Sunday, December 20, 2015

A New Series of Mindfulness Books for Kids (interview)

photo courtesy Tracy Bryan

Award-winning children’s author Tracy Bryan has a new series of picture books for kids aged 8-12 about mindfulness, compassion, gratitude, and social-emotional learning. Tracy writes for kids aged 4-12 and some of her photo-illustrated books tackle issues like bullying and discrimination.  She's available for author visits at elementary schools in Florida and a limited number of schools throughout the U.S.

What should parents and teachers look for when choosing children’s books about mindfulness?

Above all, a great guide for kids about mindfulness should highlight breathing techniques-breath work is the fundamental concept behind all mindfulness practices. A bonus to this would be to include breathing exercises and meditation scripts, for kids to do with someone else or by themselves. 

There seem to be a lot of valuable guides for parents and teachers about how to teach and inspire kids about mindfulness.  However, there aren't many books or materials for kids to read themselves, which is why I decided to write for this audience.  I also wanted to reflect the diversity and complexity of real families so that children can relate to what they see in the books. 

Children need a guiding voice in their books that will entertain them, remind them that they are loved, assure them that they are beautiful and unique just the way they are, and give them something for their "coping toolbox" when they face strong emotions or challenges.

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You’ve written a few different types of books for kids. Could you describe the various series and what age group they’re appropriate for?

My first book about mindfulness is simply called Mindfulness For Kids. This is appropriate for younger kids (Read Aloud Ages 3-5/ Beginner Reader Ages 5-7).  It introduces the basic idea of the relationship between our mind and our body, and about having awareness of these parts of ourselves.

I also have a book for kids ages 7-9 called Being Happy! A Kid’s Guide To Understanding Mindfulness. This is from my Staying Awesome! Series and it teaches the core principles of mindfulness. It also focuses on key values of mindfulness and encourages kids to find happiness from within themselves, instead of externally.

My Being Awesome! Series is for kids aged 8-12 and deals with cultivating ‘everyday mindfulness’ in your life with regards to self-love, gratitude, mindful eating, ignoring mind chatter and developing coping skills. The final book in this series is a collection of meditations for kids to practice every day if they need or choose to. 

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I also have a book in this series called Being Focused! ADHD & Mindfulness. I myself have ADHD and so do a lot of my family members, friends and colleagues. I've done extensive research on childhood (and adult) ADHD.  There are resources available for parents and teachers, but there are few children’s books on this topic that speak directly to the kids' themselves.

What are the most effective ways to use the books at home and in the classroom?

I would like to see schools using my books as a way to gently introduce different topics into their classroom.  
Ideally, to have a child read the book aloud to their peers might be a very effective approach to sharing the information. 

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Perhaps the teacher could provide appropriate discussion sheets to go along with the book, along with vision boards, guided meditation, and writing prompts about the topics, to involve kids in the writing process.  (I bring these types of materials when I go on author visits at elementary schools.)

At home, I hope that families will enjoy reading my books together in order to inspire conversation and add a benefit to the parent-child relationship. Also, it would be wonderful if kids find my books when they need them most and feel assured just having them beside them.

Your books were inspired by challenges you and your kids faced when you were younger. Could you give some guidelines for parents and teachers on what types of challenges are appropriate to share with kids, and how to discuss them?

I believe that if a child is asking a question, they need and deserve an answer. Furthermore, if they are asking, they are ready to hear an answer. How that question is answered depends on their age, life experience and the situation itself. 

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Unfortunately, there are far too many topics that are uncomfortable and difficult to discuss with kids, yet they may need to know about them, because it affects them directly in their life.

For example, I have a series of books for kids aged 4-12 about addiction.   This may not seem like an appropriate topic to address with young children; however, the #1 health problem in the U.S. is alcoholism and drug dependence.  Young children and adolescents suffer the greatest from the effects of the abuse of alcohol and drugs in the family. 

In this case, children need some questions answered so they can understand the situation they may be facing and be reassured that they are not alone.

What does “mindful teaching” mean to you?

I write my books in first person. This way the reader will feel like there is a real, caring person behind the words. Someone who is guiding, encouraging and empowering them in a compassionate way-this is essential to being a ‘mindful’ teacher. 

My intention and passion behind this way of writing/teaching is to create a rapport of trust with my readers through gentle narrative. Children may possibly find a “friend” or nurturing voice in my books that they can relate to and be inspired by, to help them deal with difficult and challenging situations that they need to face in their lives.

What do you do in your own personal mindfulness practice, and how does it help you with your work?

I'm actually kind-of an introvert. I'm very empathetic and have a highly-sensitive personality. Because of this, it's essential for me to remember to have quiet time to myself.

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While the majority of my time is spent with family, whom I adore more than anything else, I also like my "me time." I have a pink studio where I craft-I create miniature faerie gardens in my free time and it is my therapy! 

I also do a lot of walking meditation, yoga almost daily, and I try stay aware and practice mindfulness moment by moment.

I find writing very mindfully therapeutic too. A lot of what I write is an essential part of my own healing and growth. My purpose is found in inspiring others!

Tracy Bryan

Children's Author


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