6 games to instill mindfulness and gratitude in our children (and ourselves)

kite-1666816_1280Since I became a mom 10 years ago, I have been committed to helping my daughter see the good in things as a first reflex.

My own upbringing did not allow for this way of being in the world and, instead, instilled the typical apprehension and worry that seems to be passed down to children in Western societies.

That is not how I want my child to move through life. so I’ve made it a priority to ensure that my daughter’s natural inclination toward happiness be nurtured and even protected when necessary.

Feeling gratitude magnifies what is good, beneficial, and enjoyable.

So together we practice noticing good things — things to be glad about — with games we play:

1) “Best of the Day” Game

At bedtime, while she’s all tucked in, we go through our ritual of closing the day behind us. I ask her to tell me what the best thing of that day was. She thinks a moment, then reveals what she enjoyed most. It can be “big” and significant or one of the more sublime, little moments that came along like a sweet little bird to sing into her awareness.

At times, in reply to my question about the best part of her day, she will burst out with, “Everything!” I tell her that is sort of cheating — that I want to know what was particularly great, big or small, among all the “everything” that she experienced.

My thinking is that, by pulling out and naming particularly wonderful moments or events, she will refine her appreciation of things as they happen. But some evenings she insists that everything really was good.

By nature, we are wired to notice negative things as a throwback to primitive survival mechanisms. My daughter who reports having had a smoothly happy time teaches me that it is possible to have an unruffled experience of general good feeling during a day. Who am I to argue with that?

I make it a practice to not ask her “why” she is happy. Do we need a reason to feel good? Do we really want the set point to be below contentment only to rise if something comes along to break the sad spell?

2) “Favorite Things” Game

We have variations of our “Best Thing of the Day” game that we pull out to make productive use of otherwise empty times. When she’s bored, or we happen to be sitting together somewhere, like a bus station or in line at the bank, one of us will remember that we can play the “Favorite Things” game. We take turns doing a lightening round list of things we are grateful for.

Sometimes we just do the obvious things: blue sky, mangoes, our best friends, our kitty, that the chickens laid eggs today, that the fruit is getting riper, ice cream, birthday is coming up, and so on. But the real fun is when we go for the less obvious things. That gives the game the potential to go on and on:

I am glad I got a window seat on the bus.

I am grateful for that beautiful arrangement of silk flowers over there.

I am grateful there’s a good light above us so we can see each other.

I am grateful that I had exact change for buying peanuts.

I am grateful that toddler did not fall down.

I am grateful that my keys were exactly where they were supposed to be. 

I am glad that I easily found matching socks today.

The variations to this game are endless.

3) “Who Are you Grateful For?” Game

We can do, “Who are you grateful for?”:

The men who collect the trash every week.

The friendly cashier at the store

The people fixing the road

People who pick the vegetables we eat

People who sort the mail

That of course makes us see and appreciate the many people whose labor makes our lives easier.

4) “That’s a Relief” Game

We can do, “That’s a relief”:

I’m relieved that you caught the glass when it slipped off the table.

I’m relieved that you woke up anyway when the alarm did not go off.

I’m relieved that the lights came back after the storm.

I’m relieved we found your shoe when we were almost going to be late.

With this game, the general feeling that it’s a friendly world settles on us.

5 & 6) Other Variations of This Game

Here are some other versions of this game to help you come up with your own:

  • Being grateful for the one who invented…electricity, cheesecake, water heaters, Toyotas that never die, steel wool pads for burned stuff on the pan, washing machines…
  • What (or who) has helped you recently that you want to give thanks for? DIY videos on YouTube, my teacher, our neighbor, the man who gave us directions, the guy who fixed the tire, a person I did not know who lent me a hand.

The Result

How do you feel now that you have come along with us in this practice?

Doing these games builds intimacy between us as we toss the gratitude ball back and forth. The subtle magic of the practice never fails to boosts the mood and, most importantly, sets us up to notice and find joy in the simple things of life. What could be more essential to a successful life than that?

My Gift to You

Now it is my turn to give my thanks to you for allowing me to share my ideas with you. I’d love to give you one of my stories to share with your children: Mommy’s Story Box is a bedtime story with a gratitude thread woven into it.

I wish you the wisdom and grace to take in all the beauty your parenting journey brings.

Falling in love is scary…3 tips that make it safer

Falling in love with our kids is a daring thing to do. Love opens us up, wide open, no armor, no defenses. We’re naked and vulnerable when we’re in love.

