I came to mindfulness while I was pregnant with my second child, Noah. I read a wonderful book called Mindful Parenting by Jon and Myla Kabat Zinn which explores how relevant mindfulness is to being with children who oftentimes seem to practice it actively without needing to try simply because they do live in the moment. I was already trying to live more slowly, to appreciate fully whatever I was doing whenever I was doing it. I was moving away from the multitasking, always busy high powered lifestyle I'd often imagined I would want and have when I'd be 'grown up'. Becoming mindful in my relationship with my children seemed a logical, helpful step.
Over the years I've slipped in and out of my mindfulness practice. I find meditating hard - taking the time and calming my mind. However, when I do take the time, it is always beneficial. I don't always find it easy to do just one thing at a time either, Thich Nat Han says “when walking just walk, when eating just eat” etc but I often find myself combining pleasures. When I'm knitting I like to watch movies, when I'm doing my new daily yoga practice I like to listen to inspiring radio shows*, and when I'm cooking and cleaning I need the distraction of great music or great comedy.
But I do try on a regular basis to do just one thing at a time with my children. If I'm playing at babies with the three year old then I try to do just that and not keep thinking about all the other things I could or should be doing. I also try to listen actively to my children. To wait before I speak for them to tell me what they need to say, to hold back with my questions. The operative word here is 'try'.
Despite all this trying, often I feel us slipping out of sync and feel powerless to stop it. Our lives become a series of instructions given by me and ignored by them. Nobody seems to be getting their needs met. And that is when we head out the door. If we walk around with our eyes and ears open mindfulness comes so much more easily. We see the birds swooping across our path, the ice on the frozen puddles, the new stream bursting with water after heavy rains, and the tiny pink flowers budding on the bushes. When we take the time to notice all these little things our inner clock starts ticking more slowly and it becomes easier to be mindful one of another as well as the world around us. We often come back from these little trips be it time in the garden, a walk to the river or a drive to the beach, refreshed, calmer, more comfortable with each other.
But how to get everyone outside in the first place? Here's my list of how to persuade everyone out that door...
- Suggest something fun you know they enjoy – this might be a game of Molky, flying the kite or riding the swing at our house. Recently, it's been bird watching with the binoculars and digging over the veggie patches. Back in the days when we lived in a block of flats with no garden it was popping round the corner to say hello to our neighbour's Labrador Cookie, blowing bubbles or drawing chalk pictures on the pavement.
- Go to a place they love. This is probably the park for most kids, but in our case used to be to see the trains go past when we lived in the city or to the roundabout a three minute walk down our street where we could sit on the grass and play shop (it was a very quiet street and a very large roundabout). Nowadays it usually means the river on the other side of our village. It could also be a field with cows or sheep in or perhaps the woods, or if those sort of places are hard for you to get to it could also be a walk to the shops or the library – there will still be things to see and hear.
- Talk about why they don't want to go outside. Some days my kids just need to moan about what they don't want before they can let that feeling go and move on. So I listen to all the reasons they don't want to go outside like 'I want to stay in my pajamas they're warm' or 'I hate wearing welly boots' and as if by magic by the time they're done moaning they're often moving towards getting ready to go out. This is a really good example of mindful listening.
- Wheels - this ties back to number one but I think it merits being singled out. Bikes, scooters, roller blades, skateboards it's all good news for getting kids outside. We are lucky to have a stretch of very quiet road outside our back door (as in only us and the farmer next door use it quiet) so our kids can go out there even unsupervised and bike, skate and roll to their heart's content. But even in the city we had the same equipment and you know who would lug it down from the third floor or up from the basement so the kids could get their hour of exercise wobbling along the pavement of the flattish street next door.
promise of something good when we get back. Sometimes nothing else
will work to get groany kids out the door. Then I admit I sink to
slightly underhand tricks… “Hm” I say, “If we go outside and
use some of our energy up, we can come home and have a hot
chocolate, waffle, scone, hot cross bun… other yummy treat.”
This invariably spurs my crew into life. It often involves a little
negotiation about the yummy treat in question as well as much
discussion of how great it is going to be but it gets them into
their coats and shoes and out the door and as often within five
minutes they've forgotten the treat and are busy outdoors. Not to say of course that I don't fulfill on my promises when we do go back indoors!
So that's my list. What about you? How do you get your kids outside? Do you practice mindfulness and how have you found it to be helpful with children? I'll be posting next week about how to get your kids listening to those birds and generally being mindful of what's going on around them.
* Check out Chris Hadfield's Desert Islands discs here for example.