Susan talks with Susan Kaiser Greenland, author of The Mindful Child and Mindful Games, shares ways that families can integrate mindfulness into their everyday lives, developing the resilience, presence, and compassion that will help them navigate life’s ups and downs.
Susan Kaiser Greenland is an internationally recognized leader in teaching mindfulness and meditation to children, teens, parents, and professionals. She played a foundational role in making mindfulness practices developmentally appropriate for young people and helped to pioneer activity-based mindfulness with her first book The Mindful Child. Her second book Mindful Games, offers simple explanations of complex concepts, methods, and themes while expanding upon her work developing activity-based mindfulness practices. She is a founding faculty member of UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center’s facilitator trainings, and speaks widely around the world. susankaisergreenland.com
Things you’ll learn from this episode:
- How playing games with young children can actually instill mindfulness practices!
- Easy ways to make mindfulness a part of a family routine – no matter how busy you are.
- How mindfulness can open doors to our creativity and success in school and at work.
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Susan Stiffelman hosts a special master class with Susan Kaiser-Greenland about helping parents and children alike develop greater patience, concentration, and self-awareness
Speaker 1: (00:00)
Speaker 2: (00:13)
Hello everyone and welcome to the parenting without power struggles podcast. I’m Susan Sticklen, your host. I’m the author of parenting without power struggles and parenting with presence. And I’m so happy because today my guest is my friends who’s in Kaiser, Greenland, the wondrous and wonderful emissary of mindfulness, bringing mindfulness for over 20 years to families and children in schools. Hi Susan. Hi Susan.
Speaker 3: (00:43)
It’s so good to see you and I’m excited about your podcast. I’m going to subscribe immediately.
Speaker 2: (00:48)
Oh, Yay. Well, as you know, and many of our listeners now, my work is really built on the on attachment and this notion of helping parents be the calm captain of the ship in their children’s lives and that now LG came to me a long time ago kind of representing this idea that when we’re raising our children, we’re the grownup in the room where we’re the one who kind of varies them across the sometimes stormy seas of life. And my gosh, mindfulness practice, both for parents and for children is such a huge element in parents being that calm, present presence for their kids, especially when things aren’t going very well. So let’s talk about mindfulness. You’ve written three, well, two amazing books, both which are on my bookshelves, the mindful child and mindful games. And now you have a new audio program with sounds true on mindful parents, mindful child called mindful parents by which happens to be the name of the class we’re going to teach together. So that’s pretty great. Um, talk about mindfulness plays, what it is, what it means, why it’s at the forefront of so many magazine articles and conversations and dialogues and school speakers.
Speaker 3: (02:06)
You know, it’s so funny, uh, that you used that idea of a ferry boat. Oh, I have no theory. Men are very person, uh, as a wonderful image for parenting because in classical meditation, in classical mindfulness practice, there are something called the Paramitas, which are these wonderful virtues, which are exactly the virtues that parents are hoping to embody for their kids and that their kids will develop on their own. And the, the analogy or the images arriving at the other shore is being a theory. You know, that these virtues bring you to the other shore. And the garages are generosity, discipline, patience. Why is effort, meditation and knowledge or wisdom? So it’s so interesting to me and not at all surprising because this is what I have seen for all 20 years, that I’ve been really studying this, that the innate wisdom that you had as a parent and as a remarkable, uh, family therapist of the ferry is it, you know, was like right in line with the innate wisdom that, you know, thousands of years ago, some contemplative has had that it is these, this embodiment of these virtues, they will bury us to the other shore of life.
Speaker 3: (03:39)
Um, so that’s beautiful. So that’s, that’s probably not what we read about when we read mindfulness in the magazines. We don’t, we don’t really read about these kinds of, this value-based, uh, part of the worldview. But for me, a mindfulness is really, and this is what makes it interesting for me and why I could even do it for 20 years. It’s a combination of awareness, really realtime awareness of knowing what’s happening clearly, uh, and a prospective of how to look at the world in a way that embodies these universal, um, qualities that we’re talking about. Like patience and kindness and wisdom and generosity and compassion, that sort of thing. Oh Wow. I did not know that. That’s just awesome. Yeah, I didn’t, I hadn’t, you know, for people who are listening, Susan and I talk all the time and we know each other pretty well. I didn’t hear that before about, you know, this kind of very bold image and it’s cool.
