Day 20: Mindfulness is a Powerful Thing

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This is Day 20 in the series: 31 days on Living with ADHD, Autism and Sensory Processing Disorder: What We Have Tried, What Has Worked, What Hasn’t Worked, and Never Giving Up.  See all the topics here.

When Mr Rockstar’s psychiatrist first suggested we start practicing mindfulness with him at home I was surprised.  It just didn’t seem like something a doctor would normally recommend.  He said there was good data that mindfulness training can help kids with autism and ADHD.

Mindfulness and Children

In an article “Why Children Need Mindfulness Just As Much As Adults Do” on www.huffingtonpost.com they cite research showing the benefits to children with autism, ADHD, anxiety, etc.

Autism:

Recent research, conducted by Sequeira and colleagues and published in the journal Autism Research and Treatment, has suggested that meditation has a great deal of potential as a treatment option for children with autism. 

“Meditation is one of a few interventions that have been shown to effectively strengthen self-control and character development simultaneously,” the researchers write in a report. “There is much to be gained by exploring meditation as a strategy to override impaired brain synchronicity and debilitating symptoms arising in early years of persons with autism.”

ADHD:

Being mindful is, at its core, the ability to sustain a focused awareness on the present moment, and practicing mindfulness has been proven to help boost our powers of focus and attention. “

“A 2011 study published in the Journal of Child and Family Studies demonstrated the effectiveness of an eight-week mindfulness program for children ages 8-12 with ADHD, along with a mindful parenting program for their parents. The researchers found that the program reduced parent-reported ADHD behavior. It also increased mindful awareness among both parents and children, and reduced parental stress.”

Reduce Anxiety:

“Recent studies have shown school mindfulness programs to be effective in reducing symptoms of depression, stress and anxiety among secondary-school children for up to six months after the program.”

What We Do

Mr Rockstar’s psychiatrist recommended we get the book Sitting Still Like a Frog: Mindfulness Exercises for Kids (and Their Parents).

I really had never given much thought to mindfulness.  What vague notions I had of mindfulness were connected with mysticism, eastern religions, vague ideas of trying to reach a higher state of being.  On retrospection I was completely ignorant on what mindfulness really was.   Since I was so ignorant I figured it didn’t hurt to order the book recommended by Mr Rockstar’s doctor and learn more about it.  I started reading the book and learned the author wrote it for her 5 year old daughter who had trouble going to sleep at night because of all the thoughts swirling in her head.  She developed mindfulness exercises specifically for children.  The book came with a CD that has eleven mindfulness exercises.

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Most of the exercises are 5-6 minutes in length.  We started first with the “Little Frog” (track 2) which was designed for younger children.  I would tell the kids we were going to play a game to see who could be the best at sitting still like frog.  First we would all get a pillow and sit on our pillow in a circle.  Once we were all seated I would turn on the CD and we would listen to the “Little Frog” track.

After a day or two of this we transitioned to lying on pillows and putting beanie babies on our tummies (yep I still have all my beanie babies but they are definitely not in mint condition lol).  The weight of the beanie baby helps the children notice their breathing.

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Mr Rockstar and I went to a children’s yoga class once when he was two and a half years old.  The instructor (my friend over at http://facebook.com/sunirvanawellness) had the children lie flat and put a beanie baby across their eyes and one on their tummy to help them relax.  I remember Mr Rockstar uncharacteristically sitting still, doing this, and trying to replicate it when we got home… thus my reasoning for using the beanie babies in our mindfulness exercises.  The weight seems to add to the calming effect.

The twins are a little young at age 3 for the mindfulness exercises (they enjoy it but after the novelty wore off they tend to get up and run off and play before it is over).  Mr Rockstar at age 6 can do almost all of them.  Our mindfulness training still has a long way to go.  We need to be more consistent but in the short time we have been doing it it has surprised me how much Mr Rockstar has latched onto it.  One of the best things is now when he has a severe night waking episode he asks if we can listen to Sitting Still Like a Frog.  Usually within 10 minutes he is calm enough to go back to sleep.  On really rough nights (when he would normally be up for hours) we might listen to the entire CD but by the end he is relaxed enough to fall asleep.

Besides helping him relax with sleep the mindfulness exercises have helped Mr Rocktsar calm down when he is upset, have helped him focus, and helped him be aware of his feelings.  So often Mr Rockstar’s outbursts are due to internal turmoil.  He is anxious about something but he doesn’t even know he is anxious.  If we can get him to stop and recognize the feeling then he can start to process the feeling and move on towards a sense of calm.

