Teaching mindfulness to kids and teens has been described by Amy Saltzman M.D. as “the truest form of preventive medicine I know.” Click here to read the full article
Today Amy talks to us about what the still quiet place is for children and teenagers, the impact of her research with children, and a little practice and advice to help us parents, caregivers and teachers along the way. Click here to read the full interview.
When you’re raising a family or teaching students it’s often hard to be aware of what you’re feeling, experiencing, and thinking. The practice of mindfulness, or paying attention with kindness and curiosity before choosing your behavior, can decrease stress and burnout and increase empathy and effective communication. Tune in as we discuss how adults and children can benefit from learning mindful practices for everyday life.
• Amy Saltzman, MD, is a holistic physician, mindfulness coach, and scientist, and founder of The Still Quiet Place.
DOWNLOAD Entire Program (54:10 mp3 49.6 MB)
My friend and student, 9 year old, Nick, was recently featured in an article in Scholastic Parent and Child magazine. Although he was very disappointed that his personal comments were omitted from the article, he wisely chose to use this as yet another opportunity to practice mindfulness. Here is what Nick has to say about Mindfulness.
To use mindfulness is a great privilege. It makes you feel good, relaxed and happy. You cannot enjoy life without it. Mindfulness is a quiet place. All you have to do to get there is concentrate on your breathing. You can use mindfulness everywhere. When you are in arguments, if you are feeling unhappy or if you are in a tough situation you don’t want to be in. I’ve even used it when I find myself frustrated while playing video games or other times when I become overwhelmed.
Simply sit down, lie down or even stand up and just start breathing and listen and feel your breaths – focus on slow and deep breaths. Soon your worries and frustrations will not seem so big. Before you know it you will feel better. Afterward, I sometimes forget what was making me so upset. I am glad Dr. Amy showed me how to do it. You should give it a try too!
Click the link to read the entire article on Mindfulness for Children in Scholastic Parent and Child magazine
Since the 1980s, educators in California and elsewhere have been urged to help children build self-esteem to make them feel good about themselves and reduce discipline problems. Now, some researchers are saying a better approach is to cultivate self-compassion in children, to help them accept their struggles and guard against self-absorption. Read more
One day when my son was three, I walked into my bedroom to find him seated on the floor cutting thin green foam that he had pealed off some clothing hangers. I asked “J, honey, what are you doing?” He replied “I am cutting slack.” If a three year old can cut himself some slack then perhaps we mothers can do it too.
THE CRAZY PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS
Most of us say “ I just want my kids to be happy….” However often, we so desperately want our kids to be happy that we make ourselves and our children a bit crazy in the process.
Loving our children and wanting them to be happy is absolutely natural. Yet somewhere along the way this natural impulse gets distorted.
Our culture tells us that happiness is found through “success”, accomplishment and the accumulation of things. And here is where things get crazy. When we indentify as our role of mother, and measure our “success” as mothers on the happiness of our children, we find ourselves frantically pursuing the activities and things we think will make our children happy.
This circular thinking “I’ll be successful when my kids are happy”, and “my kids will be happy when they are successful” has us scurrying around trying to make our kids happier, usually by trying to make them more successful in their endeavors—baseball, bassoon, ballet…. Ironically every time we do this we are teaching our children to calibrate their happiness on external circumstances.
This is where the fear and guilt and judgment come in. Even though we rarely admit it, we are terrified that we are doing it “wrong”, that we have already irrevocably damaged our kids, and that they will need years of therapy to lead even remotely normal lives. This fear fills us with guilt and doubt. We compare ourselves to other mothers, and often assume that they have it more together; what my wise mentor calls comparing their outsides (the stylishly dressed mother we see at the school book faire) to our insides (the more or less incessant chatter of “shoulda, woulda, coulda”). We harshly scrutinize and judge our mothering and theirs. This fear, doubt and judgment fuel the various mommy wars (tiger mom- pussy cat mom, working mom- stay at home mom, breast feeding mom- bottle feeding mom). As a result, we often parent poorly out of reactivity and paralysis.
So what’s the alternative? How about cutting yourselves, and other mothers, some slack? How do you feel when you read that sentence? Take a slow deep breath, let out a long sigh, allow the corners of your mouth to curve up just slightly and whisper or shout “ I am going to cut myself some slack!”
HOW TO CUT SLACK
While this sounds good in theory, most of us need some slack cutting instructions.
- Stop when you notice you are stressed out, beating yourself up, critically assessing your pathetic parenting, stop. Take at least 3 and preferably 10 deep breaths. And stop trying so hard to be the perfect parent.
- Lighten Up With a sense of humor (which is not the same as self deprecation), acknowledge that in this moment despite your best intentions, you are not being the mother you want to be.
- Accept that you are doing the best you can. Seriously, if you could do better in this moment you would.
