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Easy Tricks To Teach Kids How To Deal With Stress Through Mindfulness

But experts say if you want to teach your children to be mindful, you have to be mindful, too.

The back-to-school season brings its own unique stressors to just about everyone: young children starting school for the first time, older kids dealing with longer days and social pressures, teenagers who have to make decisions about their futures, and of course to parents who might also feel overwhelmed. But researchers at Vancouver’s Kelty Mental Health Resource Centre have suggested strategies to deal with back-to-school stress.

“Mindfulness” has become a bit of a buzzword recently, along the lines of “radical wellness” and “living your best life.” But beyond the context of GOOP, there’s a lot of value in the idea that we could all focus more on the present moment.

The basic tenet of mindfulness is the idea that stress and pain is often the result of thinking about past regrets or worrying about the future, and that can be combated by coming up with strategies that focus on remaining in the present moment. HuffPost Canada spoke to Dr. Dzung Vo, an adolescent medicine specialist and pediatrician at British Columbia’s Children’s Hospital, about how kids can implement those strategies.

“I define mindfulness as paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, and with unconditional love,” Dr. Vo says. “It’s not meant to be something that you succeed or fail at, it’s more of an intention and an attitude that we orient ourselves to when we practice being in the present moment.”

Studies have shown that mindfulness can reduces stress and anxiety, improve attention and memory, and encourage empathy and monitor your emotions. It’s also been shown to be beneficial physically by lowering blood pressure and heart rate. And new research is currently underway to determine whether it can be a helpful tool to fight against depression.

Vo’s pediatric practice focuses primarily on teenagers, but he says there are effective strategies that can help just about every age group understand their feelings, process their reactions, and live a healthier emotional life.

Babies and toddlers
By far the most important factor in teaching very young children to be mindful is to have a parent or caregiver who is mindful themselves.

“What we know from neuroscience is that the parent’s own mental and neurologic state has a profound influence on regulating the child,” Vo told HuffPost Canada. “If the parent or caregiver can be mindful, present, attentive, and attuned with unconditional love and presence, then that will affect the child in very deep and healthy ways.”

One of the principles of mindfulness is approaching a subject with “beginner’s mind” — a sense of curiosity and presence you might use if you were trying something for the first time. This is something young children generally do anyways. “Kids are actually pretty naturally in the moment, so it’s not too hard to do,” Vo says.

Studies have shown that mindfulness can reduces stress and anxiety

School-age kids
Vo suggests adding brief mindfulness exercises into the routine of slightly older children, maybe at bedtime or when they get home from school. One idea is to get them to lie with a teddy bear on top of their belly and ask them to slowly breathe in and out, he says. Watching the teddy bear go up and down with their breath will put them in tune with their bodies, and put them in a state of calm.

Another useful activity can be to sing songs with lyrics that remind kids to think about where they are and how they feel — he suggests “Planting Seeds” by Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh. “As kids go through their day, when they need a mindful moment, they just sing the song,” he says. “Singing it actually is a practice, because it cultivates that mindful attitude.”

Crafts and artwork, approached with the “beginner’s mind,” are another helpful way to practice mindfulness. Vo suggests gently guiding children to be curious and really focus on their surroundings and what they might be engaging in.

“Maybe they’re drawing a flower in front of them,” he says. “Encourage the child to really pay attention to it by asking them: What are you seeing there? What are you noticing? What are the colours? What are the shapes?”

It isn’t particularly important that children understand the idea of mindfulness, he says.

“It’s more important to have experiences than to talk too much about the concepts.” And again, he stresses that the most important way to teach mindfulness to kids is the mindful presence of the parent or caregiver.

Teenagers
In his sessions with teens, Vo will often get them to try out their “beginner’s mind” by slowly eating one single raisin. “That might seem very simple and boring, but when you bring curious attention to it, you find experiences that seem tedious or boring may be quite interesting, or quite relaxing, or quite enjoyable in ways that we hadn’t considered when we go through them in autopilot mode.”

Many teenagers will bring what Vo calls “informal meditation” to a wide variety of day-to-day activities: breathing deeply and considering their senses while walking the dog, or waiting for the bus, or washing dishes. It can particularly help before a stressful situation at school — right before writing an exam, for instance.

