Jackie Stewart
About Jackie

Jackie can be found in NYC teaching meditation and mentoring teacher trainees at MNDFL and online with Alo Moves. She also sits on the team of support experts at Phoebe, a personalized community nurturing women through their transformation into motherhood. With an MA from NYU’s School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, she brings mindfulness into action by leading corporate meditations, philanthropic work, and engaged family life. She is the mindfulness advisor for Rose & Rex, where she regularly contributes mindful parenting articles. 

We often talk about supporting children's coping skills. How can parents introduce meditation to their child so that it can be added to their toolbox of skills?

This is a great question, and I think it’s important to mention there are formal and informal meditation practices. Young children may be invited to join you for a minute or two of formal meditation. I would encourage parents to let go of any expectations, and if a child doesn’t seem interested, to let it go. It is important for both parents and children to approach meditation with curiosity and an explorer’s heart.  

 

Mindfulness, or engaging awareness, is something that can be practiced informally all throughout the day. From the time my son was an infant, we were narrating with him a lot (we are big fans of RIE parenting), so whether it was narrating a diaper change, or what I could observe on a walk through the park, these are simple ways we as parents can slow down a bit, and bring our attention to the present moment. As parents get into the practice of sharing what we notice through our senses, it becomes a natural way for our kids to express themselves when they develop language. As kids get older it can even become a game to pause and notice what you see and hear in your environment. Or we can practice noticing feelings in the body and talking about them, like feeling nerves in my belly. As their emotional range develops, this can evolve into talking about different emotions as a way to normalize them and not something to be afraid or ashamed of. 

 

Practicing meditation, formally or informally is most fluid when it becomes part of your lifestyle, and then it just becomes another thing you do like brushing your teeth. 

How early can parents and teachers start introducing children to meditation?

In utero?! I’m half kidding, half serious. Our kids are directly impacted by our own personal meditation practice, and I’m a big believer of modeling the values and behaviors you hope to establish in your family. I think a great way to introduce meditation to your children is by having a practice yourself. This takes the pressure off of them learning something new, and invites them into a skill that you’re familiar with and actively deepening.  By seeing meditation as something that is a normal part of their parent’s life and something that is built into the day, it very organically becomes a part of their life as well. And in all the ways you benefit from meditation, they will also benefit by having a parent who is working with their own habitual patterns and emotions. By being familiar with these aspects of your own mind, it will be easier to understand when your child is encountering a challenging moment. When we offer them our understanding and patience, they are learning these foundational skills directly through their interactions with you.

 

My son is almost 3, and a natural way for him to learn more about meditation has been through story time. “Ziji, The Puppy Who Learned to Meditate” by Mingyur Rinpoche and Torey Hayden is a household favorite that gets requested often. It’s a playful book that not only describes the practice of meditation in simple and understandable terms through storytelling, it also illustrates our capacity to empathize with others, which strengthens compassion. 

How do you incorporate meditation into your family life? 

We do a lot of informal meditation as a family because I think it’s an effective way to cultivate healthy habits, and it doesn’t put any pressure on it being “meditation.” They’ve become delightful rituals we do together.

At dinner we take turns sharing what we appreciate about each other. So if it were my turn I would share something I appreciate about my son, then my partner, then myself. The shares might be about appreciating a specific quality, time that was spent together doing an activity, or noticing something that was done and expressing how it made us feel. Aside from being an awareness practice, it’s a wonderful relationship building exercise because we are actively focusing on the positive aspects we value in each other and ourselves. 

We also do metta, or loving-kindness meditation every evening as part of the wind down routine. We call them blessings, as it is a practice of wishing wellness for others. At the beginning of the pandemic we would hear cheers for the healthcare workers as they were changing shifts, and so our practice would start with them. Then we would include the people delivering mail and packages, the people at the grocery store, and his teachers. I’m personally thankful to end a day with these heart practices. 

How can parents "show up" for the moment?

In order to “show up” I think it’s important for us to be able to distinguish where our attention is in any given moment- for example is my attention here with who I’m with and what I’m doing, or is it elsewhere? Often, what we’ll notice is the constant, sometimes restless need in us, to be doing all the time. It splits our attention, and it’s challenging for us to be fully present with anything when we are focusing on the next moment, or what else I can be doing right now, or feeling like we should be more productive. This is a practice of letting go, and setting clear boundaries for ourselves. Work time is for work, and when I’m with my family, can I let extraneous concerns go, and focus on just BEING together. When we allow ourselves to BE, our whole attitude shifts, and a different level of care and attentiveness becomes available. 

 

A practical and simple tool is taking a few deep breaths to reset, and connect with something tangible and immediate… like the feeling of your feet on the floor, or meeting the eyes of your child who is waiting for your presence. Also, we all know this, but our kids are still fairly new to this life game… and if we can remember that we are their handbook for navigating this world through our thoughts, words, and actions, that can be a serious motivator for how we show up.

Fellow meditation teacher, Yael Shy, and myself are launching MNDFL’s upcoming online parenting course on July 28th where we’ll come together to learn a specific meditation technique and connect with each other. These sessions are here to help us manage the complex emotions that can arise as we navigate life with our little ones. Details at: https://www.mndfltv.com/parents