Introduction Of Podcast
This is a world of stress and worry, and today’s kids aren’t protected from it. Almost in every walk of life, right from school to interaction with friends (or the lack of), kids are anxious and it is not stopping anytime soon. We, as adults, have a great responsibility towards them and try our best to make their lives worry free. In today’s episode, we’re joined by Susan Kaiser, who is an internationally recognised leader in mindfulness & meditation for children, teens, parents and professionals. Susan helps us equip with various tools & strategies that we in turn can implement and help the kids and children around. Hop right in.
(00:00 – 01:28) – Introduction
(02:14 – 03:59) – Susan’s Journey
(05:02 – 08:34) – Teaching Kids Mindfulness
(08:40 – 17:41) – Modern Stressors In Children
(17:43 – 24:09) – How Food Ecosystems Affect Children
(24:10 – 27:41) – Susan On Biowearables
(27:41 – 31:15) – Eating Disorders In Children and The Solutions
(31:18 – 34:26) – Advice To Parents On Getting Started with Kids’ Mindfulness
Key Takeaways – Transcripts
Intro (Mohit): Kids in 2022 face more stress for their age than we believe. In a recent survey reported by the American Psychological Association, teens reported that their stress levels to be higher than what they believe is healthy. These teens also reported levels of stress that were higher than what adults report for themselves. That’s weird. They reported that their stress levels at a 5.8 on a ten point scale. Basically, the kids aren’t all right. How can we, as adults and parents, intervene and make things better? Let’s find out. To help us understand this at a granular level, we are joined by Susan Kaiser. In today’s episode. Susan is an internationally recognized leader in teaching mindfulness and meditation to children, teens, parents and professionals. With Susan we dig deep and understand what are the primary stressors that the kids in this era face. We discuss the role of nutrition and or, if not, how food affects children. Some children also challenged by metabolic disorders at a very young age, obesity being one of them, and the most obvious and widespread byproduct of being obese, getting bullied by peers. We can talk about how parents can intervene here and help their kids approach obesity in a much better way and change things for the better. Last but not the least, Susan gives out mindfulness tools that parents can introduce in their child’s lives and in their lives as well, and help them live a wonderful life. Let’s get this started.
(Mohit): Hey, Susan, great to have you here. Really such a pleasure.
(Susan): Thank you. It’s wonderful to be here.
Question (Mohit): First of all, I must say that I’ve been following your work for a long, long time, and it’s really unique, given the fact that you’re actually going deep into one of the most, lets say, society shaping initiatives in the world right now, which is actually mindfulness for children. And it’s really interesting because as we look at any evolutionary process, any biological phenomena, physiological phenomena, global phenomena, and population, the roots of anything and actually around how you set the core infrastructure and in this case, the roots of the population are actually the children. So I’m really excited about having you here and to chat about the journey here. So, yeah, maybe we can actually start with that.
Like, what got you here and what’s been your journey?
Answer (Susan): Oh, well, thank you very much. I think what got me here is exactly what you said is just seeing how little at the time, which when I started was 25 years ago, there was for children at that point, there was quite a bit of work for adults. But when people were talking about mindfulness or meditation or awareness practices for children, there was very, very little. And what there was, was somewhat religious in nature and somewhat jargony, spoken in words that even adults who weren’t involved in serious study didn’t really understand and saw this jargon. So being able to translate these practices and these techniques in the worldview of classical meditation practice for modern children in plain English was a job I was really excited about because at the time I had two very young children who are now 30 and 28, so they’re not so young anymore. But at the time I did and I saw how meditation had helped me as an adult. I was a practicing lawyer at the time and it truly helped me through a very difficult family health crisis. Not me, but my husband, and also through the real stress of practicing law and being a working mom. So I just thought, this has got to help kids and how can we translate this for kids? That’s how I started and I continued practicing law for about ten years. And then after my first book, I segued into training adults in working with kids full time.
