Whole-Brain Strategy #10 - Woodmam

Exercise Mindsight: Getting Back to the Hub

We’ve talked above about the power of mindsight and focused attention. When kids become fixated on one set of points on their wheel of awareness, we need to help them shift their focus so that they can become more integrated. They can then see that they don’t have to be victims of the sensations, images, feelings, and thoughts within them, and decide how they think and feel about their experiences.

This doesn’t come naturally to children, but they can readily be taught how to focus their attention back to the hub. We can give them tools and strategies for calming themselves and integrating their different feelings and desires. One of the best ways parents can do this is to introduce them to mindsight exercises that help them get back to the hub. When we help our children return to the hub of their wheel, we help them become more focused and centered so they can remain aware of the many rim points affecting their emotions and state of mind.

Here’s how one mother, Andrea, helped her nine-year-old, Nicole, get back to her hub so she could deal with her anxiety about an upcoming music recital. On the morning of the recital, Andrea realized that Nicole was understandably nervous about playing her violin in front of her friends and their parents. She knew her daughter’s feelings were normal, but she also wanted to help her become less stuck on her rim. So she introduced her to a mindsight exercise. Andrea had Nicole lie flat on the sofa, and she sat in the chair next to her. Then she began to help her daughter become more aware of what was going on inside her. Here’s the gist of what she said:

OK, Nicole, while you’re lying still, move your eyes around the room. Even without moving your head, you can see the lamp over on the table. Now look over at your baby pictures. See them? Now look at the bookcase. Can you see the big Harry Potter book there? Now look back at the lamp.

Do you see how you have the power to focus your attention all over this room? That’s what I want to teach you about, but we’re going to focus your attention on what’s going on inside your mind and body. Close your eyes, and let’s focus on your thoughts and feelings and senses. Let’s start with what you hear. I’m going to be quiet for a few seconds, and you pay attention to the sounds around us.

What do you hear? That car going by? The dog barking across the street? Do you hear your brother running the water in the bathroom? You’re aware of those sounds simply because you got still and focused on hearing them. You listened on purpose.

Now I want you to notice your breathing. First, notice the air coming in and out of your nose.… Now feel your chest going up and down.… Now notice the way your stomach moves each time you breathe in and out.…

I’m going to be quiet again for a few seconds. During that time, stay focused on your breath. Other thoughts will come into your mind, and you’ll probably even think about the recital. That’s fine. When you notice that your mind is wandering and you’re thinking about something else or starting to worry, just go back to focusing on your breath. Follow that wave of the in-breath and the out-breath.

After a minute or so Andrea had Nicole open her eyes and sit up. Andrea explained that this technique is a powerful way to calm the mind and body. She told her to keep this exercise in her pocket for when she needed it—for instance, just before the recital. If she began to feel her heart pounding just before she played her violin, she could return to thinking about her breath coming in and going out, even with her eyes open.

You can see how a calming mindsight exercise like this could be a simple but powerful tool to help a child deal with fears and other challenging emotions. Plus, mindsight exercises lead to integration, because as you know, where we focus our attention, neurons fire and become active, then wire to other neurons. In this case, when Andrea helped Nicole focus on her breath, she was not only addressing her feelings of anxiety. She was also helping her daughter return to her hub, so she could notice other parts of herself and even physical sensations that she could then intentionally change. So her neurons associated with mindfully focusing on her breath became wired to her neurons related to feelings of calm and well-being. She moved into a completely new state of mind and was able to get back to her hub.

While this example focuses on an older, school-age child, younger kids can benefit from mindsight exercises as well. Even as young as four or five, kids can learn to focus on their breath. A good technique is to have them lie down and place a toy—like a boat—on their stomach. Ask them to focus on the boat, watching it rise and fall as it rides the waves of breath.

But we’re not suggesting that mindsight exercises require a person to lie down and enter a meditative state. One of the best tools you give your kids for when they feel anxious or afraid, or even when they’re having trouble falling asleep, is to teach them to visualize a place where they feel calm and peaceful: floating on a raft in a pool, sitting next to a river they remember from a camping trip, or swinging in a hammock at their grandparents’ house.

Mindsight exercises lead to survival which can help kids manage their anxieties, frustrations, and, for older children, even intense anger. But these strategies lead to thriving as well. After Andrea introduced Nicole to the mindsight exercise before her recital (where she ultimately relaxed and played beautifully), they returned to similar exercises from time to time, with Andrea leading Nicole through certain visualizations like the one above. As she grew older and kept practicing, Nicole began to understand more about the hub of her wheel, so she could get back to it more easily and quickly. She learned to focus more precisely and specifically on the parts of herself that she wanted to develop and grow.

Watch for ways to help your children learn to be still and calm at times and find the deep-ocean peacefulness within their hub. From there they’ll be better able to survive the storms brewing within them from moment to moment, and they’ll have a better chance of thriving—emotionally, psychologically, socially—as they grow toward adulthood.

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