Want Calmer Kids? How Being Mindful Parents Greatly Reduces Mental Health Risks For Our Children

A kids asking for love.

When We Are Mindful, Each Day Is A New Adventure Unfolding Just As It Should Be.

I asked my daughter, who is very interested in creating fairy characters and drawing them, to write a story. I told her I would post the story on Swami Mommi, and quickly she was headed for the drawing table. I asked that she show me “how fairies learn”. I was really asking her how kids learn, or how they think of learning. 

Her drawings and story taught me how to love more deeply and give up control as a parent. Not what I expected!  This is what my little five-year-old up-and-coming author told me.

Lilya and Sisy’s Playground Fun

Once upon a time there was a Fairy name Liliya. There was a fairy named Sisy too!

Sisy was tired.

Lilya was sad because she wanted to go to the playground, but was kind of tired too.

Lilya realized she was tired and decided to take a nap. Liliya listened to her body telling her to rest. She didn’t listen to her thoughts telling her to go to the playground.

Sisy was hungry and stayed awake to make lunch. She ate and ate and ate. She fell asleep in her chair.

When Liliya woke up, she had good energy. Liliya carried Sisy into her bedroom and tucked her in her cozy bed. Sisy got a good rest.

When Sisy woke up, both Sisy and Liliya went to the playground. They had a great time playing and running and giggling.

They both learned, in their own unique way, that good rest brings good playground fun!

They both lived happily ever after.


As I read “Liliya and Sisy’s Playground Fun”, I figured Sisy was headed for trouble since she didn’t go to bed like Liliya. It ended up that she was taken care of, while still learning that if she was overly tired, she might fall asleep in her food! It ends up that they both learned in their own way….and were playing happily ever after on the playground too!

If I were in charge of Liliya and Sisy,  I would have insisted that Sisy go to bed right away for a nap! I cringed a little when she went to eat instead! Looks like I have a lot to learn about how kids learn, right? But don’t we all have so much to learn from being parents?

I feel like I learn more being a parent than I ever did in school growing up!

That is why it is so important that I am mindful of how I parent. Each moment is a chance to learn more about ourselves and our kids.

After reading the first chapter of PEter Gray’s book, “What Have We Done to Childhood?” in Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life, I pondered my own experiences in school. and realized it was not really that engaging! Somehow, I’ve managed to salvage a true love of learning despite going through some 15 years of it, and from that have continued to grow and learn as an adult on many levels. Having said that, I’ve had to slow down the pace of my daily life just to make time for learning. Looking back, I want a second chance at learning, and I think I’m giving it to myself.

Parenting is the second chance at learning. Slowing down and being mindful is my vehicle.

The first chapter in Gray’s book set the scene for what our kids are experiencing, but also for what many adults have gone through. If we look honestly at what we liked about school, we might make some adjustments to our daily schedules and curriculum. Even if there are those that remember enjoying school, life today can get hectic, more so than years ago. Not only do kids feel pressure to do well at school, but they have to be good at playing instruments, sports, and you name it. They have to sit at the cool kids’ table too….and if they can’t handle it, they’re on their own.

First and foremost as parents, let’s make sure all these drives and achievement are actually coming from are kids. Do we ever try to re-live our own child through our kids. I have heard of the moms and dad who try to live our their dreams through their kids, but I feel that pushing our kids on little things because they are important to us, and not our kids, is quite common.

I need to be mindful each to make sure I am giving my kids enough freedom to learn from their own mistakes and to not control their daily routines in a way that says more about me than it says about them.

A bowl of cereal has so many colors. Much like our day of colorful distractions.
Having So Many Choices and Distractions Makes Being Mindful A Daily Challenge for Parents

So can we as parents step off the achievement treadmill ? Can I see the value in other things, like time to be together as a family, to talk, to connect? Can I let my kids learn from their own mistakes by trusting in the process of learning?

With all the daily parenting choices and parenting distractions (the colorful,  ringing, beeping, get your attention ads and devices, signs, and pressures to name a few), I would say staying mindful or how we teach is a daily challenge. Sometimes yoga helps, sometimes a walk, but whatever it is that helps me stay aware, I do it. Otherwise I just feel distressed and a little hopeless, when all I really want is hope.

If We Are Not Mindful, Our Kids Mental Health Is at Risk

Gray’s book references the work of Cassandra Newsom and her colleagues who analyzed MMPI and MMPI-A scores collected from adolescents age 14-16 between 1948 and 1989. These results were significant and worth mentioning. The results show significant increase in rates of anxiety and depression, and the book points out that these rates were far lower during the Great Depression, world War II, and the Cold War. Here is an excerpt of the findings which describes several poignant questions the adolescents were asked, and the percentage of “yes” responses.

Questions asked:                                                                                 1948          1989

“I wake up fresh and rested most mornings”                           74.6%       31.3%

“I work under a great deal of tension”                                        16.2%        41.6%

“I have had my share of things to worry about”                      22.6%       55.2%

Surely, our society has become even more busy, hectic and distracted than the late 1980’s. If I don’t keep my own two feet on the ground I end up feeling tired in the mornings myself, work under great tension at times, and feel worried. I have noticed that how I set up my schedule determines how calm or stressed I am each day. But our kids don’t get that type of control over their daily lives, they live under school and parent time requirements.

But maybe they would benefit from more control over their daily lives? I think that is what the MMPI scores are showing.

The book highlights the research of Jean Twenge as she looked at the Rotter Internal-External Locus of Control Scale.  She found that the average ” locus of control” scores shifted away from the ” internal control”toward the “external control” end of the scale. Twenge found that a young person in 2002 was more prone to perceive that he or she lacked personal control over his or her circumstances than were 80% of young people in the 1960’s. Gray’s book further notes that the rise in “loss of control over their day” over the 42 year period showed the same linear trend as did the rise in depression and anxiety.

Girl looking depressed and alone.

Giving Our Kids Healthy Doses of Freedom Builds Hope.

Since we grew up with little control, maybe we don’t feel comfortable with lack of control in our own families. We need to be mindful and slow down just to realize might be controlling our own kids too much. We are so used to hearing the “more is better” mentality, but it just might end up being too much.

Gray says it is time for people who know better to stand up and move against the tide of more tests, more regulations, longer school days, more homework, longer school years. His thesis is that children do not need more schooling; they need more freedom, safe environments in which to play, and access to tools, ideas, playmates and adults to help them. This is what I try to do with all the kids I work with and in my own family.

I just need to be mindful so I remember my purpose.

As a parent, I too need the tools, ideas, and peers that allow me to be “Free to Learn” in my quest of teaching kids and families in my work, and in my own family at home. This is all just too important to ignore.

I rewrite the books on my own shelf of how I understand education. Always Mindful.

Family with hands together and floweres.

A Happy Family: Mindful Parents Encourage Their Kids With Freedom. Instead of Unbending Rules They Encourage Respect and  Work To Build Trust.

Gray writes that “Free to Learn” is not a book of complaint, but a book about hope and a path to improvement. He writes that it is a book for people who have an internal locus of control, who want to do something to make the world better. A big thank you to Peter Gray for writing this book and following this discussion, as well as the many current readers and participators in this discussion. I am hopeful and eternally grateful for this opportunity.

If you are new to this blog or want to join in this group, we would be glad to have you. Click here to join our group.

If you are in our Western Pa Home-school group please join us for our upcoming meeting in February to discuss this book. Visit our site for detials.

Check out the links to the book and get reading:  Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life

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