Speaker 2: (04:49)
Well the funny thing is that, you know, I have these various models that I work with like the hand position. Some people might be familiar with where the right hand represents the parent and the left is the child and depending on whether one’s on top or they’re side by side, um, that sort of represents different ways we can be in relationship with our children. And of course it changes all the time. And this captain of the ship, the same thing that it just sort of was a download at one point. I think I might’ve been teaching in front of a group of parents and you know, it’s kind of like imagine that you’re on a ship and you want a captain who doesn’t leap over to the side of the ship when there’s a store and more there’s the league and you know, that’s sort of the hope and need and of our children. And uh, you know, we’ve talked about this before in terms of the stress of the parent trickling into the life or the experience of the child that our kids are so attuned to us that when we talk about mindfulness with children, we really can’t forget about talking about mindfulness across the lifespan because obviously children learn best by watching us, but also they’re impacted by our state. And whether we’re rattled and you know, turned upside
Speaker 3: (05:58)
down and inside out or we’re moving through our lives, whatever the challenge might be with a sense of equanimity. Can you speak to that? Yeah. And I like keeping referencing back to how this idea of captain of the ship or a ferry, a ferry boat operator came to you because I think it really helps. First of all, I love examples and stories, but I think it also really helps clarify where some of the misunderstandings around mindfulness can come from. Um, it feels to me like what you’re saying is that when you were up presenting something bubbled up and it was like tapping into a universal truth and you’re able to do that because your nervous system was in proper balance. You had enough, um, stimulation so that you were alert. That usually happens when we’re public speaking. You need to have enough stimulation, a little enough, enough adrenaline going so that you’re alert, but not so much that you went over the edge and were into fight or flight.
Speaker 3: (07:02)
And it’s that top of the, they call it an arousal curve. Not a great term to use when you’re talking about this with teenagers. But uh, there, that top of the arousal curve is when we are most open, most receptive and ready to learn and able to learn. And it’s then that you are open, receptive, like you know, really functioning with also cylinders and you tapped in to a universal truth that has influenced your work going forward. And so this two part process, that nervous system understanding of our own and other people’s nervous systems and using mindfulness based strategies to help us be at that point that you were when you had enough stimulation so you were alert but not so overly excited that you are going into fight or flight. That is a very useful, useful tool than mindfulness can give us. It gives us the capacity to recognize when we’re in balance or when we’re a little bit out.
Speaker 3: (08:02)
And then there’s mindfulness based strategies to help us get back into that open receptive space with lots and lots of band group with. But where there’s so much misunderstanding around mindfulness is that many people either think it stops right there, which is self-regulation, which is plenty. I mean, I joke, I’ve got, my kids are grown now, I’m in a 30 year marriage and I joke that life would have been a lot easier for my husband, my kids. And for me, if 30 years ago I had a clue about what we’re talking about and I could recognize, oh, they’re on high alert right now. They can’t really listen much less learn, so I should just like settle back or if I recognize that in myself. So that’s huge, but it’s not the whole thing. The other piece of this way of being is that once you are in that open bandwidth, there are these universal themes like the one that you were able to articulate while you were speaking. Um, that give us a little bit different, a wiser and more compassionate way of navigating life’s up and ups and downs. And that’s another place where people can get caught up with the mindfulness piece and, and thinking, oh, then is it not secular? Is it religious in nature? But actually these things are universal. They’ve come across traditions that come in up through research and psychology and education and neuroscience. And, um, we can tap into these universal ideas when we’re open and receptive and able to learn and listen.
