I am thrilled to be collaborating with Emma Walton Hamilton, Susan Verde, and Stefanie Sacks to offer a Parenting Discussion Series in the studio. I thought it would be fun to do interviews of them here, because they have so many gems of parenting advice to offer. Today I have the honor of bringing you Susan Verde…
Susan Verde is an award-winning children’s book author, elementary educator with a Master’s in Reading Remediation and a certified kids’ yoga teacher in the practice and mindfulness for kids from pre-k through high school. In addition to being an author, yogi and native New Yorker, Susan also leads mindfulness workshops for children and adults. Her books focus on a variety of topics, and always highlights the unique perspective children have on the world. Her stories focus on their interactions with the world around them and allow them deal with big issues in a calming and mindful way. From yoga sequences to lifelong friendships and more, Susan’s books are used to teach children how to be proud of themselves and how to support one another in their pursuits — no matter how small they may seem!
Susan’s newest book, The Water Princess, is slated to be published in fall 2016 and is part of the series she has worked on with her illustrator and the best-selling, award-winning author and illustrator, Peter H. Reynolds. Other books in the Reynolds illustration series include, The Museum, You & Me, and I Am Yoga.
Mariah: Your books all have such diverse and interesting topics, how do you choose what to write about next?
Susan: Thank you! Actually I often feel like the topics choose me. I don’t typically search for ideas usually when I am in the midst of everyday life something happens that inspires me and then I tap into my own feelings from my childhood and somehow it comes together as a story. For example, the idea for The Museum came about when I was touring a gallery with my own children and my son lay down on the floor in the middle of the room and told me he couldn’t look at any more paintings of food because he was “starving!” I was immediately struck by how the art made him feel and wrote a poem right then and there to keep him engaged in the rest of the art and of course get him up off of the floor. As I turned the poem into a story I considered how I remember what art and museums felt like to me when I was a kid and brought that into the mix. I think my intention behind my writing no matter the topic is really about capturing and supporting the unique experience of being a child.
Mariah: Are your children an influence on your writing or the characters in your stories?
Susan: Yes, my children are definitely an influence on my writing as I watch them grow and change and grapple with their own challenges. They are also my sounding boards as I always read them drafts of my stories and they love to give me honest feedback…sometimes a bit too honest! However, some of my stories although relatable to my own kids came from other places. You and Me was inspired by my serendipitous meeting and subsequent friendship with illustrator Peter H. Reynolds who has been my collaborator on many of my books. I Am Yoga came from ALL of my yoga students I have taught over the years and what I get from my own practice.
Mariah: The topic you will be exploring during our Parent Discussion Series, is mindfulness. Why is it important to explore mindfulness with the children in our lives?
Susan: Mindfulness is a word that we are hearing all of the time nowadays and unfortunately it is not always understood. It is often used to convey a certain desired set of behaviors towards others. Being mindful is actually a particular way of paying attention to and noticing one’s own experience at any given moment in a non-judgmental way. It is important to understand mindfulness and explore it with ourselves and our children because it is this ability to be present and connected to oneself that allows us to connect to the external in a more meaningful way. Kids are bombarded with external stimulation…busy schedules, school pressures, bullying, and technology. They need to have the ability to create calm and space and understand what they are feeling. Their brains and bodies need a reset button. Mindfulness is that reset and a way to cultivate empathy, compassion, and self-care. Being mindful provides an opportunity to choose a response rather than react. The practice of mindfulness is one we all need to bring into our lives.
Mariah: Can you share some tips on how to be mindful parents? What are some ways we can explore mindfulness with our children?
Susan: Being a mindful parent doesn’t mean you will have all of the answers or your household will suddenly transform into a place of constant Zen and peace. It just means that in any given situation you will have more tools in your parenting tool belt to help your kids and yourself through challenging situations and difficult or strong emotions. It can change the dynamic and definitely open channels of communication.
There are many specific activities you can try with your kids and on your own to help cultivate mindfulness. Noticing the breath and doing some meditation is one exercise. There are also mindful listening and even mindful eating activities you can do. Try practicing mindfulness while doing a typically mundane chore such as washing dishes. This means noticing the feel of the water, the smell of the soap, how many scrubs does it take to wash a pan? Although this might feel silly or awkward it is training oneself to notice and engage all of the senses and it can make “chores” into something fun for kids. By the way…acknowledging the “awkward” is mindful too!
Mariah: Thank you so much for joining us!
Susan: Thank you so much for the interview Mariah! I am thrilled to be a part of Playful Learning’s Parent Discussion Series!