Psychologist Kate Berger on What Mindfulness Can Do for Kids

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​For this episode, I sit down with Kate Berger, a child and adolescent psychologist, Mindfulness instructor, and owner of the Netherlands-based therapy practice, Expat Kids’ Club, for a conversation about the benefits of mindfulness in kids and ideas for how to begin weaving mindfulness into our families’ lives.

Kate is heavily engaged in the movement to bring mindfulness into schools and other children’s communities, and is a big believer in the benefits of mindfulness in kids, especially with regards to emotional and mental well-being, both in school and in their inner lives.


About Kate Berger

Kate Berger-085Kate Berger, MSc is a child and adolescent psychologist, consultant, and the founder of The Expat Kids Club which has provided counsel to hundreds of youngsters and, their families, as well as major corporations, from the U.K., Germany, Singapore, and the U.S. Kate is also the Co-Chair & Co-Founder of the Families In Global Transition affiliate in The Netherlands, and is a dedicated mindfulness meditation practitioner and certified instructor who teaches mindfulness to young people through the collaborative Mindfulness International.


Things you’ll learn from this episode

  • What MINDFULNESS actually is
  • Why developing a mindfulness practice is a natural fit for children
  • How mindfulness can specifically benefit differently-wired kids
  • How mindfulness can support a parent in especially intense or difficult moments
  • Tips and ideas for introducing, encouraging, and supporting a mindfulness practice in your family


Resources mentioned for Mindfulness for Kids


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Episode Transcript

Kate Berger  00:00

Kids nowadays have so many there’s so much for them to have to pay attention to and think about and distractions and you know, video games and busy schedules and just lifestyle is so hectic that that’s become really difficult for kids to to focus and the reason that kids actually tend to be so you know, good at it if you could say that is because there’s a huge component of it. That’s about being open and curious to what you find in the present moment.

Debbie Reber  00:31

Welcome to the tilled parenting podcast, a podcast featuring interviews and conversations aimed at inspiring, informing and supporting parents raising differently wired kids. I’m your host, Debbie Reber and today’s episode features a conversation with Kate Berger. Kate is a child and adolescent psychologist as well as a certified mindfulness instructor who specializes in working with Expat and Third Culture kids. In the past few years, I’ve been reading more and more about mindfulness. And I’m really intrigued by what research is showing in terms of how children can benefit from using mindfulness tools in their everyday life, especially children who may be more prone to anxiety, or maybe just are more intense in general. So on today’s episode, I asked Kate to break down exactly what mindfulness is, what a mindfulness practice might look like for a child, and how we as parents can support our kids and tapping into some of these really useful techniques. To learn more about this podcast and tilt the revolution for parents raising differently wired kids, visit www dot til Well, Hi, Kate, it’s so nice to have you on the show today. How are you doing?

Kate Berger  01:43

Hi, I’m great. Thanks for having me.

Debbie Reber  01:45

My pleasure. I’m really happy to be sharing you with people on the tilt podcast. You and I had a chance to work together a couple years ago, you were Asher’s therapist during our first year living in the Netherlands. So at that time, he met with you individually. And you would also set up a really cool social skills group through your practice that he participated in. So just to share with listeners a little bit about your background, you have a BA in Psychology from George Washington University and a master’s degree in child and adolescent psychology from the University of Leiden, which is here in the Netherlands. And then you have a therapy practice called Expat Kids Club, which includes therapy for children after school groups consulting for businesses and families who are dealing with kind of life as an expat. And then you’re also the co-creator of the Families and Global Transition affiliate in the Netherlands. So first of all, it sounds like you’re very busy.

Kate Berger  02:36

Yep, that’s true.

Debbie Reber  02:39

So what can you tell us a little bit about the overall mission for your business? And, you know, I’d love to just know the kinds of kids that you work with, in general. 

Kate Berger  02:47

Yeah, sure. So, you know, I really believe that relocation creates a wonderful opportunity for people in general. And so often families that are relocating with kids see, only the difficulties are the big challenges ahead of them. And so part of the mission of the work that I do is to help families see that the opportunities that are created are really wonderful and terrific. In fact, you know, kids who are exposed to, to a relocation transition, and can kind of get through that and see the challenges in front of them as obstacles to overcome, that these kids can develop skills that can be applied as they go through life and on to, you know, in the workforce and becoming leaders in society and things like this. And so if we can really help them develop that sort of mindset from a younger age, I really, truly believe that we are creating a better future for the young people in our society, but really, for all of us. So it’s a huge part of what I do and where the passion for what I do lies in that I really think we in the day to day interactions can make a big difference long term.