Speaker 2: (09:34)
And then, you know, I think what goes with that as a sense of stillness, you know, that you can be in the midst of the storm, are very active. And you know, I’m, I’ve been a family therapist for, for many decades now and I’ve been working with children. My Gosh, I just can’t even throw out a number cause it’s so inconceivable. I had seen now, and I suspect you have as well, that kids at younger and younger ages and in greater and greater frequencies and numbers are anxious, anxiety and depression. And you know, this, this idea of being able to be, you know, sim simulated enough that you’re engaged with the world, as you were saying, enough adrenaline, enough energy, enough engagement, but, but not rant into this fight or flight mode. We’re so many parents and children live. And let’s talk about how mindfulness in the most practical way can be integrated into a family’s daily life and rituals. So that even for five minutes or three minutes, there’s this point of reference that’s established that creates a place of calm and, and kind of sanity and quiet that from which everyone in the family can go forth and look into their day.
Speaker 3: (10:52)
Yeah, I think that makes a lot of sense. And I think we can also use your example of when you were speaking and you mentioned and you came up with this idea of captain of the ship as an example of what calm can look like. Because often people think calm only means, you know, sitting quietly on a cushion or you know, silent or completely still. But it is possible to be calm even when you’re public speaking, even when it’s, you’re in a car pool and you’re late for Carpool even when the world around you as anything. But so it is possible to tap into this kind of steady, enduring, uh, quality of awareness, which is clear and steady even if your feelings are, are, are a little bit rocky at the time. So that’s one thing that’s also important to remember, especially with kids so that people don’t get disappointed when they go mindfulness kids.
Speaker 3: (11:53)
But my child actually when they became more still, they got more in touch with what their feelings of sadness were or what their feelings of fear were. And um, and so sometimes people think, oh then mindfulness isn’t working. But that’s not the case. That’s exactly it. You know, we become a lawyer. How do we do this? We do this by first as parents practicing ourselves as so that we have a, a felt sense of what we’re talking about before trying to uh, explain this to kids and seconds. You know, I’m a big believer in mindful on this based activities, activity-based mindfulness. So rather than imposing on a family, oh, we want you to sit cross legged for 20 minutes in the morning, you know, or at night. It’s great if parents and kids want to do that. That tends to work really well for parents who are already established meditators.
Speaker 3: (12:51)
But what also works quite well across the lifespan are these activities which follow a general sequence of play. First you have some fun, you might sing a song, you might just do a stretch. It doesn’t have to be a big thing, but just something kind of playful. And then we practice, which is usually some sort of introspective activity or reflection. And then we share, we talk about the experiences is really important with kids because we want to hear if some feelings came up or some confusion came up that we can clarify and then we apply. How does this help in real life? So how does this anchor practice when we focus our attention on just one thing and nothing else? Yeah, that helped us here settle down and relax and they wouldn’t go to sleep. But how could we take it out in real life to have us have been helped at school? We were on the playground or in a sporting activity.
Speaker 2: (13:42)
That is so important. And you know, I think about it even in my own life, how most of the stress I experience is because I’m either living in the past or the future. I’m imagining something that happened to her and replaying something that might’ve been challenging. And I remember, um, you know, my second book was published by [inaudible] imprint and he weighed in and he, um, was helped, he helped edit the book. And he talked a lot with me about this, this idea of doing versus being. And um, and I like what you said about not sitting on the cushion because so many people think mindfulness means planting yourself, you know, on a chair and for some, their temper mix sort of likes that. And for many of us who were very active and, and restless, and I think then mindfulness of what I see in myself can just literally be, I’m in traffic and the light is red.
Speaker 2: (14:35)
And for two or three breaths, I put my hand on my belly and I noticed that it’s rising and falling and something rearranges itself inside of me so that when the light turns green, I’m just a little bit more grounded. And it doesn’t mean I inner had some deep esoteric cosmic experience, but in this moment I’m not racing after another one or imagining it and teaching children that and modeling that, especially in traffic or in the moments of our lives that are rough and tumble. Um, you know, can you give maybe an anecdote or two about what you’ve seen with kids in the application of this as you talked about that fourth element, the apply stage.
