The Good, The Bad, The Mindful and The Self-Regulated

IMG_7269Sometimes when I have a few minutes free to myself I like to peruse the parenting or education section of bookstores to see what is being shared. My last visit to the bookstore the shelves were inundated with books with mindful, present, self-regulated in their titles. I was bothered.

I was at a professional lunch not long after when a colleague said “I just want the children to be more mindful.” As the word mindful slipped out of her lips I felt an inner cringe occurring deep within me. I was rejecting this word.

A week later I found myself facilitating a professional group discussion on practice. The word mindful came up several times in our conversations.  As the word came up again and again I could feel my body rejecting the word, cringing at its use. I wanted to interject into their conversation and ask “What does it mean to be mindful?” I knew though I may use a judgemental tone in that moment that wouldn’t convey a desire to understand but more a desire to reject that word. So I listened to their thoughts on it, as well as my own body and thoughts. What was it about this word that upset me?

What does mindful mean?  When I looked it up Mindful was defined as being conscious or aware of something. I have watched children consciously kick or bite someone. Would people label that behaviour as mindful? Probably not. To me it feels like mindful is another way to label a child. Being a mindful or self-regulated child is just another way of telling them they are a good child.  Telling parents they are not mindful or present parents is just another way of saying they are bad parents. Who decides who is mindful and who is not? Who decides how much being present makes you a good parent?

We as educators know it is wrong to label people as good or bad. We know that we internalize these labels and no longer see our choices as good or bad choices but ourselves as good or bad people. We know this but yet we still struggle not to label a child or parent. These words mindful, present, self-regulated, etc… are still labels no matter how enlightened they are.

I think all children are mindful. I think they are very aware of the choices they make good or bad. I also think parents are some of the most mindful people I know revisiting and examining  every choice they make as parents. I also think all children have the ability to self-regulate, I think we as a society just don’t like it when their way of regulating feels like chaos. I believe language has power, it’s probably one of the most powerful things I have as an educator. Words like mindful and self-regulated are not used in my practice because it requires me to make a judgement about someone and that is not my job.


About Danielle

Danielle is an Early Childhood Educator,blogger, self admitted ECE geek, Preschool teacher, Mother and project coordinator for The Images of Learning Project. These days she juggles presenting, conference calls and blogging with playing with her daughter and nursing her son. She looks forward to the day where she can once again finish her morning coffee.

6 thoughts on “The Good, The Bad, The Mindful and The Self-Regulated

  1. I think this a brave post. So much of the language used in early years pedagogy is taken for granted, not discussed, not challenged. Danielle is to be congratulated for taking on phrases that are often used without thought, shaking them out, making us think, and asking us to critically reflect on words. Words are important! It becomes easy to use phrases and idioms that are the ‘flavour of the day’….but what do these words imply about our image of the child and our image of the educator?
    Thanks Danielle.
    (But seven months??!!)

    1. Thanks Kim. Yes I know seven months. Between morning sickness, starting a new job, travelling with you across our beautiful province and learning to balance all this with having a very curious four year old, writing has been hard. The thoughts, ideas have been there just no time to complete them. Hopefully I turned over a new leaf and will write more.

  2. Thank you Danielle for writing this. The field of education (at least in the U.S.) has been notorious for “jumping on the bandwagon” of questionable studies and the latest trend that will be the key to children’s success in learning (they really mean schooling) . The latest seems to be “grit.” So a child must have grit (be tough and persistent), mindful (present and aware), self regulated (be able to resist marshmallows!), and either a left or right brain thinker (this drives neuroscientists crazy!) and a whole host of other trendy “attributes.” I read Ellen Langer’s books on Mindfulness in the late 1990’s. I liked them and felt that she was advocating for changing schools to be places where children learned within a context and through meaningful experiences (among other things). Jerome Bruner said, “Could radically change our concept of learning.” And here we are. How sad that educators get so distracted by these trendy quick-fix ideas that they miss the big picture – simply working alongside children doing interesting things.

    1. Thanks Judi for sharing your thoughts. I truly believe these idioms or catch phrases we use came from good places. I think we as a society and educators need to get more comfortable with contesting them, with looking at all sides of the coin and asking ourselves is this idea helping us or holding us back?

  3. I appreciate the post and agree that too often we use words without really evaluating their meaning. I must say, mindful is a word I use often and mindfulness is something I work on daily. To me, the word mindful is not a label, but a way of being. Being mindful gives us an opportunity to be in the present moment, to look on oneself without passing judgment and through this increase self awareness. Recently I have become more interested in the practice of meditation as a method of self care, and mindfulness has become a regular part of my practice. In my work with the community I use mindfulness as a way to acknowledge my feelings in a situation and also to gain perspective on the feelings as others. Perhaps ‘mindfulness’ is a buzz word and one that easily gets thrown around; however, I think we could all benefit if we looked in the true meaning of the term.

    1. Heather, I agree slowing down and being present in the moment is a great practice. I think we are able to look inward and see if we are personally being mindful of our daily practices and relationships. When we try to assess someone else’s mindfulness we get into murky waters of judgement and labels. My concerns come from using this language as labels for others.

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