Question (Mohit): So the best way to actually do something is to actually test it in the closest loop possible, which is sometimes on yourself, sometimes on the people around you. And I think that’s true for health care. That’s true for to some extent what we are trying to do as well. But I think this is really fascinating because you observed a tool, a method, and then you actually optimized it for, let’s say for children, where the jargons needed to be removed, it needed to be simplified. And given that they are sort of like getting started very early into the journey, into becoming a person who’s actually going to be mindful, getting started into that journey way earlier is something that has never been documented. Like if I read about the spiritual angle of meditation on mindfulness, all the stuff that I could actually read about my understanding is limited, but whatever I’ve read about is actually for adults and nothing as much for children, apart from maybe some embedded concepts and religion. So how is that like adaptation journey? Like, what concepts did you test and were there any you can say? Early revelations, shocking findings that you could share?
Answer (Susan): Well, I think and it’s something when I talk to parents and when I talk to teachers and I train them, working with kids in mindfulness and meditation isn’t the same as teaching them how to play the piano. For instance, you can bring in an outside piano teacher to teach the kids to play the piano, and that’s all you really need. But when you are trying to create some sort of a transformation in the way of being in the world, in your home, it’s very, very important that you do it yourself too. You don’t need to learn to play the piano yourself, but you do need to internalize the experience of mindfulness because that’s what mindfulness and meditation is. And it’s an experience that we then later understand and when we can approach it that way, whether it’s the experience of awareness, whether it’s the experience of compassion, whether it’s the experience of wisdom, whether it’s the experience of joy, if we can experience that first. And that’s usually an AHA moment when you asked about the AHA moments that’s it when you recognize those AHA moments that happen every day, especially with kids, where your child is completely absorbed in watching a snail kind of walk on a rock. When you prioritize that experience rather than talking about the experience, but the experience itself. And after that, sit back and understand it and intellectualize it, that creates a huge shift in just the way of being with your kids, the way of seeing your kids, the way of elevating their experience and into doing elevating your own.
(Mohit): Yeah, I think the last line that you just said, it’s really interesting because you’re actually dealing with really creative individuals. They are creative by design. In some ways they’re free by design, right? I mean, they haven’t yet formed in some ways their control systems in their life. And awareness for somebody who’s relatively more free is going to be totally different design system. Yeah, that sounds like fun. I mean, in a challenging way, for sure, observing that.
(Susan): Me too. It is fun. It is fun. And I think so often the playfulness of childhood, we just programmed that right out of them. They are born with awareness, they’re born with compassion, they’re born with wisdom, they’re born with joyfulness and playfulness and we just train it right out of them. And so if we can sort of step back a few steps and allow them to have their experience and then allow ourselves to have it with them, it’s fun. It’s fun, it’s playful and it’s helpful. And it is also very helpful to them in how to navigate their lives.
Question (Mohit): I can see that in a way, you’re actually creating a bridge between how adults actually think and how children actually evolve. So essentially the same organism, it’s the same person, but two different brains, two different mindsets, and there’s no reason why they can’t have a similar life experience. And this is really fascinating given the fact that this is so novel, this is so you can say new in terms of the impact that you could create also being massive. But let’s talk about a specific set of observations. Like for example, with children in general, what would be some of the modern stressors that you would have observed? Because what I’ve observed generally is that the ripple effects of a new generation are almost instantly visible in children. Like the boomers. You would see an effect maybe like they’re not early adopters, right? Children are the early adopters of technology, early adopters of social media. Whatever change society that happened, they are sort of like in a weird way, they are the testing ground society, right? Because whatever good or bad happens, society, it’s sort of like reflects on them. And so the modern problems that you would notice would also show up pretty much with children or the modern challenges, right? So what would some of those observations and challenges be?
Answer (Susan): One of the ones that I think is right up top that I see is anxiety because, you know, there’s regulation and coregulation that goes on between all of us. You know, when I’m calm and settled, you sense that. And when I sense that you’re calm and settled, I sense that. So we’ve all been in a situation where we’ve been sitting in a room having a nice conversation and somebody walks in the room and the mood completely changes. So it’s contagious. And so anxiety is so high now in parents and so high in teachers, and that anxiety is contagious. And when you talk about a ripple effect, there is this ripple effect down to the kids, that then the kids become quite anxious too. And that’s one thing where we go back to just the simple concept of awareness. If parents and if teachers can be more aware of their own mental state and of how if they take a moment and pause and ground themselves, that they can settle themselves, and that that too will have a ripple effect, that that will affect the kids. Also, we see a lot in a school context, especially with COVID which has been so unbelievably difficult for parents and for schools, is the lack of kindness that tends to an understanding among parents, between parents and teachers. Parents not understanding. The teachers are stressed out not just by their work, but they have families at home too. So this lack of kindness and empathy and understanding is another place that we have a polarized society and that is rippling down to the kids. And again, there is a ripple effect in both directions. If the parents are just a little bit kinder, a little bit more understanding, then that has a ripple effect. It has a ripple effect on the teachers if they’re kinder to the teachers and the kids see it and it has a ripple effect on the kids. So just really becoming aware of the phrase, you use the ripple effect and understand it’s happening all the time in all sorts of different ways. If we just bring awareness to that, honestly, we can change the world that we’re living in quite easily that way.