Speaker 3: (15:19)
Yeah. Well that’s, that’s beautiful how you described, um, you know, that simple practice while you with your eyes open in traffic. Um, that’s, that’s, you know, it, it is perfect. I, I can’t imagine a better description and we, that starts happening with kids really quickly, really early, even as young as preschool, you know, uh, there’s the classical examples where kids, when they learn these different practices will interrupt a argument between their parents with, by ringing a bell and saying, Hey, could you stop and feel your breathing? And everybody laughs. You know, or when, uh, the parent is all jangled in the front seat in traffic, the kids start singing one of the breathing songs that they learned in school and that sort of thing where the kids, there’s this wonderful circle of co-teaching, co-learning, co-regulating that happens. And even without the parents involved, you know, you learn there, you hear about stories very early on where kids are about to get into a playground conflict and they do walk away or stop and settle themselves, ground themselves in any one of a number of ways which aren’t just breathing.
Speaker 3: (16:39)
Breathing isn’t, is very useful for many people, especially the practice you described early on where you put your hand on your chest or on your tummy or on both and you really focus on the sensory experience of the movement of how your breath moves up your chest or your tummy against your hand. What you’re doing there is you’re moving your attention away from what’s going on in your mind into a present moment, sensory experience. And that does have an effect, a settling effect, a grounding effect on your nervous system. But there’s other things besides breathing too. Listening to the sounds, focusing on a picture in your head, whether it’s a, an image you have of a place that you love and could be a beach. It could be a porch, it could be a backyard, it could be, it could be dancing, it could be singing something that you really love and you focus on that image as your safe place.
Speaker 3: (17:31)
And, and you relax around it, bringing a relaxed attention to it. Those are the types of things that we do that really do ground us in the moment. And if you do that several times during the day, even if you just remember to do it and there’s no emotional charge going on, you develop this kind of habit of integration and you can see you do this. I mean, one of my favorites is, and I sure I remember this so well as a young mom and, um, you know, where, uh, I was feeling like I just, I just couldn’t get clear grounded. And I had kids around me who were asking things or wanting, you know, not, they weren’t upset, but they, they wanted things in my mind, was very busy. And I remember grabbing the snowbanks Snow Globe, uh, which I kept on the kitchen counter and shaking it and saying, hey ma, mommy is mind, is, is kinda like this right now.
Speaker 3: (18:29)
I’m having a hard time seeing clearly, can you help me? Let’s watch the snow or the glitter fall. Let’s feel our breathing. Or just focus on that and see whether you can help me so that my mind calms and clears too. I mean, that’s a great way of showing kids it. You know, what happens when our minds get very, very busy, whether they’re, uh, with strong thoughts or emotions that could be positive ones, but still they can get us a little bit, uh, worked up and we can together settle so that we can see things a little bit more clearly. Oh my gosh, that’s so wonderful.
Speaker 2: (19:07)
And what a gift it is for a child to grow up, especially now with social media and digital. You know, everything that’s pulling at their, their attention and the sort of anxiety that gets stirred up and the intensity and the overstimulation and the flooding of dopamine and all the stuff that goes on when you’re immersed in a digital world as our children are when and particularly when their nervous systems are still so new and developing to offer kids this habit really at a young age or as young as you have child’s Daniels you can to to make this a part. Even if you do something one time a day for two minutes where you pause. I’ve done things in my office with, with kids who’ve been my clients who have come in really agitated and just said for 60 seconds, just whatever sounds, if you hear and we get quiet and maybe it’s a lawnmower or it’s a car going by or it’s Michael my voice or it’s breathing or us the clock and everything gets kind of quiet again. Take much to help children as well as ourselves. Develop
Speaker 3: (20:17)
that kind of habit payoffs. Right? Yeah. That’s beautiful. That’s beautiful. And then I think is in the nervous system, you know, just a reminder to parents, especially parents of older kids and teens, uh, about how the nervous system works. We’re very familiar with the fight or flight when people feel quite uh, agitated, but we’re less familiar with this, the freeze or forget it response. And that’s an important thing to keep in mind because, so if you, if this, if this were a video, you’d see me crossing my arms over my chest and kind of with a grim look on my face. But we see that with a lot of kids and sometimes we interpret that as defiant behavior. But if we reframe that to, oh, he or she is a little bit overwhelmed right now and he’s moving more into a, he or she is moving more into a freeze response rather than a defiant, then our whole relationship towards the experience in toward the child is likely to change. It’s less of a tug of war and more of a compassionate response to or while something must be happening right now that’s feeling a little bit overwhelming to him or her. And let’s see how we can help as opposed to feeling something’s being defiant. So another place we’re better understanding and it doesn’t take a lot better. Understanding how our nervous system works, our own and other people and responding to people in a way that’s consistent with what’s happening in the nervous system, uh, is a real game changer for parents and teachers.