Love is powerful. It’s not just cupids and chocolates and diamonds. It’s raw, heart, open, vulnerable, crazy, courageous, light that shines on every dark corner, every unmet need, and everything we don’t want to look at.

It’s our connection to all beings. It’s noticing that when I breathe, my children breathe, my lover breathes, my cat breathes, everyone in my neighborhood is breathing, all people in the world are breathing. All animals and even all plants in the world are breathing. We’re all connected, which should feel great.

Except I can’t control what happens to anyone except me, and even that’s uncertain. The more I love, the more I let in uncertainty.

We’re afraid to get swamped by the needs of everyone. We don’t know how to meet our own needs. We’ve never learned how to set boundaries to give what we want to give, to give what empowers us, and to only give in ways that fulfill us.

Love includes noticing that everything I love will end or change. Nothing is permanent. When our children blast our hearts open with their love, all this fear can come in, too. No one likes to feel afraid and so we distract. We shut down. We get busy. We work. We worry. We micromanage. We ignore.

Yet, we long for love. Many of us feel disconnected and alone. We struggle to feel a sense of belonging. So, what can we do?
This Valentine’s Day, I ask each of us to challenge ourselves. I ask you to open your heart. I ask you to feel. Feel your own longing. Feel your desire to connect and belong. Dare to feel how much you love your children.

If you can’t or if it’s hard, don’t worry. It doesn’t mean you don’t love or that you’re broken or wrong. For most of us, it just means we’re scared. But there are ways to make the fire of love easier to bear.

3 Tips That Make It Safer for Us to Love

1) Embrace feelings — all feelings

Emotions are energy in motion. When we feel them, and let them flow through us, they are cleansing and energizing: Tears are like a good rain, laughter is a fresh breeze, shouting shakes up dormant energy. Being with a trusted friend, a supportive coach, or alone in nature, you can find safe places to feel your feelings. When we let them move, feelings often have this cleansing energizing effect and pass within 15 minutes. However, when we block our feelings, they get stuck in us. They keep asking for attention. They start to ferment and contort themselves. They become scary and overwhelming. The more comfortable you are with feelings, the safer it will be for you to love.

2) Learn to set good boundaries

Author Brené Brown speaks of boundaries as the ability to say what’s OK and what’s not OK with us. When we are very clear on this, then we can give fully, love fully, and stop when we need to. We trust ourselves to stop when we need to and that makes it possible to be fully engaged while we’re engaging. Without these boundaries and self-trust, we are never sure if we’re giving too much and neither are the people around us. If you often feel resentment, anger, or numbness, chances are good that getting better with boundaries would help you be happier and more compassionate.

3) Create good stories

Your mind is a meaning-maker: Its job is to create meaning and stories about everything that happens to you. When you open your heart and then feel hurt or disappointment, your mind may create a story that, That was stupid, and You shouldn’t open up again. That’s one story, but there are others you can tell that fit the facts and make your life happier. To the extent that we can notice the power of our minds to interpret and even create our experiences, we are able to write our own stories. Your mind is making up a story right this instant. Take back your power and make it a good story.

Using these 3 tools will put you well on your way to feeling more connection, ease, and belonging. We need more of that in our families, our communities, and our world.

One definition of courage is to feel the fear and do it anyway. Thank you for moving through your fear and daring to love.

Teaching the way of gratitude

mindfulness-gratitude-childrenHave you discovered how very powerful giving thanks is for uplifting your mood, day and life? Coaches and spiritual teachers these days suggest that we keep a gratitude journal or set aside time to be grateful every day as a way to shift our focus toward a more positive frequency.

It’s not just another thing to try so we can feel better — in my experience, it really works.

Making a shift toward gratitude

The study of neuroplasticity confirms that when we intentionally and repeatedly focus on “taking in the good” — as neuropsychologist Rick Hanson PhD, suggests — we cause changes in our neurons that shift us away from the innate bias toward always looking for threat.

In other words, when we develop a conscious gratitude practice, over time we can actually change our negative mind chatter into a more settled way of being that is open to the possibility that good things just might indeed come our way. I like to think of it as quality elevator music that accompanies us as we intentionally choose to experience life on higher floors.

If you are like me, noticing what I already have that is good enough does not come naturally. I was raised to be constantly prepared for whatever problems were inevitably on their way to my door. I was taught to be constantly doing, preparing, and preventing with a kind of “storing up food for the harsh winter” mentality. But even though the experiences of the Great Depression were passed down to me in my DNA, I am determined that this fear-based way of living will stop with me.

