By Kalinga Seneviratne*
The recently published book “Developing mindfulness in young children” is a timely complement to educate our next generations to be responsible citizens in an increasingly anxious and uncertain world torn by hatred and violence.
Author Shanti Hyacinth Senadeera (left) is a Sri Lankan-born Australian early childhood education teacher with 35 years of experience in Sri Lanka, Nigeria and Australia.
“At first, I used breathing exercises in my classroom to ease the transition in children’s mindset between morning and afternoon play sessions. It was difficult at first because the children were very young, but their ability to focus and focus on their breathing gradually improved,” Senadeera recalls in the preface to the book.
“I have received positive feedback from children, as well as their parents, about the benefits of these exercises. I realized that children were able to understand much more than one would normally expect of young children.
It was this experience that prompted her to write this book in retirement. Senadeera says that through her experience with young children, she has observed that developing mindfulness through meditation can help them manage their emotions, mental stress and behavioral issues, as well as develop their patience and their calm.
Patience and calm between people is a rare quality in today’s world. Thus, this is a book, or rather a guide, for parents, teachers and caregivers to understand the fundamental principles of mindfulness practice and its application to guide young minds in the practice .
Although the practice of mindfulness is rooted in Buddhist teachings, despite being referenced, Senadeera – who is a Buddhist herself – introduces the subject with a secular emphasis. In Chapter 1, in her introduction to “what is mindfulness,” she explains, “The practice of mindfulness cultivates universal human qualities and does not force anyone to change their cultural beliefs or religious faith. “
In the next chapter, she explains why mindfulness is more important today than ever, especially when “the technology in our pockets has robbed us of our ability to relax.” Referring to recent research, she highlights how the practice of mindfulness promotes good health and well-being, while its secular nature encourages a wide range of people to embrace the practice without challenging their religious or cultural identities. . Still, she notes that Buddhist teachings add an ethical lifestyle component to the practice.
In Chapter 3, Senadeera offers advice on introducing mindfulness meditation to young children. Adopting a scientific approach, she explains the relationship between breathing and brain function and gives some practical exercises to start practicing with children. In the next chapter, she discusses the regulation of emotions in children through the practice of mindfulness, and here she draws on Buddhist philosophy to explain the process.
“Young children are very curious and enthusiastic, but are very innocent and vulnerable,” Senadeera explains in the chapter. “They are also very self-centered and attached to their sense of self…me my and mine”. Thus, developing mindfulness is “a great tool for them to understand self-concept, in relation to other beings, and to recognize the world beyond themselves and their needs,” she notes.
Chapter 5 is basically instructions for teachers and parents on how to start teaching mindfulness meditation practices to young children, such as sitting meditation, introduction to posture, especially lotus posture. Also, the use of a singing bowl and beaded necklaces in the practice of meditation is discussed.
In the next chapter, Senadeera tackles the subject of how to train children to be patient. Some useful activities for developing patience in young children are introduced, such as planting seeds in cotton balls, watering and letting them sprout, then charting their progress on a daily basis. Reading appropriate stories is another exercise and listening to the falling rainwater might be another. “Patience is a powerful quality when understood,” argues Senadeera.
Chapter 7 approaches Buddhist philosophy by developing—goodness. It is a practice that cultivates the feeling of benevolence and compassion towards the objects of attention.—lo both people and other living beings. “Meta is a very valuable tool to cultivate in today’s youth and youth,” argues the author, pointing to the news stories we often hear about gang violence and school shootings.
“Young people suffer from mental health problems and use various dangerous drugs for relief. This is due to the hatred and anger they have accumulated in their minds,” she notes. The chapter gives a guide to loving-kindness meditation and a list of its benefits.
Chapters 8-10 discuss various mindful meditation techniques such as walking meditation which could be practiced through a guided walk teaching children to be aware of their steps; while body scan meditation is a technique in which the instructor/teacher guides children through an exercise that focuses on their body parts, usually starting with the feet and ending with the head.
Chapter 10 covers mindful eating which is designed for teachers and parents with a brief explanation of the biology of the digestive system. Some tips are given to increase the vigilance of the child when he eats.
The last two chapters deal with the integration of mindfulness into the educational system. In conclusion, Senadeera says, “The great quality of mindfulness is that it can be practiced by anyone, regardless of religious background or beliefs. We can all benefit by feeling appreciation and gratitude for the daily gifts life has to offer.
She believes there are endless possibilities to be aware of the moment, of self and others. “If everyone practices these concepts, it could ultimately bring more help, happiness, and freedom to all beings,” Senadeera says.