Speaker 2: (21:54)
Well, I, I, you know, I know that it’s been an integral part of my life. I started meditating, believe it or not, in Kansas when I was 17 wow. I still don’t think I’m very good at it. Whatever that means. I have some shit wrestles mind, but I know that it has provided me with an agent.
Speaker 3: (22:11)
Sure. Well, you know, that’s when the, it’s a, I don’t know whether there’s a similar kind of general role for therapists, but for those of us in the meditation world, it’s always a good sign, a better sign for somebody to say, Oh, I think I’m like a lousy meditator. That for somebody as like, oh, I like great medicine. The more, the more comfortable, the more aware you are of the fluctuations of your mind. I hear that. And they go, so she’s really yet some place.
Speaker 2: (22:45)
Well, I just find it kind of amusing, you know, because I did, I’ve learned at least that I am not my thoughts. And that was a big revelation. And I think mindfulness is such a wonderful and easy way to become introduced to that and start to try that on. So we have promised to keep our podcast very short, cause we know parents are super busy. I love that you’ve been here with me. I can’t wait to teach this class with you. We’re going to go much deeper into all of this because you’re the, you’re like the goddess when it comes to children and mindfulness. I mean, no, really out out to the world. And I can’t thank you enough for making time for us and tell people just a little bit more about how to find you and your work.
Speaker 3: (23:30)
Well, it’s, it’s my name, which is a long, long, it’s Susan Kaiser, Greenland, but that’s the website. If you can go to Susan Kaiser, greenland.com you’ll find me. And from there there’s Twitter and Facebook, all of that. I do have a newsletter that goes out once or twice a month where it’s a practice based newsletter where you get guided practices for kids and adults, um, videos, audio, that kind of thing. And you can sign up for that on the website.
Speaker 2: (23:58)
Title it. I like it. Oh, thank you. So nothing, newsletters. I actually read, so, okay. Everyone’s high praise. That’s high praise. Thank you Susan. Oh, it’s just my short attention span, but we have been enjoying a wonderful conversation with Susan Kaiser, Greenland from well in her kids, mindful parent, mindful child mindful games. And thank you for listening. I know that there are so many, gosh, an overwhelming number of podcasts out there. I had no idea for probably hundreds of thousands and I’m so happy that you tuned into this one. It would just be wonderful if you’d like to subscribe and tell a friend or two. Um, I’ll be bringing on really wonderful guests like Susan. We have, Gosh, great people. Jane Goodall coming on and Glennon Doyle and yeah, cornfield truly good men, just wonderful bright lights who will each from their own perspective share something about parenting. And then if you go to [inaudible] dot com slash podcast you can either record or email your own question or volunteer to come on. I’ll be doing some coaching with actual parents, so I hope you’ll stay in touch. And thank you again, Susan. Susan, thanks
Speaker 3: (25:13)
you. I can’t wait to listen to this podcast. It sounds like it’s the perfect combination of interviews and interactive engagement. I honestly look forward to listening.
Speaker 2: (25:23)
Oh, good. Good. Well everyone, I hope you do too. I hope to catch you on the next episode. Meanwhile, remember that life is short. Keep it sweet and keep having fun.
Speaker 1: (25:34)