Debbie Reber  03:59

I’m just curious, before we kind of dive into the topic of mindfulness, the kids that you work with, is it kind of a blend of neurotypical kids and differently wired kids?

Kate Berger  04:08

Yeah, you know, it really varies. A lot of the kids that I work with it is because the families reach out to me because exactly, you know, similar to your situation to have sort of that piece that that touch point, like you said, the connection to support as they transition here in the Netherlands, the mental health care system is is very different. If you’re coming from the states and moving here to the Netherlands, you know, there are a lot of sort of differences that are challenging to navigate. And language complicates all of that. So many of the families that I work with, you know, I am kind of providing that that real transitional support, whether it’s, you know, continuing some sort of structure, a program that they’ve been working with in their previous location, and then shifting that into the support network and system that’s here. That’s a big piece. And in addition, a lot of the kids that I see are struggling with this sort of sense of maybe lack of belonging to the environment that they’ve now been dropped into trying to get their head around sort of who they are in the context of the environment that’s changed. So sense of self identity related issues. Very typical.

Debbie Reber  05:23

I imagined just hearing you talk about that. That if a child is kind of predisposed to being more, you know, maybe anxious or highly sensitive in some areas that a relocation is going to trigger a lot of that for them. Yeah, definitely. Yeah. Well, okay, so now I’m already thinking about a whole other episode I want to do with you about this specific topic. But what I wanted to talk with you about today is specifically about your work with mindfulness. And I, I’ve known since I’ve known you that this is a big area of interest for you, and that you do workshops with kids on how to bring more mindfulness into their lives. So I guess to start that conversation, I feel like mindfulness is a concept that it’s definitely getting more and more play in the media lately. More and more people are talking about it. But what exactly is mindfulness? Like? How would you describe it to someone who is kind of coming to this concept fresh or may just, it might be in the background, but they don’t really have a true sense of what it means.

Kate Berger  06:23

Right? Right. Yeah. And I really appreciate that you acknowledge that it’s become sort of more mainstream these days. Unfortunately, with that comes a lot of misconceptions. So it’s fantastic to have this kind of opportunity to, you know, straighten out some of some of those ideas. So when we talk about mindfulness, in practice, what we’re really looking at is sort of present moment awareness, paying attention on purpose, to the present moment, what’s happening right now. And we do this using various Mind Body techniques. So things like meditation, breathing, exercises, movement, even sometimes mindful eating. So anything that we can do to bring us back to what’s happening right now.

Debbie Reber  07:04

And why, I mean, why do we want to be more mindful?

Kate Berger  07:08

Yeah, so really, you know, if you think about it, many of the sort of stress and difficulties that we experience in life have a lot to do with what’s already happened in the past, or what’s going to happen in the future. And so, you know, we get pulled with our thoughts with our mind, we get pulled into those two directions, and then are not present for what’s happening right now. And sort of miss the opportunity to really be able to respond to what’s happening in the moment, versus, you know, when we get caught up and pulled and sort of on autopilot reacting to what’s happened, or what’s what we think might happen. So, coming to the present moment is a powerful way to cultivate awareness for what’s happening, and then create this opportunity and sort of, you know, power to choose how to respond to whatever set of circumstances you’re in.

Debbie Reber  08:03

Okay, that’s great. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard it described that way. But that makes absolute sense. You know, I asked her and I have our own, and I’ll talk about it later, kind of fledgling mindfulness practice. And I know that it’s good for us, but it’s good to hear exactly why. Yeah. So Well, let’s talk about children, then why do you think mindfulness as a practice can be so effective in children? Because I think your work is specifically focused on working with young people in this area?

