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IngaBohnekamp2Last month, I was invited as a guest speaker to the International Children’s Yoga Conference in the beautiful town of Heidelberg in Southern Germany. The main topic of this year’s conference was mindfulness, and my workshop focused on my mindfulness and yoga work with children dealing with chronic illness.

Participants with all kinds of different backgrounds and from five different countries traveled to Heidelberg in order to learn, inspire and grow together over the course of three days. Several guest speakers shared experiences and ideas around different mindfulness topics. It was a wonderful and uplifting experience, and everyone seemed to leave the conference and the town of Heidelberg inspired and happy — but many participants also seemed to be a bit surprised by how their conference experience differed from what they had expected it to be like.

On my seven-hour train ride from Heidelberg up to Berlin, Germany, I had to opportunity to connect and chat with some of these participants and learn in more detail about their impressions on the conference and the topic of mindfulness. Here is what I discovered:

While many of the (mostly) yoga teachers seemed to have anticipated workshops and lectures providing them with hands-on tips and strategies and tools on how to “teach” mindfulness to children, this is what they got instead: Alongside many hands-on tips and techniques, over the course of these three days, they were taken on a rather self-exploratory journey themselves — tuning into their very own minds, connecting to their intuition, experiencing and exploring mindfulness from the inside out!

This is the true essence of mindfulness work with children and teenagers and adults alike, no matter in which setting. The basic and most important prerequisite is us being mindful ourselves, within our own lives. Only then can we be authentic and function as gentle guides for others — be this our partner, our own children, our patients, clients, students. Once we cultivate a mindfulness practice for ourselves — this can look very differently for each and everyone of us — we will automatically radiate this to our surroundings and maybe start inspiring the ones around us toward a more mindful way of living.

So, if you want to “teach” your kids “how to be more mindful,” the starting point is you!

You, cultivating your own mindfulness practice. This can be as simple as focusing on your breathing for three minutes everyday, maybe first thing in the morning before you even get out of bed or last thing at night before you go off to sleep.

You will be in a much better and more authentic place for incorporating mindfulness into your loved ones’ lives.

And although seeking for inspiration at conferences, in books, on the Internet or in classes — once you start your own journey — don’t be surprised if you become so inspired that you come up with your and your family’s very own mindfulness practices and traditions. Wishing you a wonderful journey. If you like, connect with me and let me know how it goes.

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Maintaining connection through long separations

by Elizabeth Pavlinsky on April 10, 2015

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Editor’s note: April is Month of the Military Child, an observance designed to increase support to children in military families. Attachment Parenting International‘s Sixth Principle of Parenting: Provide Consistent and Loving Care advocates for parents to provide abundant presence to their children and to carefully consider options of non-parental care. Because they experience frequent moves and deployments, this is all the more important to military families:

Many military families face long separations as family members must be away for long-term training or deployments. As with all things, being prepared for the upcoming separation and knowing what to expect can help all members of the family weather the cycle of long-term separation.

Consider using the tools offered by the Families Overcoming Under Stress (FOCUS) program, which  provides training for families to learn coping tools to help meet the challenges of deployment and reintegration. Other sources of support during separations can include family, friends, API Support Groups, spouse support services or family readiness groups, and your installation’s support services or Military OneSource.

elizabeth pavlinksy 3There are many fun and creative ways to maintain connection while separated, many of which you can start before the separation — and many of which I have used many of these tools to help us maintain connection during my husband’s long-term training workups and subsequent back to back deployments:

