07 Jan Mindfulness Lessons from a Toddler: Part 1
I sat down to write a blog post to share how I, a child clinical psychologist and mother of one energetic toddler, teach mindfulness to other children and their parents. The truth is my own daughter has modeled for me more about mindfulness than I could ever learn on my own.
Let me share an example. Every morning before work, my daughter and I walk our French Bulldog together. Typically, I have budgeted about 10 minutes for this morning stroll, just enough time for the dog to do her business. As we walk, I often slip into “autopilot,” meaning my mind starts to wander to my growing to-do list (i.e., work deadlines, bills, appointments to schedule, etc.), my plans and projections for the future (i.e., where will my family be in one year? Five years?) and a flood of worries about any and all topics (i.e., the warning light in my car that, despite my best avoidance tactics, won’t go away). Before I know it, we are back on our front porch and I can hardly remember the details of our walk. Sound familiar? This is an example of mindlessness. In this fast-paced and connected world we live in, we seem to pride ourselves on being busy. Unfortunately, the busier our schedules, oftentimes the busier and more cluttered our minds. We are constantly thinking, planning, fearing, hoping, wishing… and we forget about the thrill of just being.
My daughter, like many toddlers, is also as busy as can be, but she is busy interacting with the world around her in the present moment, the here and now. For instance, on that same walk, my daughter stopped along the way to pick up sticks, grass, and acorns. She held them in her hands, studying their shape, color, texture (and, regrettably, sometimes taste!). She showed them to me in delight, as if she found a hidden treasure. To her, they were new and exciting treasures. Once I cajoled her to keep going, she continued ahead, watching as each of her footsteps hit the sidewalk. She then looked up at the sky to notice a “birdie!” and “airplane!” passing by. She paused to admire our neighbor’s pinwheels, intensely observing how the blades spin around and around. My daughter’s 10-minute walk is an example of mindfulness.
What exactly is mindfulness?
Mindfulness expert, Jon Kabat-Zinn, defines mindfulness as “Paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”
That’s a mouthful. Let’s break it down.
Paying attention on purpose: Mindfulness is about consciously and deliberating directing your attention. The idea is to be in control of your thoughts and emotions and NOT let your thoughts and emotions overwhelm and control you.
In the present moment: We let go of our ruminations and replaying of the past and our worries and plans for the future and instead focus on this present moment as it is.
Non-Judgmentally: During mindfulness practice, the goal is NOT to get rid of all thoughts or feelings. Rather, it is to pay attention to everything happening in your mind and body without judgment. To acknowledge and observe the thoughts and feelings without getting sucked into them.
You may be thinking, “how does this relate to my life?” After all, a toddler does not have the same obligations and stresses of an adult (or older child or teenager for that matter). And, of course, you are right. There is a big distinction between our adult minds and my daughter’s curious, uncluttered state of mind. She doesn’t have to practice mindfulness; she IS the embodiment of mindfulness. For her, it is a state of living and, for the rest of us, it is a concerted effort.
So, what can we learn and emulate from my daughter? Well, this post is already long enough and I’m likely close to losing you, so I’ll get into that next week!