history, beliefs, values, rituals and culture, of which will shift over time. 

All information must be filtered through context. So the best thing you can do is know your beliefs, values and culture. Know what is most important to you and keep long term family goals in mind (e.g. wanting children to be free thinkers or to live meaningful lives). This will help you to decide whether particular ‘expert’ information is useful for you or not. This will help to decrease the overwhelming amount of information available to us as parents. Not everything is for you, right now, in this moment. And that is quite okay.  

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