- Cultivate compassion for how extraordinarily challenging it is to be “good” mother even some of the time, much less all the time.
- Choose what you want to do next—take 5 in the bathroom to recollect yourself, announce a “do over”, apologize to your child for snapping at her when really you were frustrated by a recent phone call with a colleague, set a clearer limit, get support….
And if worse comes to worse go into your closet with your children and several pairs of child-safe scissors, and cut everyone a piece of SLACK.
My friend, and fellow mama in the trenches (or at least the kitchen), recently wrote a brief blog about motherly multi-tasking on her website The Skinny Scoop.
With her usual humor, Erin captured the modern mother’s conundrum perfectly, “there is a growing body of “expert” literature that claims multitasking compromises productivity and could also be bad for your health and even dangerous. One study specifically says “the consequences of multitasking can be quite severe in situations like driving.” I wonder if they are referring to things like adjusting the radio, handing back snacks, reviewing for 3rd grade Spanish quiz, and reaching around to pick up sippy cup off the floor. All at the same time.”
While I teach mindfulness (paying attention here and now with kindness and curiosity) I must confess that, as Erin suggests, in order to arrive at school before first recess, I often multitask in the morning, and have on occasion quizzed my daughter on her spelling words during our short commute.
And on the day I read Erin’s post, I had just returned from a visit with my extended family in Colorado; the enormous, irrevocable costs of multi-tasking were fresh in my mind. The entire family had gone to see my 78 year-old father perform in Once Upon a Mattress. It was late, and my sister left at intermission to drive the youngest of our extended crew, her two daughters 5 and 3, and her husband home.
One of the girls was over tired, and Suzanne reached back to comfort her. Then she hit black ice. The car veered of the road and up a steep embankment, missing a power pole by inches. And if that weren’t enough of a scare, when the family was sitting in the police car waiting for the ambulance, the police car was hit by another car careening off the road.
This is a dramatic example of the ultimate cost of multi-tasking. And on a daily basis, in very real ways, our collective technological addictions are decreasing our efficiency, affecting our physiologies, impairing our learning, decreasing our IQ (in fact a recent British study showed that mulit-tasking decreases IQ by ten points; this is more than smoking marijuana or losing a night’s sleep), and perhaps most importantly disrupting our connections with the people we love.
As for the accident, the good news is that miraculously everyone was fine. Although recent research (see below) documents the costs of multi-tasking, there is nothing like seeing your sister hugging your mother, and choking out the words “I almost killed my family,” to bring home the very real costs of multi-tasking.
Below are some articles on multi-tasking. Perhaps as you peruse them you can notice your tendencies toward multi-tasking with curiosity, compassion and of course a healthy does of humility and humor.
Is Multitasking More Efficient? Shifting Mental Gears Costs Time, Especially When Shifting to Less Familiar Tasks– American Psychological Association
Media multitaskers pay mental price, Stanford Study
How (and why) to Stop MulitTasking Harvard Business Review
Multitasking Can Make You Lose … Um … Focus, New York Times
Digital Devices Deprive Brain of Needed Downtime, New York Times
Recent questions about postpartum depression posted on The Skinny Scoop imply that once a woman is diagnosed with post partum depression she has only two options- take medication and stop breastfeeding, or forego medication and continue to breastfeed.
There is a third option, which involves replenishing amino acids (the basic building blocks of protein), and balancing thyroid, adrenal and sex hormones. This approach works for about 80% of the women in my medical practice. This approach is based on the work of Julia Ross, a pioneer in the field of nutritional psychotherapy, and author of The Mood Cure. (The Mood Cure program is also effective for women with general depression and anxiety.)
The most commonly used anti-depressants SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) work by preventing the reuptake of serotonin in the synapses (spaces) between neurons. This means that the serotonin stays in the synapse for longer. Although serotonin is technically a neurotransmitter, it is often know as the “happiness hormone” because it contributes to feelings of well-being.
While SSRI anti-depressants increase the level of serotonin at the synapses by preventing serotonin reuptake, the level of serotonin in the synapse can also be increased by producing more serotonin. This can be done by taking tryptophan, the amino acid building block which is the raw material for producing serotonin. Although tryptophan is commonly associated with turkey it is found in many foods from baked potatoes to yogurt (almost A-Z). A 4 oz. serving of turkey contains about 350 mg of tryptophan. Treatment doses for tryptophan range from 500 mg-1500 mg. Several studies from the NIH show that breast milk naturally contains high amounts of tryptophan.
The need for for tryptophan can be assessed by testing plasma and amino acid and serotonin levels. The use of single amino acids is contraindicated in pregnant and nursing mothers. However mothers with postpartum depression can safely take Total Amino Solutions containing all 22 amino acids with additional tryptophan. The effectiveness of taking tryptophan is enhanced by checking and balancing thyroid, adrenal, and sex hormone function, as well as B6 and zinc levels, since these substances affect serotonin action and metabolism.