There isn’t a lot of research on the benefits of mindfulness for teens, but Vo says that he believes that’s the time of life when those practices would be most beneficial.

Studies of adults have demonstrated that mindful practices can actually change the parts of the brain linked to memory, self-image, and emotional regulation. Because adolescent brains are changing quickly and profoundly, Vo says he thinks the effects would be even more significant. One of the biggest adolescent brain changes involves the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for emotional regulation and executive functioning, which develops throughout the teenage years up until the early 20s. It develops through focused attention and concentration, he says, which suggests that the more that they use these neurologic pathways to help regulate their brains, the stronger those connections will get.

By Maija Kappler                 08/22/2018
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What Is Positive Psychology?

A Brief Overview of the Field of Positive Psychology

Positive psychology is one of the newest branches of psychology to emerge. This particular area of psychology focuses on how to help human beings prosper and lead healthy, happy lives. While many other branches of psychology tend to focus on dysfunction and abnormal behavior, positive psychology is centered on helping people become happier.

Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describe positive psychology in the following way: “We believe that a psychology of positive human functioning will arise that achieves a scientific understanding and effective interventions to build thriving in individuals, families, and communities.”

Over the last ten years or so, general interest in positive psychology has grown tremendously. Today, more and more people are searching for information on how they can become more fulfilled and achieve their full potential. Interest in the topic has also increased on college campuses. In 2006, Harvard’s course on positive psychology became the university’s most popular class. In order to understand the field of positive psychology, it is essential to start by learning more about its history, major theories and applications.

The History of Positive Psychology

“Before World War II, psychology had three distinct missions: curing mental illness, making the lives of all people more productive and fulfilling, and identifying and nurturing high talent,” Seligman wrote in 2005. Shortly after WWII, the primary focus of psychology shifted to the first priority: treating abnormal behavior and mental illness. During the 1950s, humanist thinkers such as Carl Rogers, Erich Fromm, and Abraham Maslow helped renew interest in the other two areas by developing theories that focused on happiness and the positive aspects of human nature.

In 1998, Seligman was elected President of the American Psychological Association and positive psychology became the theme of his term. Today, Seligman is widely viewed as the father of contemporary positive psychology. In 2002, the first International Conference on Positive Psychology was held. In 2009, the first World Congress on Positive Psychology took place in Philadelphia and featured talks by Martin Seligman and Philip Zimbardo.

psychology

Important People in Positive Psychology

  • Martin Seligman
  • Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
  • Christopher Peterson
  • Carol Dweck
  • Daniel Gilbert
  • Kennon Sheldon
  • Albert Bandura
  • C. R. Snyder
  • Philip Zimbardo

Major Topics in Positive Psychology
Some of the major topics of interest in positive psychology include:

  • Happiness
  • Optimism and helplessness
  • Mindfulness
  • Flow
  • Character strengths and virtues
  • Hope
  • Positive thinking
  • Resilience

Research Findings in Positive Psychology
Some of the major findings of positive psychology include:

  • People are generally happy.
  • Money doesn’t necessarily buy well-being; but spending money on other people can make individuals happier.
  • Some of the best ways to combat disappointments and setbacks include strong social relationships and character strengths.
  • Work can be important to well-being, especially when people are able to engage in work that is purposeful and meaningful.
  • While happiness is influenced by genetics, people can learn to be happier by developing optimism, gratitude, and altruism.

Applications of Positive Psychology

Positive psychology can have a range of real-world applications in areas including education, therapy, self-help, stress management, and workplace issues. Using strategies from positive psychology, teachers, coaches, therapists, and employers can motivate others and help individuals understand and develop their personal strengths.

Understanding Positive Psychology

In a 2008 article published by Psychology Today, the late Christopher Peterson, author of A Primer in Positive Psychology and professor at the University of Michigan, noted that it is essential to understand what positive psychology is as well as what it is not. “Positive psychology is … a call for psychological science and practice to be as concerned with strength as with weakness; as interested in building the best things in life as in repairing the worst; and as concerned with making the lives of normal people fulfilling as with healing pathology,” he writes.

