x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 18 February 2018

These books will help encourage mindfulness in your children

Abu Dhabi resident Anna Kaminski’s two books encourage young children to practise mindfulness

Author and Psychologist Anna Kaminsky, who has written two children's books on mindfulness: Mrs K Begins Again as well as I Think I Can't Sleep. Antonie Robertson / The National
Author and Psychologist Anna Kaminsky, who has written two children's books on mindfulness: Mrs K Begins Again as well as I Think I Can't Sleep. Antonie Robertson / The National

Anna Kaminski is a huge believer in the life-changing power of mindfulness. It can help you focus and pay attention, manage stress, regulate emotions, make better decisions and develop a positive outlook, she says, so why not start teaching it to children as early as possible?

Kaminski, a psychologist from Poland, has been living and working in Abu Dhabi for 10 years, teaching mindfulness to children and adults. Last month, she released her second children’s book – part of an intended series meant to teach little ones the fundamentals of mindfulness and how to practice them. “I’m passionate about spreading awareness about mindfulness because I know it works,” Kaminski says.

For years, she has worked in schools in Abu Dhabi, supporting children with various difficulties, whether caused by mental health or learning disabilities, and she uses mindfulness as a tool to help and counsel them. Her self-published book, I Think I Can’t Sleep, is not strictly a sequel to the first book she released, Mrs K Begins Again, although they will eventually form part of a wider series. Both are humorous, light-­hearted, thought-­provoking books with beautiful, gripping illustrations. And most importantly, both introduce a practice that can easily be taught to young ones.

“Mindfulness is being present in the most simple terms – being present in the ­moment, being aware of what is going on right now within you and outside of you,” explains Kaminski. A mother herself – her son just turned 8 and her daughter is 5 years old – the author says that abstract ideas like “acceptance” or “kindness” or even “gratitude” can be understood by children.

“Very young children can, to a limited degree, understand these concepts,” she says. The books can be read to children as young as 3, and appeal to children up to the age of 10.

Kaminski describes Mrs K Begins Again as a story about resilience. “The phrase ‘beginning again’ is often used in mindfulness, so I borrowed that phrase for the titles. Mrs K, a cat, experiences a series of setbacks and challenges and difficulties, and learns to acknowledge what’s happening and move on from it,” she explains.

Mrs K Begins Again: A Story of Resilience by Anna Kaminski.
Mrs K Begins Again: A Story of Resilience by Anna Kaminski.

The unfortunate Mrs K is not having a good day. She falls out of a tree, gets wet and is stung by an insect, and through it all, she calms herself down by finding a quiet spot and simply breathing. “The book introduces a breathing practice as a way of dealing with difficult emotions that might arise as a result of a setback,” says Kaminski.

“I chose that as the first practice to introduce because studies show that manipulating your own breathing is the quickest way to calm the nervous system; it’s something you can always do; you can manipulate your breath whatever you’re doing, wherever you are – and everyone should know this.”

To teach it to children, Kaminski employs her creativity. There’s the idea of a breathing buddy – like a soft toy placed on the tummy, rising and falling with each breath. Or getting kids to pretend that they are blowing out candles – exhaling – and then smelling flowers – inhaling.

When she reads the book out to children, Kaminski gets the entire class to breathe in and out, in and out, every time Mrs K does it. By the end of every reading, a class of rowdy children is invariably calmer and more settled. “It’s thanks to the breathing,” the author tells me.

In her second book, I Think I Can’t Sleep, Kaminski addresses the struggle of falling asleep when thoughts get in the way. It’s Adam’s birthday the following day, and he can’t stop thinking about every detail: the balloons, the presents, the guests. Soon, one thought leads to another, and he ends up worrying about pirates.

“The book was a result of what I hear children saying over and over again: ‘I can’t fall asleep.’ And when I ask what stops them from falling asleep, or what makes it so hard to go back to sleep when they wake up at night, the answer is, ‘their thoughts’. Younger children might not say that – they’ll say they are excited about tomorrow, or nervous about tomorrow, or replaying what happened yesterday, but the thing is, they can’t calm their thoughts, and this applies to all of us, adults included,” explains Kaminski.

I Think I Can't Sleep by Anna Kaminski.
I Think I Can't Sleep by Anna Kaminski.

So, when she reads this book to children – whether her own or those in her classes – she pauses to ask them if overthinking at bedtime has ever happened to them. Usually, their response is a loud and resonating “yes”.

Another mindfulness practice is introduced: body scans. Adam uses his own body to calm his mind, focusing on one part of the body at a time: feet, then calves, then knees, and so on. “This method will eventually calm your nervous system down, and requires practice – as with anything. It helps when kids are led through this practice because of the book, and they learn to observe thoughts, notice them, allow them to pass.”

And, most importantly, kids learn that not all thoughts are true. “If you learn to notice your own thinking and adjust it, this is a huge skill to have. You can avoid so many mental health issues in the future,” says Kaminski. “I hope the book can at least force children to take a little bit of control over what goes on in their minds.”

Anna Kaminski’s children’s books on mindfulness, Mrs K Begins Again (Dh39) and I Think I Can’t Sleep (Dh45), are both available on Amazon.com and Souq.com. The books are also stocked at Borders. For more information, visit http://www.livingherenow.org

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Read more:

A guide to mindful eating: what it is and how can it make your life better

The dangers of too much screen time for children and how to fix it

Is your smartphone addiction harming your child?

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