Take a leaf out of the book for mindful children

 

Once the doyenne of the big-screen comedy circuit, Goldie Hawn has turned her attention to the subject of inner peace

Goldie Hawn, once the doyenne of the big-screen comedy circuit, is famous for playing the ditziest of ditzy blondes in such movies as Private Benjamin, Bird on a Wireand The First Wives’ Club. Now here she is, a grandmother several times over and a serious ambassador for inner peace, doing the rounds with her newly published book on mindfulness for children.

She’s getting some serious press coverage, too. Most mindfulness gurus would give their right brain to be on The Graham Norton Show.

And here’s another thing. Her book, Ten Mindful Minutes, is really good. Co-written with Wendy Holden, author of a study of th e X Case, Unlawful Carnal Knowledge, who also worked on Hawn’s bestselling memoir, A Lotus Grows in the Mud, it’s crammed with statistics, science and how-to tips for developing mindful five to 12 year olds. But it’s also accessible and, as you’d expect from Hawn, full of effervescent fun.

Why did she want to write a book in the first place? “I started a non-profit foundation about 10 years ago called the Hawn Foundation,” she says. “We created a curriculum called MindUP, which tens of thousands of kids are now using in schools across the US. Then parents started asking me to write a book for them, so I wrote this for caregivers and teachers and parents.”

On the phone her voice is deeper than I expected and also, somehow, older. Still, when I compliment her on the book she erupts in an exuberant: “Aw, thank you sweetheart . . . I love to hear that. I really wanted to make it more personal, so that people could relate to it. Because all this information doesn’t always compute. Or it’s dry, you know? I really wanted to add some emotion to it.”

The emotion comes in the form of short “reflections”, which are really cameos from Hawn’s life. We learn, among other things, that she’s left-handed; that her dad called her “Go” and her grandchildren call her “Go-Go”; that as a mildly dyslexic child she was put in a school reading group known, ingloriously, as Purple Balls.

She also paints a couple of portraits of life with Kurt Russell and their extended family which are so cheesy that they’re surely intended as sops for celebrity-seekers who have bought the book by accident. (Such as the story about Christmas Eve at the family ranch in Colorado. “Within seconds a great soft blanket of peace fell over our Christmas . . . ” Yee-haw.)

The stats given in the opening chapter of Ten Mindful Minutes, though, are immediately sobering.

As many of 8 per cent of children in the US have emotional problems; kids as young as three are being diagnosed with depression. And lurking behind the cold numbers, of course, is the ever-present shadow of suicide.

“There’s a lot of problems kids are having today,” Hawn says. “There are a lot of medicated kids out there – far too many. We’ve got dropouts. We’re not doing well academically. So there’s a lot missing, and we’ve got to figure out what it is. Bringing more joy and more optimism into the classroom is a really good way to get the brain ready for learning.”

The MindUP programme is based around the latest research in neuroscience, and the book, too, has plenty to say about dopamine, neuroplasticity, the role of the pre-frontal cortex and all the rest of it. But the heart of the book is its stress on actually doingstuff.

“I think technology is stealing a lot of the intimacy that we have with our children,” Hawn says.

“We find it hard to put down our accoutrements – our iPads and phones and everything – and really look each other in the eye. That’s really important because it engages you, it engages your child, it engages your family.”

As for how you get a bunch of kids to stop running around screeching and throwing things, and get them to sit down and meditate, Ten Mindful Minutesis full of games which aim to achieve exactly that. Hawn, however, bristles at the word “meditation”.

“We don’t call it meditation because it isn’t an eastern philosophy-type thing,” she says. “We call them ‘brain breaks’. You’re giving your brain a break. It needs that, because it works so hard.”

It sounds simple. Five minutes twice a day to breathe and be mindful. Like any spiritual practice worth its salt, however, it may be simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

In addition, parents are invited – or rather, ordered – to take a long, hard look at their own behaviour.

Hawn’s favourite parenting metaphor is the advice routinely given by airlines; put on your own oxygen mask before helping your kids with theirs. “Yeah, it’s kinda like that. How are you gonna manage your kids if you can’t manage yourself?”

Down the line comes the familiar, merry, Goldie Hawn laugh. “I think we’ve all been there.”

MIND GAMES: KIDS COME OUT TO PLAY:

Simplicity is the key to these three activities for younger children, which are presented as games but are also, respectively, mindful listening practice, mindful movement practice and mindful empathy practice.

THE LISTENING GAME

Collect some noisy items (paper to crinkle, coins to rattle, a pot and lid to bang) and put them in a box. Get the kids to close their eyes and focus on the sound you’re about to make. Ask them what’s making the sound. Afterwards, ask if they could hear better with their eyes closed, whether anything got in the way of them hearing properly, whether it was easy to guess the object and so on. Then get them to find noisy objects and have a go.

FREEZE AND MELT

Get kids to run around madly, then stop whenever you call out “Freeze!” Then, when you call “Melt!” have them relax and slowly melt to the ground. Ask what they noticed about when they were “freezing”, and how it was different from “melting”.

HOW ARE THEY FEELING?

When you pass by someone on the street on in a nearby car, play a game that starts with, “I wonder how that person is feeling?” Are they frowning or smiling, do they look happy or sad, what might it feel like to feel that way?


Ten Mindful Minutesby Goldie Hawn with Wendy Holden, is published by Piatkus, £13.99