How Can Mindfulness Benefit Foster and Adoptive Families?

It seems like everywhere you turn today people are talking about mindfulness. Mindfulness is being taught in schools, businesses and even the military.  We frequently hear about the benefits of mindfulness when we watch TV or read a newspaper article.

When I first started learning about mindfulness a few years ago, I wondered if it was the latest fad and I was skeptical if it could really help people. I also had some questions and concerns because as a Christian I wanted to make sure this practice fit in with my Biblical worldview.

Before undergoing formal training in mindfulness, I researched the topic and attended several faith-based classes and seminars. I have come to the conclusion that mindfulness is a very useful tool in helping children and families overcome the effects of trauma.

There are a variety of mindful practices, and the ones that are in agreement with my worldview are those that emphasize connection to body, mind, faith and other people as opposed to an emptying of the mind. I regularly practice mindful awareness activities and teach these concepts in my coaching practice.

What exactly is mindfulness?
Have you ever backed out of the garage, driven off and forgotten if you shut the garage door?  When you went back to check, you find out that you did in fact close the door, you just didn’t remember closing it. Or have you arrived at work without intentionally thinking about the directions? It seemed like you and your car just knew how to get there without any planning. If you have done these or similar things, your mind has been on autopilot which is the opposite of mindfulness.

Mindfulness is being fully present in the moment without judgement or attachment to the moment. When we are mindful we are aware of our thoughts, feelings and sensations. We are living life and experiencing all of our senses.

While we do need to judge right from wrong and have ideas and opinions on various subject matters, we often live our lives not even aware that we are judging little things. Small judgements about people and situations influence our thoughts, feelings and ultimately our behavior.

When we live without awareness, we can overreact to little things, like someone’s appearance or the tone of their voice. We may push away and reject people and their good intentions, or we can over focus and dwell on the negative.

What are the components of mindfulness?

In coaching, I teach two main parts of mindfulness - the “what skills” and the “how skills”. These skills are based on Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). The “what skills” teach what to do- observe, describe and fully participate in the activity. The “how skills” teach how to be mindful by doing one thing at a time, objectively, and doing what works most effectively.

What are the benefits of mindfulness for foster and adoptive families?

There are multiple benefits to mindfulness but three I would like to highlight for foster and adoptive families are self-awareness, self-control and the ability to live fully.

1.  Self- awareness - children who come from backgrounds of harm often have hidden or frozen memories, body sensations and urges that continue to plague them. Disconnection is a common theme and many children disconnect from people, emotions, events or activities. Some examples are not displaying or sharing feelings,  retreating when feelings are upsetting, or only emphasizing positive emotions and denying negative feelings. Learning to be aware of thoughts, feelings, sensations and behavior is key in overcoming disconnection.

For parents, developing a deeper understanding of themselves, their past and how they are reacting to their child is also beneficial in connected or trust based parenting styles.

2. Self-control- managing and staying in charge of emotions is key to living a successful life. Children who come from backgrounds of trauma often move into fight, flight or freeze mode very quickly. Rages, temper tantrums, yelling, running away or being so overwhelmed they are unable to talk are some ways that the fight, flight, freeze behaviors are exhibited.  When children are aware and in control of their bodies they can tolerate stresses and uncomfortable feelings because they know that life is constantly shifting and even though the moment is difficult, joy and pleasure are just around the corner.

It is also very challenging to parent a child who physically or verbally attacks the people close to them or shuts down and goes off by themselves. It takes enormous self-control for the parent to stay connected and not push the child away when the child gets angry or disconnects. Being mindful and aware can help both children and parents develop more self-control.

3. Ability to Live Fully- if parents and children are self-aware and have control over their emotions they are freed up to live a full and engaged life where they are connected to God, each other, and His plan for their life. God created us and our bodies each with unique gifts and abilities to be a blessing and of service to Him, His world and His people. Trauma, especially early trauma that happens in close relationships, isolates and disrupts connection. Becoming more aware of mind, body, feelings, thoughts and judgements can help one understand the self-protective strategies that were needed for survival in the past.  With God's help He can renew and restore so we can live lives connected to Him and to our family and friends.

What are some ways to practice mindfulness?

Learning to be mindful takes daily practice and time to develop. There are many fun ways to teach mindfulness from movement activities to slowing down and observing the taste and texture of food to deep breathing.

A few fun beginning mindful activities are:
1. Dance to music and focus on your feet touching the ground and your body moving in tune to the music.
2. Go outside and watch the clouds as they move across the sky. Turn off your electronics, don’t multitask and watch the clouds float across the sky.
3. Practice square breathing. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mgzhKW08bMQ
4. Gather a variety of scented lotions and pay attention to the different scents.

Being mindful and aware of thoughts, feelings and behaviors is not complicated but takes practice. Parents need to know that there are some aspects of mindfulness that may not be compatible with their Christian beliefs, therefore they should keep alert and analyze mindful ideas, activities and concepts. But, I also encourage parents, before they throw the whole concept of mindfulness out, to realize there are many benefits to being mindful and probably some aspects of mindfulness they can be comfortable with or adjust to fit their family beliefs. In Matthew 6:34 Jesus tells us to be present and focused only on today. “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ Matthew 22:37

Renee is a life coach who specializes in working with foster and adoptive families. She is based in Louisville, Kentucky but she works with clients all over the US through internet coaching. She helps families identify areas of concern, provides training to help them understand the root cause of their struggles and through coaching, helps families apply the proven tools and techniques needed to address their underlying difficulties. You can find more information about her services at https://www.facebook.com/empoweredcalling/videos/1535462483248676/or you may contact Renee at rwitkowski@empoweredcalling.com. Her Facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/empoweredcalling/

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