If we can instill the habit of giving thanks, we prepare our children for a life of pleasant contentment. 

Ever since my daughter was very small, we have made it a practice to express gratitude. In that kind of “Do as I say, not as I do” way, it’s easier for me to notice how she says things and to offer a course-correct toward a more positive view.

To my delight, out of the blue, she will sometimes spontaneously list all the things she loves about our house, our neighborhood, our view, the store that offers the stuff we need, the birds flying by, and on and on. It just bursts out of her! In those moments, I get to switch channels from brooding over my to-do list to instead witnessing her enthusiasm. It makes me give thanks that I must be doing something right after all.

A good way to create a readiness to be grateful is to establish the habit of giving thanks. Giving thanks together, in whatever way suits your family, makes everyone slow down and take a mindful moment.

A fitting place to do this is at mealtimes, because they happen at the same time each day and everyone is sitting down together. Even a sandwich on the hiking trail can serve as another opportunity to pause and recognize the gift of nourishment. Food comes from somewhere and it ends up on the table because of the effort of people — so that’s something to appreciate.

In our house, we like to make up songs. If they catch on, we keep them. Below is one of our gratitude prayers before we eat. It is a little song we sing at the table to bless and enliven the food we are about to eat. It also gives the less-than-favorite vegetables a little more status, I hope. Imagine it going with a pleasant sort of Irish music tune.

Thank You for My Food
Thank you for my food, thank you for my food,
Made by Mother Earth and warmed by Father Sun.
Thank you to the seed that grew in the soil,
And blessings to the farmers who made food from their toil.
Thank you for my carrots, thank you for my tacos, thank you for my…
Thank you for my food.

Sometimes my child will add a line to thank the cook, which I accept with a gracious bow.

Thankful kids

Effie2 (2)It’s this time of year — Thanksgiving holiday — when we pause and take a moment to reflect on all that we are grateful for.

A few years ago, I adopted Thanksgiving as a daily practice, and to my surprise, it has transformed my life for the better: I’ve become more centered and peaceful which naturally affected the well-being of myself as well as my family.

Having a deep sense of gratitude benefits us in developing the ability to savor the pleasant moments in life and preserve through the painful ones.

I find that as challenging and complex parenting can be, it is equally inspiring and simple — that is, if we are mindful and appreciate every challenge, pain, delight, and triumph on our parenting journey.

Our children serve as our constant reminder that the ordinary is actually the profound. When we ask children what their most treasured memories are, their typical responses are “camping overnight in the backyard with Daddy,” “baking cookies with Grandma,” or “playing in mountains of snow with friends” — small moments that we adults may not think they attribute much significance to.

I am grateful for being around children on a daily basis — observing their actions and interactions. Getting a glimpse into their delightful world keeps me grounded, reminding me that connection, mindfulness and simplicity are the essentials that fill our heart and soul.

In celebration of Thanksgiving, we bring you reflections from kids around the United States as to what they are most grateful for:

Emma, 7: “I am most grateful for my family and health. I am grateful that we are all together. I am grateful to God for everything.”

Sophia, 5: “I am grateful for my parents, sister, brother, and grandparents. I am also grateful for breastmilk when I was small since it made me grow strong.”

Valerie, 2.5: “Food. Yogurt, peanut butter in a bowl, apples, and peanut butter sandwich.”

Abby, 4: “Strawberries, because I love strawberries.  It’s my wordcloud6favorite fruit.”

Josh, 9: “Family, food, and water. Family because it’s family, and food and water because we need food and water to survive.”

Nicholas, 12: “Having a good mom.”

Tatiana, 11: “I am thankful for my family. I am thankful for the house that I live in, for the food that I eat, that I have education, that I’m healthy, and that I am alive.”

Gianna, 8: “I’m thankful that my mom makes dinner for both sides of our family.”

Adriana, 4: “I’m thankful for pancakes, because I don’t like turkey.”

Rachel, 10: “I’m thankful for God, for veterans, for my family, and for my pets.”

Emily, 9: “I am grateful for my life and everything that God created, and for heaven, and I’m grateful for my family, my house, my clothes, my food, everything.”

Nathan, 5: “I am thankful for birdies and that we love animals, and I’m grateful for my family and pets.”

Camille, 18: “I’m thankful for the people who love me and the opportunities I have been given.”

Nicole, 10: “I am thankful for Tapping (EFT) and the breathing technique Mommy taught me to discharge stress.”

Luke, 14: “I’m thankful for being able to choose my career. I’m thankful for Internet. I’m thankful for love, and I’m thankful for family.”