(Mohit): Maybe this is very, very recent and generational as well, because what internet has made happen is that information from every part of the world could be centralized, could be decentralized, and everybody can actually have access to what’s working in a different part of the society. Like for example, just a few years back, maybe two decades back, maybe even a decade back. To understand what systems work in a different society, you’d
have to dig deep into your own society, right And that data versus looking at 100 other societies. You just suddenly have like in the last ten years, hundred more case studies, hundred more, you can say, testing grounds, right? So that could be a really interesting way because, as you said, anxiety and the lack of kindness being the top two problems, obviously, these are not the things that parents teach. There are things that children observe right, on the basis of how adults actually behave, like, in case of anxiety. And there is this famous like one of the athletes I was speaking to, an Olympian, was telling me that we live in a society where there’s a culture of stimulation. When you’re stimulated and when you’re active, when you’re contributing to society, you are recognized, and when you basically want to relax, you want to actually, in some ways, recover. That’s not appreciated as much. That’s why probably we are sleep deprived. We are deprived of being relaxed, and that’s why we are probably more anxious. And maybe that reflects in our children as well. Like, if they see that as a winning formula, why not?
(Susan): I think it does, and I think we can take I mean, the third, I would have said was sleep. I think the problem with sleep is huge across the lifespan, but I think there’s another piece to that, too, which is that we’re all wired a little bit differently, and some of us respond very well to stimulation. My husband, for example, is somebody competitive guy, successful guy. Stimulation comes in, he gets bigger, he gets stronger, he gets more energized. I’m exactly the opposite. That same stimulation comes in. It just depletes me. I’m fine with it. I can handle it, but it depletes me. Then I need quiet time, and there’s nothing I can do to change my system so that I am somebody who gets that stimulation is energized. And what I’ve really noticed, being more aware of it just in this particular family structure I’m in, and then I’ve taken it really into the systems that I work with and talk to parents and teachers about it, is that this shows up all over the place. It shows up with how loud music you know, people who respond well to stimulus often really enjoy the loud music, but that can be overwhelming to others, you know, going through different art exhibits. We were at LACMA the other day going through an art exhibit, and the exhibit had a lot of input, a lot of video, a lot of music, a lot of sounds, a lot of voiceovers. I, by the end, was exhausted, and my husband was like, all right, this is great. Same experience, completely different wiring. So just, again, we’re not going to be able to fix all these problems except to bring awareness to them and bring awareness to them and an understanding that maybe one of our children is a little bit more introverted, maybe the other one is a little bit more extroverted and modifying the environment to support where they will thrive. And that, again, is where mindfulness and awareness and the deliberate practice and cultivation of the extension of those properties really does make a difference in our day to day lives.
(Mohit): So with awareness comes empathy that all of us are very different and the other person is not behaving weirdly, the person is just different, right? And I think that’s an understanding that actually it’s a quite mature understanding of a society because as you mentioned that each of us can look at every life situation in a very different way. The introvert nature, the extrovert nature, the stimulated person, the person who does not want to be stimulated these are all people who potentially trying do the same thing but in their own way they are wired differently the right way. You said it. I think that is a huge that awareness will potentially change the society forever because it’s the fundamental of being empathetic towards each other. Right? Like for example, if you arrive at a new place like I’m here, I’m in the city and if I don’t understand the culture or appreciate the culture and understand why the people live in a specific way I’m going to always be closed minded towards it. Probably it’s the same way when we meet people.
(Susan): I think that’s true and I think also an appreciation of the way that we’re all connected and the different contributions, these different personality types of traits or just people can make. Somebody who is more holed in or less able to handle all that stimulation is likely to be able to provide some kind of a contribution that somebody who is really thriving in all the stimulation cannot and vice versa. So really seeing that we need it all and it’s all connected and it’s cool.