In 1989 tryptophan was pulled from the shelves, because it was associated with eosinophilic myalgia syndrome. After extensive investigation it was determined that the EMS was due to a contaminant. Tryptophan is now again commercially available. I recommend buying a product that displays the USP verification label. US Pharmacopia inspection verifies that a given product contains the ingredients specified and no additional ingredients.
To find out if you would benefit from taking amino acids, take the Mood Cure Questionnaire. If you score high on the first section Under a Dark Cloud you will likely benefit from taking a total amino acid solution with additional tryptophan. If you score high on other sections you may benefit from taking a total amino acid solution with higher doses of other amino acids.
For mothers who want to treat postpartum depression with amino acids and metabolic balancing it is strongly recommended that you work with a physician familiar with this approach. For women currently on antidepressants who want to safely discontinue them, an experienced physician should supervise the transition to avoid serotonin syndrome, a rare complication of combining antidepressants and 5-HTP, tryptophan, or SAMe. To find a physician willing to do the necessary testing of thyroid, adrenal and sex hormones, and supervise your care use the American Holistic Medical Association physician finder.
As mentioned previously, this approach works for about 80% of my patients. For whatever reason about 10% of women respond better to a single antidepressant medication which I will prescribe, and another 10 % have more complicated chemistries which require a combination on medications, for which I refer them to a psychiatrist or psychopharmacologist. As one woman stated in The Skinny Scoop comments “Healthy mommy is the best mommy”. So explore all your options and do what is best for you and your child without any additional guilt from your own, mother, your mothers group, or overwhelming numbers of blogging experts out there.
Thank you for publishing Record Level of Stress Found in College Freshmen and bringing some much needed attention to this epidemic. Students of all ages and socio-economic backgrounds are suffering; they are being diagnosed with anxiety, depression, insomnia, eating disorders, engaging in cutting, drug use, careless sex, and committing suicide at unprecedented rates. To protect their health and well-being, we routinely offer students driver’s education, drug and alcohol education, and sex education. Given the alarming statistics Why aren’t we offering “stress education” ?
Over 30 years of research with adults has shown that an 8-weekcourse in Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction decreases stress, depression, anxiety, and hostility, and enhances stress hardiness, sense of purpose and meaning, compassion, empathy and activity in the left prefrontal cortex (the area of the brain associated with positive emotion).
Recent cutting-edge scientific research is documenting that children as young as first grade can benefit from practicing mindfulness. Mindfulness is simply paying attention, to our life experience, here and now, with kindness and curiously. A standard 8-week mindfulness course (“Stress Ed”) can help students learn to observe the thoughts and feelings that accompany the typical daily stresses of lost cell phones, mid-terms, and romantic break-ups, as well as the more intense thoughts and feelings of clinical depression and anxiety. The emerging data demonstrate that children and adolescents who learn mindfulness have significant reductions in anxiety, depression, and physical distress, and significant increases in attention, social skills, sleep quality, self-esteem, and self-compassion. A study by Kristin Neff Ph.D. demonstrated that increased self-compassion improved student’s ability to cope with perceived academic failure.
If we are truly concerned about student health and well-being, let’s offer them basic skills for coping with stress. “Stress Ed” can easily be incorporated into freshman curricula. As with other health ed courses, a specifically trained instructor can teach these essential life skills in a cost effective manner to groups of students. This format creates a safe place for students to discuss their experiences with a professional, and provides all students with basic skills for dealing with stress. Two additional benefits to this format are that the professional can identify individuals who may need immediate additional support, and the instructor could also be a crucial resource for a student at a vulnerable time in the future.
Stress Ed is can inoculate students against this epidemic.
Above, I speak at the 2009 Listen, Learn, Connect evening, one of several discussions supported by Palo Alto High School and the local community in response to a cluster of teen age suicides.
Experts Say, Mindfulness For Children is “No Fad” Either.
The real experts are the children. “Jessica”, a fourth grade student, participated in a Still Quiet Place course, an eight week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction course offered at Henry Ford Elementary School. The school serves a low-income population in Redwood City, California. On the last day of class “Jessica” wrote
When I am sad or kind of in a bad mood I take about 10 breaths and I get relaxed. I also forget about my worries. I learned this from Mindfulness. I enjoy coming here because I forget about my troubles and I forget about all the things in my life that is sad. My sadness just fades.
Jessica’s statement, suggests that perhaps Dr. Hoffman’s perception (reported in the article Mindfulness is No Fad, Experts Say, January 8th , 2011) that children may have trouble understanding or embracing Mindfulness is in error. Not only do children and adolescents understand and embrace Mindfulness, recent cutting-edge research indicates they can reap benefits from practicing Mindfulness, similar to those documented in adults.
