Dr Bernadette Carelse: An Exclusive Interview on My Mindful Little One

Dr Bernadette Carelse: An Exclusive Interview on My Mindful Little One

Hi Bernadette! Can you tell us a bit about your book ‘My Mindful Little One: Bedtime’?

This book is a way of helping a child relax, let go of the events of the day and gently fall asleep. It introduces a range of mindfulness practices. Mindfulness is a way of engaging the attention on bringing awareness to whatever is happening in the present moment.

The first part of the book is about pausing, letting go of the day, maybe having a bath, getting changed for bed and starting to tune into the sensory experience of simply being there in bed. There are moments when the child is invited to relax and focus on the breathing, simply notice what is around, including sounds. There are also invitations to notice the things in life that one might appreciate, including family and friends.

All of these activities are essentially mindfulness practices. Our sensory experiences lead us into an awareness of what is present, in the moment. Our breath can be used as an anchor for the attention, enabling our minds to settle into noticing the sensations of the body. By bringing to mind aspects of our lives that we appreciate and value, soothing and relaxation pathways in the brain and body are activated. All in all, this can facilitate the process of falling asleep.

All in all, the book is beautifully illustrated, bringing to life the ideas and images expressed in words on the pages.

What age range is the book aimed at? Is it appropriate for all children?

This book is aimed at children between three and six years old. However it may also be useful for older children with developmental difficulties.

How has your work as an educational and child psychologist and mindfulness expert influenced your approach to writing the book?

As an educational and child psychologist, my training and experience is about not only about how to understand children’s thinking and experiences of the world, but also how to communicate this to those who live and work with them. Prior to this role, I was a schoolteacher. I had also been teaching mindfulness practices to adults since 1999 and was now specialising in adapting these practices for children. Between 2008 and 2013, I completed doctoral research focusing on children’s experiences of mindfulness. The children who participated in the research drew and wrote about what happened when they engaged in the practices. They were quite creative and imaginative about what they drew. It gave me great insight into how to teach mindfulness to children and I have been exploring this further ever since.

Do you have any particular advice to parents on how to read the book?

There is a section at the front of the book that is an introductory guide for parents. It explains what mindfulness is and the benefits that research has found. The invitation is for parents to use the book in which ever way is most useful including to engage in the practices as they are reading the story with their child.

Can parents expect to benefit from the book too?

In order to help our children relax, it is important that we are also able to relax with them. What might help is that we also bring attention to our own physical needs and see that these are met. For example, if we are feeling tired or under pressure, we notice this with kindness towards ourselves without judgement as best as we can. It may be that the bedtime routine, which was originally intended as a time for our children, might become a time for us together, one in which we can all relax and tune into a sense of calm and peacefulness. In this way, parents can expect to benefit from the book too.

What has it been like working with the illustrator Paula Bowles?

When I was given the name of the illustrator, Paula Bowles, I looked at her website and was surprised how many books I recognised that she had contributed towards. Working with her has been easy – the first draft was illustrated so beautifully and imaginatively. She took the words and brought something of the magic of mindfulness to life in her drawings and I really appreciate this.

What were you favourite bedtime stories as a child?

I grew up in the 70’s with classical children’s stories and loved being read to and reading. There were so many I enjoyed, including those by the Grimm Brothers, Beatrix Potter and C.S. Lewis. I loved reading different versions of the same book. Later, in the 1990s, I became a mum and was delighted to share my love of books with my child. I can’t remember which ones were her favourites but she became such an avid reader that something must have inspired her. All in all what I remember most is the closeness of being together and that bedtimes were special times together.

Are there more books to follow?

I hope so. One step at a time. There’s a lot of research on mindfulness helping with emotional regulation and it may be that the next book is on ways to calm down when upset. There is also research on how being able to control impulses (effortful control) in young children (2 to 4 year olds) leads to benefits in later life, including being able to concentrate and learn. Using this research, it would be beneficial to have a book that explored how mindfulness can help develop responsiveness rather than impulsivity or reactivity. A picture book could be fun way of exploring how to develop these skills creatively. These are my ideas at the moment for follow-up books.