Question (Mohit): Yeah, that’s really amazing. So you mentioned that these have ripple effects that manifest in the form of sometimes anxiety, lack of kindness on the other side as well. Like basically awareness as well as the ability to relax and be composed it reflects when we make those changes and become more mindful. What are some of the other biological phenomenons that actually change? Like for example, I’m really interested that how does it change with something like as basic as food for example? Like when actually that’s basic. It’s a huge problem. Now, given that, especially for children, given that our food supply chain, everything is becoming more and more efficient, probably food supply chain is the only thing that’s becoming more efficient, but at the same time, degrading at the fastest rate possible in the future, in the past and ever, in the history of human history. Basically, those things will have to really understand from your perspective, what are some of the second third order effects of the food ecosystem around children and what are you seeing there?
Answer (Susan): Yeah, well food is one of the things that I’m extremely interested in both in my own life and in my work and then the idea of just what happens in the system and how mindfulness and awareness can help that also is something that’s key. So let me start with that because that’s probably the fastest. Which is what happens is that when we are worked up, when our nervous systems are worked up, our capacity to be able to hold strong emotions and our capacity to think clearly decreases. And it’s just plain old fight or flight. That’s just how our systems work. We go into a survival mode and that survival mode limits our ability to think conceptually and goes back into survival mode of taking care of ourselves. And that’s not just what we see so often as far as people kind of getting out of control. It’s also that is more of the light piece, but there’s also the freeze piece. And so that’s what’s often missed with kids, kids whose response to too much stimulation, to too much input is not to sort of thrash around, but to withdraw. And so often kids are thought of just as being shy or sometimes they’re thought of being defiant. You see a teenage kid like this, they think always defiant. Well no, maybe it’s just a little overwhelming. It’s too much. So what mindfulness and awareness can do is by helping kids and adults learn. That when we move our attention away from thinking about whatever the stimulus is, from thinking about what’s upsetting us to the sensation, to the actual experience, usually in our body, that has an effect of calming and grounding and lowering the heart rate, and then that fight or flight sort of settles back in. And then we can see things clearly and we can understand. So when you’re with a child or when you’re with an adult and you see that they’re all worked up, trying to get into a discussion with them calmly about what actually happened is a little bit counterproductive because they just don’t yet have the capacity. They’re in some kind of survival mode. Another aspect of this type of a bias that we have, that is a survival mode is the negativity bias where we are actually wired to focus more on what’s scaring us, what’s threatening us, rather than to focus on the good. So we again, if we bring awareness to that and a sense of humor oh, I’m Susan. There I go again. I’m focusing on that silly thing that happened when somebody made fun of the sweater I was wearing instead of focusing on all the other wonderful things that happened at that party. But no, I focus on the one bad one. Keep a sense of humor about it. Oh, that’s just the negativity bias. And then do your best to heighten the good. That is another way of balancing these very helpful, very useful survival instincts that we need. They’re not bad, we need them to survive. But sometimes they get a little bit misdirected in the modern world. So that’s the piece that is really the starting place for mindfulness and awareness practices with kids and with their parents and teachers. As far as food, again, it’s like awareness is key. And not just awareness as far as cognitive understanding or intellectual understanding, but awareness of the connection between our mind and our body .Oh yeah, when I eat that wonderful frosted cinnamon bun that smells so great initially it’s just fantastic. I love sweets, it’s just fantastic. But you know, oh wait, like ten minutes later I’ve got a lump in my stomach, my energy is completely dropped. A little bit later you start to make those connections and then those connections go all the way back to how was this food grown? How was it actually brought to me, how was it processed? How many ingredients are in this loaf of bread and how many of them can I pronounce? How many of them are ingredients that I can’t even imagine what it looked like in the real world. And when you start bringing that level of attention to what you’re putting in your body, everything starts to shift. So keeping again, the idea around food and awareness really simple. It doesn’t have to be complicated, we don’t have to have a lot of rules. We just have to have common sense and awareness. I mean, does this look like anything, does this supposedly milk like product? Is it anything a cow would ever recognize? If not, probably better to pass it by, that sort of thing. And just bringing awareness to what we’re eating, where it came from, and then keys how it makes us feel.