As Mr. Woolston’s article highlighted, over 30 years of scientific research with adults has shown that Mindfulness decreases stress, depression, anxiety, and hostility, and enhances compassion, empathy and executive function; executive function is a term that describes the related processes of goal-directed behavior, planning, organized search and impulse control. As a pioneer in the emerging field of offering Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction to children and teens please allow me to share the ground-breaking work indicating that Mindfulness for children is “no fad” either.
Mindfulness is simply paying attention to your life, here and now, with kindness and curiosity. This ability to pay attention is a natural, innate human capacity. Children as young as three can learn to attend to the breath,the five senses, thoughts, and emotions. Slightly older children can attend to impulses and actions, and their effects on others and the world.
For the last decade, colleagues and I have been offering age-adapted Mindfulness-based curricula to at risk youth. (See side bar) Unfortunately, research by Soniya Luthar Ph. D. from Columbia Teachers College shows that many of our youth are at risk. Her data indicate that affluent teens have rates of depression, anxiety and illicit drug similar to their low-income peers. Daily headlines remind us that our children are being diagnosed with depression, anxiety, ADHD, eating disorders, cutting, addictions, suicidal tendencies and other self-destructive behaviors at epidemic rates; cruelty, bullying and violence are on the rise. Most, if not all of our children could benefit from learning to focus their attention, to become less reactive, and to be more compassionate with themselves and others. Those of us involved in this emerging field are motivated by a shared commitment to offer children and adolescents life long skills that will enhance their well-being. We are rigorously investigating whether children and adolescents can reap benefits from practicing Mindfulness, similar to those extensively documented in adults.
For the last decade we have been working in clinics and schools to scientifically assess whether Mindfulness training can enhance children’s attention, executive function, learning, compassion, empathy and general well-being. The preliminary data are encouraging; below are summaries of four recent studies that demonstrate the benefits of offering Mindfulness children and adolescents.
In a randomized controlled trial conducted by Maria Napoli, Ph.D., first, second, and third graders participated in a bi-weekly, 12-session integrative program of Mindfulness and relaxation. The students showed significant increases in attention and social skills, and decreases in test anxiety and ADHD behaviors.
Lisa Flook, Ph.D. and her colleagues at the Mindfulness Awareness Research Center at UCLA studied second and third graders who did Mindfulness Awareness Practices for 30 minutes twice a week for 8 weeks. Children who began the study with poor executive function had gains in behavioral regulation, meta-cognition, and overall global executive control. These results indicate training in Mindfulness benefits children with executive function difficulties (the children most likely to have difficulties and cause disruptions in the classroom) .
In a study with 4th-7th graders and their parents, that I conducted in collaboration with the Department of Psychology at Stanford, the children participated in 75 minutes of Mindfulness training for 8 consecutive weeks. At the conclusion of the study the children demonstrated increased ability to orient their attention, as measured by an objective computerized Attention Network Task, and decreased anxiety. In written narrative the children also reported decreased emotional reactivity, and increased impulse control.
In research on teaching Mindfulness to adolescents conducted by Gina Biegel, MA, MFT, the teens reported reduced symptoms of anxiety, depression and somatic (physical) distress, and increased self-esteem and sleep quality. Independent clinicians documented a higher percentage of diagnostic improvement in the Mindfulness group (vs. the control group). In layperson’s terms, this means that adolescents who were initially diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety were no longer depressed or anxious.
While these studies are preliminary, they reinforce what “Jessica”, in 4th grade, already knows—Mindfulness for Children is “No Passing Fad”. In closing I’ll defer to another expert, a fifth grade girl from Menlo Park, California.
Mindfulness is a great class because you can chill out, and relax. It will cool you down and make you less stressed. You should try it if you are mad or sad or just want to feel better. That’s what I do. Try it!
 Luthar, S., The Culture of Affluence; the Psychological Costs of Material Wealth, Child Development, 2003; 74 (6), 1581-1593.
 Napoli, M. ”Mindfulness Training for Elementary School Students: The Attention Academy” Journal of Applied School Psychology (2005) Vol. 21(1)
 Flook, L. “Effects of Mindful Awareness Practices on Executive Functions in Elementary School Children” Journal of Applied School Psychology (2010) 26: 1, 70 -95
 Saltzman, A., (2008) “Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction for School-Age Children, 139-162. In L. Grecco, Acceptance and Mindfulness Treatments for Children and Adolescents: A Practitioner’ Guide, Oakland, New Harbinger, 2008,
 Biegel, G. “Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction for the Treatment of Adolescent
Psychiatric Outpatients: A Randomized Clinical Trial” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology (2009) Vol. 77, No. 5: 855–866