Dott. Maria Teresa Giarelli is a child neuropsychiatrist and psychotherapist, Mindfulness Professional Trainer since 2010.
Dott. Giarelli we all read on newspapers about overmedicated children on the rise, suicidal young people on the rise and drop outs form school on the rise. Parenting has never been so difficult!.. and sometimes we do not know what to do with our children.
- What is mindfulness?
It is not easy to describe it in words, because it primarily refers to a direct experience. Among the possible descriptions it has become “classic” that of Jon Kabat-Zinn, One of the pioneers of this approach. “Mindfulness means paying attention, but in a particular way: a) with intention, b) at present, c) in a non-judgmental way.” It can also be described as a way to cultivate a fuller presence to the experience of the present moment, here and now. ” You can also check http://www.mindfulnessitalia.it/
- Our children deserve to experience happiness and we all want to bring happiness to them, as they are our future. Does the mindfulness training help out our kids to manage their stress?
Certainly training to mindfulness helps to manage stress, but it is not a way to ensure easy psycho-physical well-being (which does not exist …). It’s not a sort of “emotional spa”. It is not a form of “happiness” that pushes us to accept everything, to accept uncritically what happens to us, to be passive in the name of “acceptance”.
- What is the power of mindfulness to help children focus, battle stress and control negative emotions?
It is an act that starts with the attention and the way we use it and it is simple. For us adults it takes much more effort to be simple than children.
The simplicity of breathing is perhaps better understood by a child and being present at the here and now of every breath opens us to unexpected experiences, to the richness of the present moment, to the fullness of life. On the other hand, the fullness of experience also necessarily includes its “negative” side: discomfort, suffering, pain. And here is one of the most interesting aspects of this approach that asks us and teaches us not to reject and not deny this dimension, but to make it an opportunity for growth and even creativity. This is the meaning that refers to the word “acceptance/reception”.
We cannot avoid the negative side of life, so the prospect of mindfulness offers us an opportunity at first glance strange, intuitive, perhaps absurd: getting into a more direct relationship with discomfort and suffering, learning to pay full attention, to make room for what we do not like, that we would not want or make us suffer. In this sense it is a “against nature” work, a “countercurrent” move, because the automatic, instinctive tendency we have is to do exactly the opposite. But if we experience it then we can find that in this seemingly incomprehensible “move” we find a surprising opportunity to make room, to be left out and therefore to be less conditioned, less oppressed by the conditions that bring us uneasiness. And, paradoxically, doing this we put in the best possible conditions to find, when we are, the ways and the most effective ways to handle or resolve the causes of suffering. Sometimes even drawing on creative intuition.
- What are the practical tools to regulate emotions and manage stress?
We provide children with practical tools that can be used everywhere: centering on the breath or sensations of a part of the body, taking moments of quiet together with adults, in a protected environment without constraints, but what matters most to them is the example; if they perceive by adult love and compassion, they will learn to manifest the same qualities to others for the rest of their lives.
- We know about the central role of focusing on breathing and relaxation to raise awareness and attention. Can you give us some advice to quiet our mind?
It is normal activity of our mind to be constantly crossed by thoughts that can also shake and disturb us, but regular and constant practice opens the space of our consciousness by making us aware of the breath, the sounds and the sensations of the still or moving body.
Then happens what happens to salt when a spoonful of salt is diluted in a glass of water which tastes horrible, while when the same spoonful of salt is diluted in a lake it almost does not show its presence, while remaining the same spoonful of salt.
- Do kids know how their brain work? How can we teach them what we already know about the brain?
“…… cognitive structures can change. Not only does the brain influence the behavior, but also vice versa. I said it already in 1945 (interview with Reuven Feuerstein by Ambra Radaelli The Women’s Republic of March 20, 2001 – No. 243), is now confirmed by the new tests that show the organ in real-time activities. The analysis shows that new behaviors affect the brain; Even on the consolidated ones, they produce permanent changes. Unlike science, which analyzes an element by isolating it, education has a holistic approach: it includes cognitive, affective, motivational, and cultural aspects.
This causes learned things to be generalizable, transcending the immediate, to be re-usable on a completely different occasion. I do not know the biological component: we are cell communities. But it’s not all here: just think that we have just twice the fruit genus genes … What differentiates us is culture, mediated learning and the needs that each one continually increases. ”
Can you locate the changes in a precise part of the brain? (n.d.r. continues the same interview)
“It’s not important. As Karl Pribram said, among the greatest neurologists ever experienced, the brain is like a hologram: a fragment contains everything. If a part is damaged, due to illness or accident, the rest of the body makes it subdued. ”
As an adult, however, we have the responsibility to nourish not only the physical body, but also the emotional, mental and spiritual dimension of our children, and to do so, we must first know that in the lower cerebral area there are the oldest areas, the allocortex already formed since birth, which regulate both breathing and other bodily functions; here also resides innate reactions and impulses such as attack or escape response and more intense emotions like rage.
