Sunday, December 10, 2017

Mindfulness and Self-Compassion for Children and Healers (interview)

photo courtesy Dr. Heather Krantz
Heather Krantz, M.D. completed the Fellowship in Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona with Dr. Andrew Weil and trained in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC). She has also trained in the Mindful Schools curriculum and Mindfulness-Based Childbirth & Parenting. She has written two books for young children, Mind Bubbles: Exploring Mindfulness with Kids and Heart Bubbles: Exploring Compassion with Kids.

Your books are intended for kids aged 4-8. What advice would you give to teachers and parents who want to introduce mindfulness to young children? 

I would tell parents to keep it light, fun, and simple.  I think you can teach children to use the breath as an anchor that they can come back to when they get caught up in difficult thoughts or emotions like worry or sadness or anger or even when they just need to settle themselves.  I explain that the breath is friendly and is always there for them as an anchor to return to in order to calm themselves.  

The key is to not overwhelm young kids with too much information.  Having a visual tool to aid understanding is very helpful when explaining something that can be conceptually abstract even for adults.  

I blow soap bubbles to show that thoughts and feelings are like bubbles—they float in and out and pop—and new ones come along.  Young children don’t necessarily understand that everyone has thoughts and feelings in their minds, so I really try to normalize that this is how human minds work.

I’ve talked to some mindfulness teachers who include lovingkindness meditation in their classes and other teachers who don’t specifically teach compassion but believe it arises naturally from regularly practicing mindfulness meditation.  What’s your perspective on the connection between mindfulness and compassion?

I completely agree that lovingkindness and compassion both naturally arise with regular mindfulness practice over time.  Adding a separate lovingkindness practice in addition to mindfulness meditation can act as a ‘jumpstart’ however, and can also add variety and interest.  

These practices can be especially helpful in our culture, which can be so critical and judgmental.  Self-criticism is a huge problem for both adults and children.  Learning self-compassion practices is a wonderful place to start and tends to organically ripple outward as compassion for others. 

The Dalai Lama says that lovingkindness is the desire for all beings to be happy and that compassion is the desire for all beings to be free from suffering.  These are beautiful practices that can only benefit humanity.


Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn introduced MBSR at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center nearly 40 years ago. From what you’ve seen as a physician, how widespread is mindfulness within the medical community today?

Mindfulness is becoming more prevalent in the medical community; nobody had heard of mindfulness back in the 1980’s when I went through medical training.  I believe mindfulness is more widely utilized in university settings and larger cities.  It is being taught in medical school and residency programs.  

In smaller cities like mine, however, it is not at all in common usage in the medical community.  Most people have heard the word mindfulness in the media, but don’t really understand what it is—including physicians. 

Medical practitioners (doctors, nurses, home health aides, etc.) are notoriously bad at self-care. How does self-compassion connect to self-care, and what recommendations would you give to your colleagues?

Self-compassion is the heart of self-care.  Without it, self-care is really an empty shell and will not meaningfully lessen burnout or boost resilience.  

I currently am working to bring a program to physicians and other healthcare providers in my community called "Inner Resilience: Mindful Self-Compassion for Healthcare Providers."  This type of program is what is truly needed.  Physicians are generally not good at work-life balance and are not taught these skills in medical school.  And, yes, they are skills that can be learned.  

As life in medicine gets more and more complicated, we are going to see burnout and dropout and even suicide escalating if we don’t teach healthcare providers these useful ways to cope and develop resilience in the face of difficulty.

What does ‘mindful teaching’ mean to you?

Mindful teaching is about purposely bringing kind awareness to the present moment with my class.  This is the same as mindfulness in every other aspect of life.  The difference in teaching mindfulness is that the teacher is modeling this stance for students.  

What does this mean?  To use one word, it would be presence.  People see and feel presence, and they then learn from it and model it themselves.  

Children are especially adept at recognizing when their teacher or parent is not present, and they will call them on it.  This is excellent mindfulness practice in and of itself!

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

I have a daily sitting practice and go on silent retreat at least once each year. Beyond that, I practice bringing mindfulness into all aspects of my life—seeing patients, teaching, parenting or doing the regular activities of life—even doing the laundry or washing dishes. As I tell kids (and adults too)—I try to do what I’m doing while I’m doing it, feel what I’m feeling while I’m feeling it, and think what I’m thinking while I’m thinking it.

Simply said, I set my intention to be present for every moment of my life.  I try to notice when I’m not, and then come back to the present—again and again and again.  

That’s mindfulness, and that’s why it’s a practice.  I tell my classes that mindfulness is not something we suddenly “get” and are able to do.  It is an ongoing practice, and life is the stage on which we are practicing.  Think of it as mind training for kind and nonjudgmental attention.  We get better and better at mindfulness the more we practice.  

On a practical note, being more present helps me see more clearly my own needs as well as those of others, such as patients or colleagues.  It fosters communication and healthy relationships as well.


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