Zaiah, 10: “Friends and family. The chance to live every day and have food and water.”

Julienne, 14: “I am grateful for music.”

Kaiya, 11: “I am grateful that not all animals are endangered.”

Ethan, 2: “Toys!”

Jared, 9: “I’m most grateful for my family.”

I am thankful for Attachment Parenting International (API) for granting me the opportunity to be part of an organization that promotes an intuitive, kind, and gentle approach to parenting — the foundation of our quest for a more tolerant world. I am also grateful for our API volunteer community and readers for all of your support, and for spreading the message of peace and harmony — because together we are a greater force, capable of making a real positive difference in the world.

My warmest wishes to you and your family on this Thanksgiving holiday. May you always find inspiration and gratitude on your parenting journey.

With Mindfulness and Light,


Modeling empathy to promote peace

logo that hopefully doesnt change colorI believe empathy is one of the most important aspects in promoting peace.  Children who are taught to be empathetic and who witness empathy will, in turn, show more empathy to others.

I attempt to teach empathy to my children through positive discipline, responding sensitively to their needs and emotions, and being present for them. I do my best to create a safe space for their emotions and to be a model of peaceful interactions with others.

Nowadays in my family, modeling empathy often occurs when helping my 4-year-old son wait while his sister has the toy he wants. I empathize with his emotions of frustration while also explaining that she would be sad if he took the toy from her.

When my 2-year-old daughter pouts, “I wasn’t ready to go to bed,” I choose to show her compassion. I acknowledge that she’s sad and say something like, “I know it’s hard to stop playing and go to bed, especially when your brothers are still awake, but now it’s time for us to cuddle together, and I’ll sing to you.”

With my 6-year-old son, we talk about how his strong emotions like anger are OK but that we need to work together to find appropriate outlets for those feelings.

Mommy Daddy Child BeachBeing sensitive to my children’s emotions works in helping them have more peaceful interactions with others. When my oldest son was 2, I remember hearing him putting his stuffed animals to sleep, speaking very gently to them and being present with them as I was with him. Now, at age 6, I see him express concerns for others when they get injured. Even my youngest child, only 2, will ask if I’m OK when I get hurt.

For my children today, opportunities for empathy happen most often in interactions with classmates, neighbors, and each other. But someday when they’re grown, I believe it will translate into their relationships with coworkers, spouses, their own children, and others they encounter in their lives. This is how practicing Attachment Parenting and being sensitive, responsive, and empathetic to our children can help create peace outside of the family and in the greater community.

Present in the Mundane

“Try to get me mama!” my four year old yells as he runs through the clean clothes piled all over the bedroom floor. Balled socks are his favorite, but he’s happy to avoid any projectile I throw into the sorting piles.

Making laundry into an obstacle course wasn’t a conscious decision, but it sure has made things more fun. It started simply. I was trying to get my son to help me sort. He used to love it. It was one of those things, early on, that helped him feel confident and capable. He was big. He could recognize which clothes belonged to which family member. But that was a couple of years ago. The novelty has long since worn off.

I would have been happy with him just staying in the same room and not knocking over the folded towels, maybe telling me a story or soliciting me to tell him one. But as I sat in the center of the mounds and threw a pair of sweatpants into one pile and a wash cloth into another, Cavanaugh started running through.

Sorting turns much more interesting with a wildly giggling child running through the towels, his clothes, my clothes, and the cloth napkins. It takes a little longer this way and it’s a lot noisier but sorting and putting away the clothes has somehow turned into quality time for us.

One of the things about being divorced is that there’s not another parent here to play with while the other one does the repetitive, time-consuming, and not so fun tasks. Finding a way that Cavanaugh and I can make a game of out the mundane household tasks means it doesn’t have to be work for either one of us.

Grocery shopping has gotten a lot more fun lately too. Since he’s still small enough to sit in the shopping cart, he’s at perfect eye level with me as we navigate the aisles. We play kissing games where he says, “Try to kiss me Mama!” then darts his head to the other side as I try to kiss him. If I manage to land a smooch on his cheeks, he wipes off my kiss and I say, “Oh man,” in utter disappointment. Hilarious.

Even helping him put on a shirt has turned into play. I look through the neck hole when I hold it up for him to put his head through. Why is this funny? He’d have to tell you. The thing all of these games have in common though is that we’re just being present with one another. We look into each other’s eyes. Crossing things off my to-do list has never been so much fun.

What’s your favorite or least favorite chore to try to get done when you’re with your kids? Why?