The upper part of the brain, which matures over time, is made up of the neocortex and its various parts, and is the place where the most complex mental processes such as thought planning and imagination take place.
In the upper part of the brain lies the ability to decide and plan the ability to control the physical body and emotions, self-understanding, empathy, and morality.
We emphasize the role of amygdala, a small part of the brain that is part of the limbic system; It allows rapid processing and expression of emotions, in particular anger and fear.
When the amygdala warns of fear it is able to take control completely by taking the high part of the brain hostage.
These are the situations in which, for good or for evil, we act before thinking; That’s fine if a tiger attacks us and we must immediately react by fleeing, but at other times when due to a great fright or great anger activates the amygdala anyway, it may happen that activation is so powerful that the connection to the upper part of the brain is totally blocked but inappropriately.
In our brain there is also a part that has the task of integrating the memories: hippocampus, sort of “search engine” for recalling memories.
Hippocampus works with different parts of the brain to recover the images, emotions and feelings of memory and allows us to form a complete picture.
We can teach children to look from the point of view of their inner wisdom, which everyone has, observing that thoughts, dreams, desires, and emotions, their perceptions and bodily sensations are not the central element of their life But only some of the various elements of their lives.
The importance of physical perceptions in the child, as in the adult, is to recognize what they feel in the belly, stomach, chest, legs and arms muscles; this can greatly contribute to calming them, especially if they learn to connect emotional feelings to emotions.
Keep in mind that the world of emotions is fluctuating and influencing, and accompanying children to recognize it, it is central in the practice of mindfulness.
However, we must remember that “You cannot pass on wisdom and deep vision to another person. Those seeds are already present in her/him; A good teacher touches them and allows them to wake up, to sprout and to grow. “- Thich Nhat Hanh
- What is empathy? And how can we effectively teach our kids to feel somebody else’s prospective?
I answer contemplating the following verses:
Trying empathy for others
It turns out that all beings are afraid
Of punishment and death.
Then, do not hesitate
Neither is it caused by anyone.
Trying empathy for others
It turns out that all beings
They love life and fear death.
Then, do not hesitate
Neither is it caused by anyone.
Hurt the living beings
That as we seek satisfaction
Means hurting ourselves.
Do not hurt living beings
That as we seek satisfaction
Means to make ourselves happy.
Dhammapada for Contemplation – Free English Translation by Ajahn Munindo – Italian translation by Chandra Candiani
- I believe active kindness could change the world. When you help out other people something magical also happens in your brain. When we do something wonderful for others dopamine is involved, isn’t it?
Love and kindness are the practices in mindfulness.To teach parents how to practice love and kindness with children,”putting in their heart the seeds of love, compassion, desire that all beings can be happy and free from all suffering” written by Gregory Kramer, one of my Meditation Teachers, a practicing practitioner and Buddhist meditation teacher in USA and a father of three boys, explains how subtle, but precise, adjustments to ordinary practice are appropriate for anchoring it in children’s lives. There are many wonderful ways to practice love and kindness with children and young people. It is the hope of the Author and of those who have translated into Italian the text that this scripture encourages parents – even though they are not Buddhists, because the practice has nothing to confess – to practice and share their experience, achievements and obstacles to their family practice.
Regarding dopamine, it is a very important substance for the proper functioning of our body.
When dopamine levels are balanced, we actually experience a strong sense of satisfaction when we can achieve something.
Curiously, dopamine is a molecule that researchers have first synthesized in the lab and then found in the human brain.
The merit of his synthesis in the lab is by George Barger and James Ewens, two British chemists from a company in London. Back in 1910.
It was British researcher Kathleen Montagu to find out that dopamine is a substance naturally present within the brain, in 1957 at the London Runwell Hospital laboratories.
In 1958, scientists Arvid Carlsson and Nils-Ake Hillarp, employees of the Chemistry Pharmacology Laboratories of the National Heart Institute of Sweden, identified and described for the first time the role of neurotransmitter.
For this important discovery and for having determined that dopamine is not just a precursor of adrenaline and noradrenaline, Carlsson also received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.
Dopamine is produced in different areas of the brain, and large quantities are found in the oldest structures of our brain, those that regulate emotions, memory, movement, mood, sense of pleasure, behavior, attention, sleep and learning.
This neurotransmitter has many important functions, the main ones being to regulate:
Pleasure, motivation, reward
Memory, understanding, learning, reasoning, troubleshooting
Inhibition of prolactin production
As for the peripheral orthosympathetic nervous system, dopamine acts as:
Vasodilator, participates in the regulation of blood pressure and heart rate
Stimulating the excretion of sodium, through urine
A factor favoring intestinal motility
A factor that reduces lymphocyte activity
A factor that reduces insulin secretion, by the Langerhans Islands (pancreatic beta cells)
9) I would like to conclude this interview with a personal question. What makes you happy?
Produces a subtle joy to contemplate and practice some verses of Dhammapada:
Who spends all his energy
On the way
Who is pure and diligent in the commitment
Discreet and honest in his behavior
Sees to increase joy in himself.