We sat down with Anna, the founder of Zenimal, a company that creates sound machines that helps both children and adults practice mindfulness. She shared her expertise on why mindfulness and meditation are important for children, and what tools families can use to ease into a new school year—which let's face it— can be a stressful time.
Anna founded Zenimal based on her desire to give her own kids a screen-free solution to learn the art of mindfulness."I struggled immensely from anxiety at an early age and was taught how to cope with it using a mindfulness meditation practice. I love that it’s now my job to help people learn about mindfulness and experience the benefits" she says.
Let's zen out.
Q: How does Zenimal differ from other meditation apps for kids? Is it screen free?
The apps are awesome and give numerous affordable options; however, smart devices aren’t designed to calm us down. They activate dopamine in the brain and stimulate our attention span to the point where it has gone from 12 seconds (15years ago) to only 8 seconds (today). Zenimal offers a break from this to reset and pause so when you hit play again you can see the world a bit more clearly.
Q: What're the benefits of enabling kids to initiate mindfulness on their own (as opposed to always needing an adult figure to guide them)?
Autonomy is so important for kiddos. So much of their life is decided for them which can lead to them feeling out of control or overwhelmed. While it is important to have secure attachment with grown-ups, it can sometimes induce anxiety if only certain people can help them feel okay in the world. When they can take charge of their mental health and learn different ways to cope with the ups and downs on their own, their sense of security and safety can improve dramatically.
Q: Does mindfulness support concentration for kids? Can it help with the development?
While I am not a medical professional, I do know that meditation can reduce activity in the default mode network in the brain which is responsible for self-rumination and self-crimination—basically, it’s the not-always-so-kind inner critic that distracts us and tells us we aren’t good/smart/pretty enough. But quieting this inner voice can suddenly open us up to new possibilities, joy, and brain power we didn’t know we had at our disposal. For kids, the quieter this voice is, the more likely they are to have higher confidence levels, better relationships, and an improved ability to focus.
Q: Are there any tools and products you’d recommend to support a child’s mindfulness journey?
Journaling! It’s mind blowing what daily journaling can do. If your child can’t write yet, dictate on paper what they would like to say. I like to use the 5 or 10 minute music track on the Zenimal Orca memory card and just write affirmations, goals, dreams, words of kindness towards others, or whatever else is in my brain. When the music ends, I know I have written for the desired time and I don’t have to keep checking the clock. Bonus points if you can write down affirmations and goals with the left hand as it can help ingrain the positivity more effectively in the brain. If a kiddo is worried someone will read it, they can simply rip the pages up. The benefit comes from just releasing the thoughts from our brains.
Learning whether your child is an introvert or extrovert (or a combo of the two) can also help them learn to regulate their emotions and bodies and help you understand what they need to feel good. My son gets energized from quiet alone time, but my daughter needs to be able to express herself and talk with people she trusts to get back to neutral. Knowing what we need as well is crucial to maintaining our energy levels so we can help our kiddos when they hit rough patches.
Finally, being in nature is an excellent reset. We try to get outside as a family as much as possible.
Q: Now that we’re all going back to “normal” life how can both kids and parents who have learned mindfulness during the pandemic keep it up on the go and when life gets busy again?
Now is the crucial time to keep these practices up. The risk of burnout from “getting back to normal” after what we have experienced is enormous. We are changed whether we like it or not. Maintaining self-awareness is imperative for keeping emotions in check and knowing when we need to slow down and re-group.
Q: Any tips for parents who have kids that are anxious to go back to school post pandemic?
Keep listening and paying attention to any cues they give you. These cues may present in obscure behaviors that appear unrelated but staying open and curious can help you detect and pivot with appropriate reactions. Acknowledging their feelings and assuring them that you are here to help them get through this. Knowing that you are accepting and comfortable with these feelings and sensations can help ground them.
Deal with your stress or anxiety first. Despite feeling like we are great actors, kids are super intuitive and pick up on any underlying tension. My kids know the instant I walk in the door what kind of day I’ve had and their energy shifts accordingly. Taking care of yourself, getting enough sleep, and finding your neutral can help them feel safe and grounded.
When in doubt, seek out help. Your pediatrician and teachers can help you navigate specific needs so your child has all the support they need.
Learn more about how to improve sleep and reduce anxiety with Zenimal here.