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HEALTH Teaching kids the art of mindfulness

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Ann Caulfield and Derval Dunford.
MINDFUL MNÁ
?Ann Caulfield and Derval Dunford. Pic: Michael McLaughlin

Teaching kids the art of mindfulness


Mindfulness can calm children and help them cope with stress, bullying and more

Mindfulness had become a real buzz word. With every-one from Michael Harding and Ruby Wax to Goldie
Hawn and Meg Ryan advocating the benefits of ‘inhabiting the moment’, the technique has shed its image as hippy navel-gazing and become a recognised tool for boosting mental health and
battling stress.
Derval Dunford has been facilitating Sui Mindfulness courses in Westport since 2007. In 2011, she joined forces with fellow mindfulness practitioner Ann Caulfield from Castlebar, and together they duo founded Mindfulness Matters, which offers courses and resources for adults, teachers, parents and children. Now, the pair are set to launch a world first: The only mindfulness CD available in the Irish language. Aimed at children between the ages of five and 13, it is designed to nourish young hearts and minds, create inner calm and build resilience for day-to-day living – and all ‘as Gaeilge’.
Speaking to The Mayo News, Dunford describes mindfulness as ‘non-judgemental awareness of the present moment’. “Normally we look at a thing and we label it ‘good’ or ‘bad’, negative or positive,” Dunford explains. “Mindfulness means looking at that thing with curiosity and acceptance, allowing it to be.
“Children actually do just that. They’re interested in everything. If they see something new they want to know everything about it and how it works, where as we adults tend to adopt a ‘been there, done that, bought the T-shirt’ attitude and bypass stuff. So we’re not present for what could potentially be very precious moments. We’re not open to that sort of curiosity and acceptance in the way that children are.
“Young children naturally are mindful, and our aim in terms of mindfulness is to get to children while they’re still young and encourage them to hold on to that aspect as they grow up.”
Derval and Ann are huge advocates for bringing mindfulness into the school setting, and they offer Department of Education-sanctioned online courses at www.mindfulnessmatters.ie. These courses are a support for teachers facilitating schools’ Social Personal Health Education (SPHE) programme, through which children learn about themselves, their own uniqueness, building self-esteem and connection with others. “Our mindfulness courses are laid out under each of the SPHE headings, so they’re perfect for the classroom,” says Derval.
After speaking to principals from Gaelscoileanna, Ann and Derval realised there was a need for mindfulness SPHE support as Gaeilge. They had already produced an English-language Mindfulness CD for children (‘The Zone’), but they decided to put together a new English CD called ‘Still Space’ with a series of short, five-minutes-or-less mindfulness tracks, and then translate that into an Irish-language version, ‘Spás Síochánta Suaimhneach’.
They found the perfect narrator too – Máire Ní Chatháin, a native Irish speaker from Connemara. “She has a very gentle, soothing kind of voice. She worked with us seamlessly, it was great. The CD is gorgeous in Irish – the language really lends itself to that sort of descriptive narrative, and it’s a very soothing language to listen to,” says Derval.
Each of the CD’s nine tracks are different, with a particular focus, from learning how to find an internal ‘still space’ when mind or the outside world feels too busy, to learning about kindness and compassion.
The focus on kindness and compassion is particularly useful for children experiencing bullying. “Kids are taught how to feel compassion and kindness towards themselves – not to be hard on themselves, to recognise their own uniqueness and that ‘it’s okay to be me’. They’re also taught how to feel compassion and kindness for others, a sense of interconnection and that it’s nice to be nice.”
“One particular track called ‘Wishing Well’ is about a magic well. Instead of a well full of water it’s a well full of happiness. The children visualise sharing drops of happiness and watching them soak into somebody they love, like their pet or their friend; then into a neutral person that they might just have said ‘hello’ to; and then into another child that may just have annoyed them a little bit.
“They learn about how every child just wants to be happy, and how if that child was a little bit happier, then maybe he wouldn’t annoy them so much. It’s the recognition – without pushing it on them – that the other child wouldn’t be doing that thing to annoy them if he was actually happy in himself. Maybe it’s not their fault that they’re being bullied – maybe there’s something going on in that other child’s life. They see things from a different perspective, and it’s really beneficial.”
After listening to the CD first themselves, teachers are encouraged to pick and choose whatever tracks they feel are appropriate to play on a given day in the classroom. After listening to one of the five-minute tracks, Derval explains, children tend to be calmer, which can be a real boon to learning. “If teachers can get children to settle and focus for five minutes, they’re much more attentive and able to focus afterwards, and they’re more productive and get more done.”
Mindfulness Matters’ CDs for children are great for parents too. “A lot of children use them at home as well,” says Derval, adding with a tongue-in-cheek whiff of conspiracy: “Some kids use them for getting off to sleep, even though they’re not specifically made for that!” Now that could have benefits for all the family…

Mindfulness Matters’ CDs for children (‘The Zone’, ‘Still Space’ and ‘Spás Síochánta Suaimhneach’) are available in selected bookshops and health-food shops, and at www.mindfulnessmatters.ie. More information on the full range of mindfulness courses for adults and children is also available on the website. The official launch of ‘Spás Síochánta Suaimhneach’ will take place during Seachtain na Gaelige in the Mayo Education Centre, Castlebar, at 4.30pm, on Wednesday, March 12.