(Mohit): Absolutely. I think this is probably one of the best ways to understand how we interact with our daily lifestyle elements. Like for example, if you speak to anybody about diets, in this case any dietary system out there, most dietary systems are restrictive. And what we’ve seen is that they end up actually spoiling the relationship with food because then people don’t see food as a way of life or being a critical part of their life, but something that they can enjoy. Or they start seeing it as a compulsion in some ways that, oh, I have to eat within these many calories. I have to basically get these macros in. It’s not bad. I mean, preparation, doing it in a mindful way is probably the right way to do things, but then developing that instinct and not sort of like bringing that constraint to your life so that you don’t become robotic about your life experiences is probably going to begin. And it’s funny because I think what we do is actually make this human robot connection happen in a much better way so that you actually develop those instincts in a much better way. In our case also, the ideal outcome is that people end up developing those instincts. So for example, if you have the same example with your favorite ice cream and it actually gives you a glucose spike and a glucose crash, now that is going to make you lethargic. Now the problem is that a lot of people do have the awareness, which is cool, which is amazing, right? But a lot of people don’t as well. A lot of people don’t understand what really caused this problem and to what extent. We are really good at understanding the here and now, but maybe not longitudinal data, which is like, how many times per week, how many times per month and how frequent is that? One of the biggest you can say discoveries that people have is not that they got a spike from an ice cream. That’s actually quite predictable, right? But actually how many times they got it in a month. Maybe just making that from ten times a month to five times a month and having the same experience, a similar experience, is going to change their life and eventually develop that instinct to yourself. Like, why do you need a machine eventually, right? I think that’s a journey for a lot of individuals.
(Susan): No, I love what you’re saying, and I also I’m a big fan of these wearables and the types of products that you’re creating, because they do if they’re skillfully used and not used as if they’re skillfully used, then what they really do is they promote awareness, right? And really, awareness is the gateway to all transformation and all change. So these types of wearables will promote oh, jeez, I didn’t realize that. I did fill in the blank or oh, wow, I didn’t realize that. I have walked so many steps today just by being in the house. I didn’t even leave the house. But look, I walked this many steps and that kind of awareness, oh, jeez, I didn’t realize that I was in front of the computer for so long and I hadn’t moved. So that building of awareness is fantastic. The other thing about food that I think is really key, and not just for children, but of course for children, too, is just to bring back our love and our enjoyment of food. Because I love food, I look forward to what I’m going to eat every single day. I look forward to what I’m going to have for breakfast. I look forward to eating. But I really do love food. But I love clean food. I love food that isn’t processed. So learning to love food and developing a relationship of really enjoying food that is pretty good for you and enjoying it when you have a little treat that may not be so good for you, and building back, that just true playfulness and fun. And love for food in a healthy way, I think is really important. And I think it’s really, really doable.
Question (Mohit): I think what I really appreciate in this statement is that you actually used love as a way to find peace with something. For example, in case of food, if you can actually figure out the right balance in life, which comes with love sometimes, like, you really look forward to it. So you will look forward to a better experience, and that better experience will come with finding cleaner options, finding options that are more sustainable for you and not something that makes you feel terrible, right? I mean, what you learn in life and what you learn in maybe eating your favorite food probably is the same thing So that’s really, really, really interesting. Do you see, especially in children, some of the aspects of given the fact that the child obesity is a mega disaster in making and it’s a crisis, issues are getting disorders, and given that our definition of how we look at food is changing in the processed food industry and the convenience that you want associated with the food. How do you actually like what’s your approach towards solving some of those or interfacing with some of those when that happens?
