By Kate Berger, MSc and Founder of The Expat Kids Club
A rapidly-growing body of research and experience suggests that supporting children in cultivating a regular mindfulness practice has physical, as well as psychological, benefits.
Let’s take a look at how - and why - this is true for Expat Kids!
First let’s define what mindfulness is and what it is not. 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 oftentimes it is both!
Mindfulness is not:
- About religion, though many may consider it to be a sacred practice. Despite its origins coming from ancient Eastern traditions, western mindfulness is non-secular
- About "clearing your mind," but rather noticing what is happening in the mind in any given moment.
- Supposed to make you relax or be more happy, but those are often nice side-effects of the practice!
Here are some of the benefits of practicing mindfulness with your expat kid:
1. Mindfulness can enhance learning
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 important for all children in the classroom and on the playground. But for expat kids in particular - who are exposed to diverse experiences as a result of their mobile-lifestyle - it seems that mindfulness practices can help enhance their capacities for learning in the midst of these experiences, making their living abroad even more enriching!
One of the ways we incorporate mindfulness into our therapeutic sessions (in order to optimize the learning taking place there) is by starting and ending each session with ringing a bell and practicing a short mindful listening meditation.
2. Mindfulness can enhance responses
Focusing on the present moment creates an opportunity for grounding, and provides space to help kids respond, rather than react to difficult circumstances. By stopping and observing the thoughts in their heads and feelings in their bodies, kids can see things more objectively and then decide - from a place of observation and self-awareness - how they want to respond. For example, 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 can be extremely beneficial for expat kids who might be processing a whole bunch of new information while they transition between cultures. Having skills to reflect before taking action can lead more effective outcomes and feeling empowered in the process (and boy, do we love empowering expat kids!).
One foundation we teach kids about here at The Expat Kids Club is the key differences between reactions and responses; and we then ask them to be really curious and observe their own behaviors to then determine if they are indeed reacting or responding to circumstances in their environment.
3. Mindfulness can enhance “Global Mindset”
Rather than moving away from experiences, mindfulness takes the approach of encouraging kids to observe what’s happening around them exactly as is - the sounds, sights, textures, the muscle-tension, racing heartbeat, the mind’s racing thoughts, and the physical urges (to get away, etc.).
We support kids in doing this by embodying this aspect of mindfulness in our interactions - we stay curious with them about what they notice so they have the freedom and safety to explore whatever might be coming up. And, importantly, we remind them that they will not be judged when they are working with us. In this way, way mindfulness is especially powerful for expat kids because it helps them tune-in to their experiences even more comprehensively, and thereby enhance their abilities to notice things like cultural nuances (that otherwise might be missed). This capacity only enhances their “global mindset,” which is one of the top skills that expat kids have the potential to develop as a result of their lifestyle experiences. Not to mention, it’s also one of the top skills that makes them uniquely qualified for leadership positions later in life. Anything that helps them in this area seems to have a real pay-it-forward feeling to it!
We are passionate about the transformational effect of Mindfulness. Want to learn more about how we use this important principle both in a therapeutic setting as well as with our corporate clients? Send us an email! We'd love to chat.