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October 12, 2016

Mindfulness card games: Nurturing compassion and peace in our families

Lifestyle Parenting
Peacemakers Amy Wright Glenn/for PhillyVoice

PeaceMakers comes with no official instructions or rules.

The table is set and food prepared. Children play nearby; it’s joyously noisy after a busy day of adventuring. My sister and her girls are in town for a week. I treasure every moment as we connect, explore and share stories.

“Dinner is ready,” I announce.

Everyone gathers. We sit together, and I light a candle at the center of the table. We pause to sing a short song of blessing and gratitude. Then, we dive into conversation and a healthy meal.

“Can we play that card game again, Aunt Amy?” my 7-year-old niece asks between bites of macaroni and cheese.

“Yes!” my 4-year-old son replies.

I smile and answer: “Sure, we can.” I walk over to the bookshelf and retrieve the light blue deck of cards entitled PeaceMakers. Whenever I’ve introduced it to friends and family around the dinner table, it’s been an instant hit. I’m happy to see my niece take interest, as I know my son loves “the card game.”

I open the box and shuffle the colorful cards. Everyone at the table picks one.

“I got the owl again!” my son exclaims.

The animals and colors enchant the children. The messages inspire all of us. My son’s card reads: “With my ears and my whole body, I listen.”

“Hmm,” my sister muses. “So, Taber, when was the last time you felt like you really listened?”

“I always listen to Mama when she tells me 'Star Wars' stories!” he replies.

We laugh. PhillyVoice

Suzanne Tucker's beautifully crafted cards provide creative means of nurturing mindfulness, compassion and reflections on peace.

“And what card did you pick, Mom?” my niece asks, turning to my sister.

“I picked an elephant card. It reads: 'My mistakes help me learn and grow.'” My sister pauses. “I definitely learn from my mistakes.” Then, she proceeds to tell a short story of a recent error she made and how it helped her become a better person.

As we eat our dinner, the game continues. We make it around the table twice with each one of us pulling a card and reflecting upon when we last experienced the feeling expressed.

The cards read:

I am thankful.

I trust myself. My body knows what to do.

I am a leader.

I am kind.

I am playful. Let’s be silly.

It’s a beautiful way to mindfully reflect on the positive elements of our daily lives together.

While suggestions are provided on how to use the PeaceMakers cards, there are no official instructions, no official rules. In fact, families are encouraged to make up games that work for their own rhythms, temperaments and daily rituals. In our family, we pick a card and tell stories. That works for us. It’s a beautiful way to mindfully reflect on the positive elements of our daily lives together.

The PeaceMakers card deck is the brainchild of Suzanne Tucker, a St. Louis-based parent educator and mother of four who founded Generation Mindful earlier this year. Her mission? To “create play-based educational tools that build emotional intelligence, connecting the generations and nurturing the human spirit.”

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Tucker isn’t interested in adding another “to-do” item to the busy lives of families today. Rather, her beautifully crafted cards provide creative means of nurturing mindfulness, compassion and reflections on peace for all members of a family, and they can be spontaneously used during mealtime, on the way to school, in the morning or right before bed. Tucker is dedicated to helping parents shift out of punishment-based methods of child rearing and focus instead on evidence-based practices centered on connection. Hence, positive themes, images and teachings drawn from Tucker’s life as a mother, researcher, parent educator and student of yoga are present in PeaceMakers.

Tucker knows firsthand how powerful such teachings are. Between 2005 and 2007, she experienced five miscarriages. “I had two young children at the time, and on many days, the pain and confusion I felt was unbearable,” she recalls. Positive and affirming phrases became “a type of prayer” and helped carry Tucker through that difficult period before she conceived and delivered twins, experienced as an “utter surprise and a gift.” PhillyVoice

Suzanne Tucker created the PeaceMakers cards.

Recently, I had the opportunity to talk to Tucker and to thank Tucker on behalf of my family and friends who have loved playing PeaceMakers over dinner. I also was able to ask her the following questions.

What inspired you to create the PeaceMakers cards?

Research tells us that play is like the superhighway to both learning and attachment/connection, so I knew from the start that I wanted to create a game. Many of us as adults struggle to connect with our playful selves, and yet so many of the behaviors we’re looking for from our children live on the other side of silly.

What does mindfulness in children look like?

It’s important we hold a fluid definition of what a “mindful child” looks like, one that meets all children where they are. For example, a child who struggles with sensory motor integration or who has autism can be working on the very same four facets of Emotional Intelligence* (EI) right alongside a child for whom self-control, sitting quietly and/or perceiving another person’s needs come easily, it’s just going to look a little different.

* Emotional Intelligence (EQ/EI) is a skill set that includes self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and social skills.

How can we nurture mindfulness in children?

Through modeling and through play, children can learn mindfulness. It’s more of a skill set than an innate trait or something you are born with, a fact that most parents of young children find encouraging. Children respond so powerfully to learning about the power of their thoughts, about setting their focus, using intentions, managing their emotions and more.

You invite people to create their own games with PeaceMakers. Why?

I did this very intentionally because research shows that creative play drives early development and learning. It makes us smarter, emotionally and cognitively. Ask any play therapist and they will tell you that singing, dancing, drawing and storytelling are powerful learning and healing modalities, especially for young children. When a child is invited to lead something creatively, you’ll find their receptivity goes way up.

Tucker’s reflections very much resonate with my own experience of playing PeaceMakers with children. In an age where we are inundated with hours and hours of daily screen time, it’s important for parents to consciously craft time to connect face-to-face about what matters most. While there’s merit to playing Monopoly or putting a puzzle together, in PeaceMakers, parents can combine the joy found in traditional family games with the joy found in honest and heartfelt dialogue about cherished values.

Children are hungry for this kind of honest and playful dialogue. They want to share their stories about kindness, courage, leadership and the benefits of listening to their intuition. As Tucker states: "Kids don’t play with PeaceMakers because the game is good for them, they play with PeaceMakers because the game feels good to them.”

As a mom, listening to children mindfully reflect on what matters most feels good to me, too.

To learn more about Suzanne Tucker’s work or order your own set of PeaceMakers cards, visit her website.

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