Answer (Susan): Yeah, well, a lot of it is parent education because, again, the parent anxiety in some cases or the parent lack of education just again, has a ripple effect on the children. It makes the children feel something are being taken away as opposed to things are being offered to them. It makes them nervous because they see that their parents are nervous. And then also I was raised in the Midwest of America. I was born in the 1950s. I mean, food was love, and that was what it was. My mother baking was huge, white flour, sugar, butter, sometimes lard. And that was their way of showing love. So you start to connect that really, really early on. And food is love is a fantastic thing. But the food that you’re giving your children can still be an expression of love and it can still be delicious, but not but be healthy for you. And so the parental awareness around that giving kids lots of choices, lots of delicious choices that they can choose from, that are good for them. But there’s another piece, again, is the awareness piece. So there have been different programs that I’ve done around mindful eating where we created awareness meters specifically for food. So something like a fullness meter. A fullness meter is where you kind of get a sense before you’re going to eat, am I full? How do I feel? So you build awareness of am I eating just eating, or do I feel full? And then am I going to eat? So a fullness meeting, a meter, a taste meter, how does this feel, how does it taste? So really starting to take things apart in a fun and playful way to bring awareness, not just to what you’re putting in your mouth, but how your body is feeling, because that is really the key to so much of the meditation or awareness based approaches to life is just really making the connection between your mind and your body and seeing in real time how your mind changes your body and your body changes your mind. And so really bringing awareness to how full I am, does this feel good? Does this not feel good? That sort of stuff goes a long way to helping kids regulate themselves.
Question (Mohit): Wow, this is really cool. It’s almost like what we’re trying to do by machines. If you can develop that instinct very early, probably that’s even way more powerful, you have the ability to if you can develop your own instincts and your own muscle memory around what’s good for you, there’s a very high chance that you’ll end up making the right decision. So that’s really cool. And I’m glad that you mentioned that this has actually work for parents given the fact that they are the ones who are actually moulding or shaping. Our children are observing their parents to understand how the world around them actually works. And there’s a very high chance, by the way, that there’s a 99% chance that the podcast will be listened to by the parents, of course, our potential parents. So I would love to ask you your one hack for the parents. Let’s say the easiest thing that a parent can do every day to actually get started on this journey of mindfulness.
Answer (Susan): It is tough. But if I had to choose one, it would be something around appreciation and gratitude and the idea of working with your children or carving out some time every day. It could be just before you leave the door on the way to school, it could be in the car driving carpool, it could be around the dinner table. It could be a night where everybody just takes a moment and says something that they are grateful for today and being careful that that doesn’t turn into everybody just saying the same thing every night and it becoming rote. But really, what is it right now that happened today that I’m grateful for? Because again, going back to this negativity bias, we are kind of trained to focus more on the bad things as a survival instinct because we can make them better and we are free to take care of ourselves. But in so doing we miss out on the countless good, the countless things that we can appreciate. And so if we put a little more effort into bringing awareness to what we can appreciate since we’re already wired to be aware of what we’re worried about, that can actually balance out our perspective and our world view will be a little bit more accurate. But if you let me give you another one, the other one I would give you would be just as you’re leaving the house with the children or again, find one time during the day just to take a pause. Just everybody today, let’s just take a pause and let’s just settle down and just lower your shoulders, feel your feet against the ground, feel the wind against your cheeks, wherever you are, but just really weaving into the fabric of your day. Stopping that forward motion that we’re always in and just stopping and pausing. And don’t think about what’s happening but just feel it in your body and those brief moments of awareness that interrupt your forward motion, they add up and you start to see a difference in how you feel and how you respond to conflict into crisis.
(Mohit): Wow. Just by listening to that, by the way, I dropped my shoulders and started looking at how my feet are touching my ground and it’s so powerful, right? I mean, these are probably the simplest things, and potentially every human being would understand this. But just by having consciousness awareness that this is how you can actually be conscious about your body and how you can actually have the observable effect on your body while you’re actually living a life
that is so powerful, probably the most. When we think about the world of external interventions, machines, pharmaceuticals, we often forget the most powerful machine that’s actually out there, which is our own body.
So it’s really so amazing to hear you, but I really appreciate Susan having you here. It’s such a pleasure. And I’m really inspired by we are already inspired by the amazing work that you’re doing and really wish you all the best with your health and basically with your work and really wish all the good things.
(Susan): Thank you so much. Thank you so much. And I’m excited to see what you’re bringing out into the world and to start trying them myself, because I do think that these awareness building products that you’re creating are really important and also really, really powerful. We would love to get you on and I think yeah, thank you. Thanks for that.
Outro (Mohit): In an era where kids have the ease of access to Internet, peer pressure is very widespread. This is a huge trigger of stress to most kids. Susan helps us equip with tools that we, as parents can further introduce in our child’s lives and improve their lives for the better. Let’s enable our kids to live a life they deserve and live happily. If you found this episode to be an interesting listen, please share it with your family and friends. We have a lot of amazing guests lined up in the coming episodes. Stay tuned and I’ll see you soon.