Holiday Message from the ECIN Directors
Happy holidays from ECIN! We’d like to take a moment to speak directly to our tireless team and all of our partners, who dedicate so much of their lives to making early childhood innovation a priority.
We are so grateful to all of you who have helped us grow into a significant network of advocates, educators, clinicians, and leaders in the last year. We’ve accomplished so much in just a short time because of your tireless dedication. Most importantly, thousands of families have been touched by your work.
We also want to reiterate how important it is to be present, accepting and mindful this season, in the face of competing work and life demands.
Your work is vital to our efforts to improve the lives of children and families, and we can’t do it without you. We encourage all of you to join us in exercising self-compassion and self-care, starting today. Hopefully, the tips below from our friends at Minds, Inc. will help you get started.
We are excited to see what this coming year holds for our network, our programs and our partners. We’re sending warm wishes and thanks to the entire ECIN family. We wish you a peaceful time spent with loved ones during this holiday season and into the new year.
Lee and Matt
Staying Mindful in the Face of Stress
Staying Mindful in the Face of Stress
This time of year can present many external causes of stress, from work deadlines and conflicts to family gatherings and co-parenting challenges. Satyani McPherson, a mindfulness practitioner and mentor, offers a few simple ways we can be more mindful of ourselves and our surroundings, even in the face of stressful events and people.
Mindful Pause. The most basic mindfulness practice is to pause, stop and be aware of three breaths (or more). Breathe normally, and notice how the body breathes naturally without you having to do a thing. Observe the physical sensations of your body breathing. Notice where the sensation of the breath is strongest in your body – in the belly, chest, throat or nostrils. It’s normal for the attention to move here, there, and everywhere. If that happens, gently return the attention to the breath. To reduce external distractions, try closing your eyes or focusing your gaze on a still object.
"Pausing is also a great recommendation for interacting with others. If you find yourself getting upset in a conversation, pause and listen. Don't comment, don't respond immediately. Listen mindfully with an open heart and mind," she advises. "Give yourself space, if necessary. When you take the opportunity to be still, and quiet yourself, you can tap into the innate wisdom within you, and solutions may arise. The next time you meet that person, you may be calmer and can respond more skillfully to the situation."
Quietly reflect on a word that describes a positive quality you want to embody. Choose a quality that inspires you. Some commonly invoked words include peace, love, patience, compassion, family, and strength. Listen to the word that arises from within you. Repeat it silently. If a challenge or conflict occurs, you can pause and affirm that quality you've chosen or whatever word describes a positive outcome to the situation. Try focusing on a positive quality in the person with whom your interacting. Energy flows where attention goes.
Eat mindfully. Try slowing things down to observe every aspect experienced while eating. Begin by looking at the food, observing its colors and textures. Smell the aromas. Take a bite of food and hold it in your mouth without chewing, tasting the flavors and feeling the texture. Slowly chew each bite (30 times) and notice how it changes form as you chew and eventually swallow it. Try doing this with the first three bites of a meal or, maybe, choose to mindfully experience an entire meal this way.
"When we slow down eating, we are much more aware of what and how much we're putting into our mouths," Satyani notes. "We tend to make more mindful choices when we do, and ultimately avoid the physical and emotional discomfort of gobbling down food or overeating.
If guided practice is your preference, she recommends a few apps:
Stop Breathe & Think
The Mindfulness App
Dedicating a few minutes each day to these practices will cultivate mindfulness as a habit just like regular exercise. A little bit each day helps you build your "mindfulness muscle" over time and can become a way of life, according to Satyani.
"There's a fallacy that you are supposed to stop your thoughts. Drop that idea. That isn't what mindfulness is. Mindfulness is being aware of whatever arises in the present moment, non-judgingly, including your thoughts. It’s not about stopping or analyzing them. The natural tendency of the mind is to think, just as the lungs breath and the heart beats."
Satyani herself was drawn to meditation and silent retreat practices when experiencing the healing effects of the mind becoming still. She's spent the last 10 years teaching these practices she embraced over 30 years ago. She is a Mindfulness Trainer for ECIN's Mindful Parenting courses at Educare, Inc. in Washington, DC, in partnership with Minds, Inc. You can learn more about Satyani McPherson and Kozmique Light Meditations at her Facebook page, or email her at SisterSatyani@gmail.com.
Mindful Parenting at Educare
Responsive parental support can protect the well-being of a child who is exposed to adverse events such as food or housing insecurity, violence or loss, or other chronic stress.
ECIN and Minds, Inc., are piloting a curriculum that reinforces mindful and positive parenting skills to D.C. parents as additional tools to support their young children. The central hypothesis is that parents who build skills to cope with chronic stress and create social supports and connections may be able to engage their children in more sensitive and responsive ways, and as a result mitigating chronic stress’ impacts on the child.
The initial program intertwined mindful strategies and parenting coaching together in one course, however, those early sessions often ran over the 60-minute class time and participants left class wanting more.
ECIN’s rapid quality improvement model allowed the team to incorporate some of this feedback in the current pilot by expanding the curriculum into a series instead of a single eight-week session. The program now includes two separate courses tailored by subject matter, with a third under development:
Level 1: Focused on stress reduction and self-care practices, with emphasis on applying mindfulness to one’s daily life.
Level 2: Intentional parenting practices, with focus on challenging scenarios including co-parenting and children with strong emotional responses
Each class session includes built-in time for facilitators to seek input from parent participants, opening the door to communication about the pressing challenges they face in their own lives. The course’s skills are then applied to these real-life scenarios instead of hypothetical ones where possible, which reinforces the ability of the parent to apply what they learn outside the classroom.
The program’s coordinators clarify that ‘mindful’ in this case means helping parents recognize their own internal responses and feelings about situations, and how those feelings may impact how they interact with their children. The goal is for parents to leave the class with a few more strategies to help their kids (and themselves) navigate challenges.
To date, six cohorts of eight to ten participants have completed Level 1 and one cohort has completed Level 2. Data from the first four groups show promising results that mindfulness may be beneficial to parental wellness and parent-child interactions. In general, parents who completed Level 1 reported elevated mood and improved mental health as well as decreased stress and distress about their role as a parent.
The team continues to collect pre- and post-course data from participants as part of the implementation study design.
Course participants are also leaving the classes with a new support network of their own-- their peers. Long after the official course ends, many cohorts report an ongoing sense of community, with frequent texts, calls, and in-person meetings where they continue to support each other in mindful parenting practices.
New ECIN.org section: Provider Training & Technical Assistance
We’ve added information to our website about the programs, collaboratives and partnerships that connect the dots between the groups who support children and families and the best practices that help them provide that support. Key highlights include:
The Cross-Sector Early Childhood Mental Health Quality Improvement Learning Collaborative
Early Childhood Mental Health in Primary Care
Children’s National Perinatal Mental Health Task Force
Trauma-Informed Care Training and Online Module
If you have questions or feedback on this or any section of our site, please let us know.