“The word mindfulness has become somewhat of a buzzword recently. This is partly because of the rapidly-growing body of research suggesting that practicing mindfulness regularly has physical, as well as psychological benefits,” explains Kate Berger, child and adolescent psychologist.
Due to these positive benefits, most children who develop mindfulness skills early on will have an advantage in their later years, as life becomes more complicated. This is especially true of the Highly Sensitive Child (HSC).
What is Mindfulness?
So, what is mindfulness exactly? Just like working out at the gym or riding a bike, mindfulness is an exercise that is about bringing your attention (back) to whatever is happening in your mind and body in any given moment.
Usually mindfulness is practiced formally through meditation, although there are many ways to practice informally as well. For example, mindful eating or mindful movement.
As with any exercise, like pumping iron or cycling, mindfulness takes both practice and dedication. Sometimes it is hard, sometimes it is fun, and sometimes it is both!
With the increasing popularity, it is important clarify what mindfulness is not:
- While many may consider it to be a sacred practice, mindfulness is not about religion. Despite its origins coming from ancient Eastern traditions, western mindfulness is non-secular.
- It is not about “clearing your mind,” but rather noticing what is happening in the mind in any given moment.
- It is not supposed to make you relax or be more happy, but those are (often) nice side-effects of the practice.
Mindfulness & Highly Sensitive Children
The research on mindfulness and children suggests that kids who practice mindfulness show increases in executive-functioning abilities such as:
- Improved concentration and memory
- Higher efficiency with planning and problem-solving
- Enhanced creativity
- Increased (self-) compassion
These skills are not only what all kids need for learning, in school and on the playground, but are particularly important for HSC’s. These children are often distracted by subtle nuances in their environment and tend to struggle with planning and organising. In addition, HSC’s can be highly critical of themselves and they tend to put others first, which can be emotionally draining.
Mindfulness can provide sensitive kids with the tools to be able to respond, rather than react to difficult circumstances. This helps them reduce feelings of guilt and shame, and calms that “Ugh, why did I do that?” statement that might be playing around in their minds. It can also create time and space for their own thoughts and needs.
So, in essence, one could argue that teaching mindfulness to HSC’s makes a lot of sense!
Modern society means that all kids today, but especially HSC’s, experience more impulse control issues, transitions, and the potential for stress than ever before. Children who are highly sensitive often find it difficult to cope in such a fast moving, sensory overloaded environment.
If we consider a standard traditional classroom/school from a sensory point of view, it is no wonder that it is all too much for a HSC! This world is unfortunately not designed with them in mind. So mindfulness can be a good tool to help your child develop better self-care and positive coping strategies.
Wondering if Practicing Mindfulness Can Help your HSC?
The short answer is yes….and here’s why.
Typically, HSC’s need a lot of downtime to gather their thoughts and process what has happened in their day. They see the details in everything around them, and as a result often feel overwhelmed. This can cause them to spend a lot of time worrying about what has happened or what has yet to happen.
Through mindfulness meditation, focusing on the present moment creates an opportunity for grounding. This gives HSC’s the time and space to be aware of where their thoughts are taking them, and the opportunity to filter some of their thoughts. For example, they will find it easier to reflect on what has actually happened, rather than what could have happened or what might happen in the future.
By stopping and observing the thoughts in their heads, sensitive kids can see things more objectively and then decide – from a place of observation and self-awareness – how they want to respond. They might do so by taking one deep breath or asking for a hug from a parent. Or they might initiate a conversation about how to manage homework more effectively, etc.
This type of responding, rather than reacting, is what Jon Kabat Zinn, a pioneer in bringing mindfulness to western society, refers to as a “radical act of self-compassion.” This type of compassion is about taking care of yourself by actively choosing to answer the question “What do I need right now?”
Many kids who are highly sensitive are desperately trying not to notice and be affected by the stimuli around them. Unfortunately, this can make them feel inadequate because after-all, life if full of stimulating circumstances. Rather than moving away from experiences, mindfulness takes a different approach. It allows HSC’s to observe their experiences exactly as they are – the sounds, sights, textures, the muscle-tension, racing heartbeat, the mind’s racing thoughts, and the physical urges (to get away, etc.). It then enables them to have self-compassion for their incredible abilities to pick up on subtleties and nuances that others might miss. This helps them feel good about their unique capacities, and perhaps by proxy invites them to teach us all how to be more loving and (self-)compassionate about the details we find.
I’m delighted to host today’s guest post written by Kate Berger with a contribution from Debby Poort.
Katie Berger, MSc has lived as an expat in The Netherlands for 10 years. She is a child and adolescent psychologist, consultant, and the founder of The Expat Kids Club which, since its beginning, has provided counsel to hundreds of youngsters and, their families – as well as major corporations – from the U.K., Germany, Singapore, and the United States.
In addition to her work as a psychologist, Kate is the Co-Founder of the Families In Global Transition (FIGT) affiliate in The Netherlands, on the FIGT Board of Directors, and is a dedicated mindfulness meditation practitioner and certified instructor who teaches mindfulness to young people through the collaborative Mindfulness International.
For more information about Kate and the services she offers, please see: www.expatkidsclub.com.
Debby Poort (B.A. Psychology, BCZ Registertherapeut®) is a U.S. native who has been offering psychotherapy to the international community in the Netherlands since 2007. She offers individual therapy, intensive couples therapy, couples workshops and couples retreats in her private psychotherapy practice, Yellow Wood. For more information, you can find her at expatcouples.com.