He cautioned, however, that positive psychology does not involve ignoring the very real problems that people face and that other areas of psychology strive to treat. “The value of positive psychology is to complement and extend the problem-focused psychology that has been dominant for many decades,” he explained.

By Kendra Cherry    Psychology Expert

References
Gable, S. & Haidt, J (2005). What (and Why) is Positive Psychology? Review of General Psychology, 9(2), 103–110
Goldberg, C. (2006). Harvard’s crowded course to happiness. Boston Globe. Found online at http://www.boston.com/news/local/articles/2006/03/10/harvards_crowded_course_to_happiness/
Peterson, C. (2006). A Primer in Positive Psychology. New York: Oxford University Press.
Peterson, C. (2008). What Is Positive Psychology, and What Is It Not? Psychology Today. Found online at http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-good-life/200805/what-is-positive-psychology-and-what-is-it-not
Seligman, M. E. P. & Csikszenmihalyi, M. (2000). Positive psychology: An introduction. American Psychologist, 55, 5-14.
Snyder, C. R. & Lopez, S. J. (Eds.) (2005). Handbook of Positive Psychology. New York: Oxford University Press.


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What Are the Building Blocks of a Good Life?

These 5 elements can change your life for the better.

I spent years studying damage, deficit and dysfunction in the human mind. I don’t remember once in my training hearing the words “joy,” “awe” or “wellbeing.” We talked about “happiness” but only in a negative sense. During a manic phase of bipolar illness, patients may experience excessive happiness. The diagnostic criterion of mania includes a persistently elevated or expansive mood and inflated self-esteem. This is a bad thing. It has negative consequences like irresponsible spending or reckless sexual behavior.

Genuine happiness is not given much thought in the training of psychologists and psychiatrists. The goal of treatment is to get a patient “back to baseline” (not clinically sick) and the goal of most research is to gain a better understanding of mental disorders.

Studying what people are like at their best has not received much attention until recently. In 1998, Martin Seligman was the President of the American Psychological Association. He had a successful career studying depression and was known for his work on the theory of “learned helplessness” as a model for depression. Yet the singular focus on illness troubled him:

Psychologists (and psychiatrists) have scant knowledge of what makes life worth living. They have come to understand quite a bit about how people survive and endure under conditions of adversity. However, psychologists (and psychiatrists) know very little about how normal people flourish…

Seligman set out to change that. He broke new ground by founding the modern field of Positive Psychology.

Positive psychology proposes to correct this imbalance by focusing on strengths as well as weaknesses, on building the best things in life as well as repairing the worst. It asserts that human goodness and excellence is just as authentic as distress and disorder, that life entails more than the undoing of problems.

Positive psychology has flourished over the past two decades, leading to a greater understanding of optimal human functioning and resilience.

Seligman’s life changing book, Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being, outlines his groundbreaking theory of wellbeing known as the PERMA model. The theory holds that the following five elements are the building blocks of a good life:

1. Positive Emotion (P)

Positive emotion such as peace, gratitude, satisfaction, pleasure, inspiration, hope, curiosity, awe and love are life enhancing. A “dose” of positive emotion creates an upward spiral of positivity.

upwardspiral

 

2. Engagement (E)

When we’re truly engaged in a situation, task, or project, we experience a state of flow: time seems to stop, we lose our sense of self, and we concentrate intensely on the present.

3. Positive Relationships (R)

We are “social beings,” and good relationships are essential for wellbeing. Strong social connections are linked with good physical and mental health and are also protective against stressors.

downwardspiral

 

4. Meaning (M)

Meaning comes from serving something larger than ourselves. It puts life in perspective. It may be a religion, a cause, or an overriding sense of purpose that we belong to something bigger.

5. Accomplishment/Achievement (A)

Mastering a skill, achieving one’s goal and living life in concert with one’s values is important for wellbeing. Working towards a goal is rewarding in itself.

The good news is that all five elements of PERMA can be cultivated.


Your assignment: get more PERMA in your life today.

 
Samantha Boardman, M.D       Aug 01, 2016
Samantha Boardman, M.D., is a clinical instructor in psychiatry 
and assistant attending psychiatrist at Weill-Cornell Medical College.
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