Other Books

My Many Colored Days by Dr Suess provides a visual for kids to see we all have emotions.  We all have good days and bad days.  It gives you another way to talk about having a bad day.  For instance On Bright Blue Days I Flap My Wings... Some days, of course feel sort of Brown.  Then I feel slow and low, low down… Then comes a Yellow Day and I am a busy buzzy bee.”  I can use this to tell the kids “Mommy is having a brown day” if I am feeling depressed or tired and paired with the visual in the book of a brown bear sleeping they can understand what I am telling them.  They also can use it to describe how they are feeling.

The book When My Worries Get Too Big! was suggested to us by Mr Rockstar’s behavioral therapist.  Many times Mr Rockstar starts acting out when he is anxious about going to school, therapy, or church, or… pretty much any demanding social interaction or transition.  In this book it speaks to children about how when our worries get too big we can react badly and scream, hit someone, or throw things.  The book talks the children through identifying their worry and has them rate their worry on a scale from 1 to 5.  There is a visual scale in the back of the book to help the kids visualize the scale of worry (from no worry (1) to extreme anxiety (5)).  You can print out a copy of this and post it on your fridge so when your child is expressing anxiety you can cue them with “Mr Rockstar how much worry do you have about the babysitter coming over?  Is your worry small and only a 1 or is it really big and a 5”.  The book also suggests calming strategies.  So if your child says their worry is at a 5 you can ask them “What can you do to calm down?  Would you like to try squeezing your hands together? or rubbing your knees? etc”.  We have had some effectiveness using this book especially if there is a recurring event Mr Rockstar is worried about.  You could use the Sitting Still Like a Frog to help them calm down if your child said their worries were too big.

Deep breaths usually help relieve stress so we sometimes play a game of Big Bad Wolf.  I make a house out of paper and we put a toy “pig” in it.  Then Mr Rockstar can pretend to be the Big Bad Wolf and blow the house away.

Peaceful Piggy Meditation is a book I found and ordered when I ordered Sitting Still Like a Frog.  It talks the children through the why, when and how they might want to meditate.  In the book it never actually uses the word meditate, it just encourages children to make a special quiet place that they can go to and slow down, breathe and regain inner peace.

How It Has Helped Me

When we first got the Sitting Still Like a Frog book and CD, I was hoping it might help Mr Rockstar.  I wasn’t prepared for how much I would LOVE it and NEED it!  It is so easy to get caught up as a parent and never take a moment of quiet for ourselves and think about how am I doing or what am I feeling.  I tend to live by the Scarlett O’Hara motto of “I can’t think about that right now. If I do, I’ll go crazy. I’ll think about that tomorrow.”   You can only do this for so long before you start losing it.

As times have gotten harder with Mr Rockstar and we have moved far from family support I started seeing a therapist just because it is so easy to start thinking I am the one who just doesn’t have it together as a parent.  Maybe my kid is just fine and I am the one messed up plus it is easy to get depressed or feel like a failure.  Having someone who understands more what Mr Rockstar is going through and can reassure me that I am not a bad mother for giving him a certain medication or doing or not doing a certain treatment can be very reassuring.  My therapist is always telling me I need to be aware of my feelings, to take the time to feel my feelings, and process them.  But how do you actually do that?  Even when I would try to take time to evaluate my feelings I would just end up sitting and my mind running wild.  Not particularly calming LOL.

This CD, Sitting Still Like a Frog, while geared towards kids is so calming and relaxing and instructional on HOW to find what you are feeling and how to process those feelings and how to let them go when you are ready.  I especially like the instructions on “Sleep Tight”.  Ever find your mind racing at bedtime and you just can’t turn it off to go to sleep?  I had read that focusing on your breathing helps but it just never seemed to work (at least not quickly).  This CD gives much more details on how to focus on your breathing, let go of swirling thoughts, and calmly go to sleep.

This post might just sound like a product plug but I am seriously not getting paid to say nice things about Sitting Still Like a Frog LOL.  I thought maybe it was just me but last week my mom needed a couple MRI’s and they had to be enclosed.  She is severely claustrophobic so she was panicking about getting them done.  I ordered her a copy of Sitting Still Like a Frog and she listened to the whole CD right before going to her first MRI.  She LOVED it.  She was able to do all her MRI’s without a panic attack.  Even now that the MRI’s are done she keeps playing the cd over and over.

Have you tried mindfulness?  What have you thought?

One thought on “Day 20: Mindfulness is a Powerful Thing”

  1. I believe it is common in folks on the spectrum (and definitely our experience) that feelings tend to be reported as “not at all” or “LOTS – a 10!” If Mr. Rockstar is able to experience and recognize middle ground with his feelings, that’s a good thing!

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