  • Create a life-size cut-out of the deploying parent, such as through Flat Daddies. Once the Flat Daddy or Mommy has joined the family, you can use it as a tool to foster connection. Move the cut-out to different rooms in the house, dress him or her up with seasonal hats and clothing, hold hands, give hugs and kisses, and take pictures with him or her. Consider taking the cut-out with your family to
    special gatherings and perhaps include it with family photos.
  • Create a plush doll with the image of Mommy or Daddy on it, such as through Daddy Dolls. The doll can be snuggled with while sleeping and easily brought with you wherever you go. It can also be customized with a written message and a recording.
  • Use one of Daddy’s or Mommy’s t-shirts as a pillow case to snuggle with during bedtime.
  • Make a bracelet or other jewelry with the name of the separated family member and wear it though the deployment.
  • Make photo albums. As a family, make a special photo album of a recent family trip, favorite moments together, or just photos of the child and deploying parent together. Be sure to look at the photo album together often.
  • Try a talking photo frame. The deploying parent can leave a special message with his or her picture for the family at home.
  • The deploying parent can write cards and letters ahead of time, then leave them home sealed and marked with the date they are to be opened. These can be for special occasions or just to help make a regular day more special. For example, a card can be marked for “When you feel sad” or “When you need to laugh” in addition to birthdays and holidays. Gifts can also be purchased, wrapped and left to be opened. Alternatively, children can also draw pictures or write letters to be “sneaked” into the deploying parent’s bag.
  • Reading books together before the separation can give time to connect and also for children to ask questions or share concerns. Favorite books can also be sent with the deploying family member to be read to the children while away, via technology. Children’s picture books that feature military families and deployment themes include: My Red Balloon by Eve Bunting, Red, White and Blue Good-bye by
    Sarah Tomp, and Night Catch by Brenda Ehrmantraut.
  • Record videos with special messages to be left for the family to watch. Another idea is to record videos of the deploying parent reading a story to the children, and leave the books for the children to follow along. One website to check out is A Story Before Bed, through which stories can be recorded with and without the children in the video.
  • Take advantage of Skype or Facetime to help see and hear each other while apart, which definitely helps ease the separation for all family members.
  • Use fun, versatile counting games to provide a visual tool that demonstrates the passing of time for younger children. This can be as simple as buying or making a large wall calendar that can be decorated and annotated with special days before the separation. Children can cross out the days as they pass. Another alternative is to use a day planner or a small notebook to write messages for the family to read as the days go by. Another idea is that before the separation, the whole family can build a paper chain with one link for each day of separation. One link is removed for each day the family is apart. The person going away could write messages on some or all of the paper links as surprises for the family. A family could also build a paper chain during a separation by adding a link for every day of separation, to demonstrate the time that has passed. Another variation is to make a Gratitude Chain, where each day the family members write what they are thankful for on a strip of paper and build a chain with it. When the deployed family member returns, the Gratitude Chain becomes a tool for reconnection as it is disassembled and read together.

Though extended separations are never easy, families can enjoy using these ideas to create and maintain connection while apart and to ease reintegration after the separation is over.

Editor’s note: Learn more about Attachment Parenting for military families with these resources from Attachment Parenting International (API):

When a Parent Goes to War: Effects of Parental Deployment on Very Young Children and Implications for Intervention” from the Journal of Attachment Parenting

Separation from dad” and “Giving birth without husband” threads from the API Forum

Navigating Military Life with API’s Eight Principles of Parenting” from The Attached Family

An Ever-changing Village: The Importance of Parent Support for Military Families” and “Peace at Home: Military Families Embrace Attachment Parenting” from The Attached Family

Reflections on Motherhood” from The Attached Family

Parenting through Business Trips, Military Deployment and Other Extended Separations” from The Attached Family

Grief in Children” from The Attached Family

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Obeying out of fear

April 7, 2015
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“A child who obeys out of fear will only do so as long as he or she is scared. A child like this never develops an internalized sense of right and wrong without being policed by a more powerful authority figure.” ~ Love and Anger: The Parental Dilemma by Nancy Samlin How do you feel […]

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I took back control of my Cesarean

April 1, 2015
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Editor’s note: April is Cesarean Awareness Month, an international observance designed to reduce unnecessary Cesareans, advocate for Vaginal Birth After Cesarean (VBAC) and help women heal from the sometimes-difficult emotions surrounding a Cesarean birth. Attachment Parenting International‘s First Principle of Parenting: Prepare for Pregnancy, Birth and Parenting advocates for parents to research their options regarding […]

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What presence means to me

March 26, 2015
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Editor’s note: This post was originally published on Oct. 24, 2008, but it echoes a sentiment many Attachment Parenting parents have heard from well-meaning friends, family members and even strangers to take some time away from our infants and toddlers, without realizing that ample presence with our children may be exactly what gives us balance. […]

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Screentime and Attachment Parenting

March 25, 2015
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There are issues that Attachment Parenting International (API) does not take a stance on — circumcision, vaccinations, cloth diapering and elimination communication, to name a few — and instead advocates for all parents to be informed when making parenting decisions that work best for their families. The same applies to choices about media access for […]

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I’m screaming at the top of my voice…can you hear me?

March 23, 2015
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A very dear friend of mine nearly lost his sister to tragic circumstances 13 days ago. I can’t speak for her, for him or for their parents or friends. I can only share how this horribly sad situation is affecting me. As I ponder the despondence that chaperoned her down this harrowing and dark course, […]

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Nurturing touch beyond babywearing

March 20, 2015
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Use Nurturing Touch is one of Attachment Parenting International‘s Eight Principles of Parenting. With a baby, there are so many ways to put this into practice: babywearing, breastfeeding, the fact that babies want to be held most of the time anyway. But as my son has grown older, he’s become less and less interested in […]

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