The cute title is of a particularly useful and important book written by a Dutch author, and it has been helping children and their parents since 2010.
The author, Eline Snel, based her knowledge on her own experience raising children. Years ago, she invented simple exercises for her daughter, who was having anxiety problems and trouble sleeping, and for her son, who was crying a lot as a baby. She managed to help them with their problems and by now they are successful grown-ups. Their mother is working as a psychologist for adults and children and teaches meditation to help others live a more conscious life. A few years ago, she took a course and went on several retreats to become a mindfulness trainer. She then came up with a programme called Mindfulness Matters, which is ideal particularly for small schoolchildren as it is based on their language and the world they experience.
WHAT IS MINDFULNESS?
Mindfulness, or conscious presence, is an innate ability that can be called up, developed and deepened through practice. Everything begins with paying attention and being present, meaning that we focus our attention on one single thing, here and now, free of all judgement and opinions. Every human being is able to do that, but it takes some practice. More for some, less for others. As a conscious parent you may want your child to begin this at a young age, and now you have an amazing booklet to help you, offering creative ways and fun and interesting exercises for children to reach conscious presence. The book comes with a CD that contains 11 exercises detailed by the author in the book.
A good place to start, which proves to be a problem for many parents and children, is the exercise helping you go to sleep.
The author’s daughter had trouble falling asleep when she was around 5, because she had so many things on her mind that even when she was really tired she was only tossing and turning no matter how late the hour. The exercise that Eline invented for her daughter helped her concentrate on her breathing instead of her mind. By focusing on her belly rising and sinking with every breath, she managed to calm herself down and slowly drop off to sleep. But conscious presence is not only beneficial for children. Let’s be honest, adults also want to get rid of problems and thoughts torturing their mind. Focusing our attention on breathing helps to get away from these thoughts and helps you to calm down and relax.
Breathing is a recurring element of mindfulness exercises.
Teaching the “Breathing observation” exercise for your children is also very enlightening. This shows them how to watch their breathing when they are excited, happy, talking to friends, calm or scared. Their breathing will work as a kind of barometer, helping them recognise what state they are in at the moment and then to reach a more ideal state.
The basic exercise, which serves as the title of the book, also focuses on breathing. A frog that is able to make giant leaps is also able to sit still and calm. It sees everything that is happening around it but it does not react right away, it’s just sitting, breathing and saving its energy, not thinking about all the images that pop into its mind. It’s sitting peacefully, breathing evenly. Its belly is going up and down, up and down. No other part of its body is moving. If a frog can do this, why couldn’t children do it too? All they need is a calm place, some focusing, peace and quiet.
The frog exercise was developed by Eline, and she taught it to her children. Still today, this is one of the basic elements of her method. The frog exercise teaches children to concentrate better, become less quick-tempered and deal better with their emotions. The author believes that a quick “frog exercise” helps in any kind of situation. It will make concentration easier before taking a test, for instance. According to Eline you can start to practise conscious presence at the age of 5 to 8, so for smaller children there is a “tiny frog” version.
The “Pause button” exercise also focuses on breathing. This exercise stops you from automatically reacting – sometimes in an irritated, wild or bad way – to something by making you take a deep breath and pause a little. This calms you down and you will be ready to act or respond in a more peaceful way. This exercise should be practised frequently by adults…
The CD also contains a real relaxation exercise, the “Spaghetti test”, which is a quick way to help in case of emergencies. It offers help on how to teach your children to set aside their worries and what to do if despite all their best efforts things are going bad. There is also a “kindness exercise” – again, something that would benefit most adults.
The exercises on the CD might sound odd at first. It’s important that you practise together with the children but do not be obsessed with results, they will not be instant. There are people who can easily tone down their thoughts and tune in to their inner self, and yes, even some children are capable of doing this. Others need a lot more time. Have a patient, easy-going and cheerful attitude, and if the child “escapes” because it’s too boring, do not force it. If they see that the parent is still listening to it and sitting attentively, like a frog and trying to relax, they will come around and follow the example.
You should practise once or twice a week and you don’t have to finish all the exercises in one sitting. Just start with the one that seems to be the most beneficial for you and your child. If the children are enthusiastic about the exercise, praise them! Ask them what they have experienced, how they felt. If you are resilient enough and do not stop with the CD, sooner or later your child will start telling you about what positive changes they are experiencing. For example that they are not afraid of the shadows at night anymore, or not scared of the tests and exams that they have to face.
Mindfulness is not a therapy but it might have therapeutic effects, since it provides children with a new approach on how to manage situations that come up in their lives, such as an emotional storm or how to avoid reacting hastily. It has proved to be very successful with children who lack self-confidence, have attention deficit disorder or hyperactivity, so it’s not a coincidence that Mindfulness Matters is part of the curriculum in many countries.
The example set by Belgium, the Netherlands, France and Germany will probably not reach the Hungarian school system for a while, but as a parent nothing is stopping you from getting this book and starting to use the exercises with your children. As a conclusion here is a line from the book’s foreword: “Mindfulness is a treasure for small ones and big ones too.””Mindfulness is worth gold for young and old alike.”
As a closing word we quote from the foreword of a book:
“Mindfulness is worth gold for young and old alike.”