Kate Berger  08:31

Yes, absolutely. So I’m working only with children, and to some extent, parents, you know, incorporating them in mindfulness practice with their children, but definitely my emphasis is on working with children. And, you know, I think, well, there are many reasons, but one of the things that we’ve discovered and I say we, because I feel sort of a part of this movement that’s bringing mindfulness to sort of more mainstream, you know, institutions and things like that, you know, kids nowadays have so many, there’s so much for them to have to pay attention to and think about and distractions and, you know, video games and busy schedules, and just lifestyle is so hectic, that that’s become really difficult for kids to to focus to concentrate, you know, we see this in kind of shifts in sort of looking at prevalence of ADHD and things like that. And mindfulness is really useful because what you’re doing is training the mind training the brain to come back to the present moment to create this awareness for what’s happening. And the reason that kids actually tend to be so, you know, good at it if you could say that is because there’s a huge component of it that’s about being open and curious to what you find in the present moment. So this sort of curiosity is almost like a Curious George for what’s happening um, if you know that that children’s story, and kids are a little bit better at this open curiosity than We are as adults, because it comes more naturally to them. If you think about, you know, babies exploring the world, for the first time picking up a new food, or, you know, feeling different textures of materials and things like this, this is that sort of curiosity that we’re talking about, that we’re trying to cultivate through mindfulness practice, that kids are doing, inherently because all this new, all these experiences are new to them. And it’s really neat, because where I was kind of going with the attention and concentration, what we’re seeing is that, you know, there’s a lot of research going on neuroscience, looking into children, there’s definitely more with adults, but a little bit with children looking at sort of implications and how mindfulness practice is useful for them in a school setting. So looking at sort of test scores, and you know, things like this, and how their ability to pay attention to focus to concentrate is actually seen as improving through exposure to mindfulness practice. So it’s really exciting.

Debbie Reber  11:02

You mentioning that reminded me of an article I read, and perhaps you read it, too, in the Atlantic from last summer called When mindfulness meets the classroom. Yeah. And I thought it was fascinating and really talked about the very tangible, positive effects on kids when it was actually a part of their regular day in the classroom, on especially emotional regulation, or their overall sense of, you know, just happiness and positivity versus being especially anxious, or, yeah, so that’s, that’s very cool. So it seems like, you know, according to this article, it’s starting to become more and more a part of more schools are starting to play with it.

Kate Berger  11:41

Yeah, yeah, it’s so exciting, because there’s some really terrific programs that are kind of running this force, towards having mindfulness be incorporated into mainstream curriculum. So you have you know, for in the UK, there’s the mindfulness in Schools Project, in the States, Mindful Schools, and many, many more, that are trying to bring mindfulness into the classroom, even if it’s a moment, a mindful moment, you know, we’re, you know, kids are encouraged to, to practice mindful listening. So just observing what they hear, or some of the schools that I’ve worked with are doing mindful lunches. So the kids are going into the cafeteria and mindfully eating their, their, their sandwich or whatever, or you know, mindfully walking from the classroom to the gym class or things like that.

Debbie Reber  12:29

So when you say you’re making me think of this spa that I went to, for when I celebrated my 40th birthday, my best friend and I went to the spa called mirrorball in Arizona, which we heard about from Oprah. So we’re very excited about this. But mindfulness was a big part of what they did there, or the philosophy behind this spa. So for like mindful eating, it was that idea of just eating and not reading while you’re eating, or if you’re folding laundry, not feeling the need to catch up on Netflix while doing that. But is that what you’re talking about when you’re saying mindful eating at school or mindful walking? And, you know, among kids? 

Kate Berger  13:03

Yeah, exactly. Because, you know, we do all these things on autopilot, right? I mean, the sort of classic example is, who were you in the shower with this morning, right? Very often not experiencing the water hitting the body and all these things. And, you know, coming to the present moment is a useful skill, to develop concentration and this ability to respond rather than react, but that there’s a wonderful sort of side effect piece of it, that’s about really savoring the experiences as they’re happening. So eating our food and savoring and enjoying the taste of it, right, taking a walk and feeling what that’s like, on the feet, that you know, to hit the ground and the sun on your face, and all these kinds of things. So, you know, it is wonderful, and how mindfulness practice also, you know, people who practice are developing this sort of appreciation and gratitude, and, you know, happiness increases happiness, which is fabulous.

Debbie Reber  13:58

Yeah, I’m thinking of a time when Asher was quite young, probably, maybe three, two, or three. And I picked him up from preschool and I took him to Green Lake and we had some snacks, and this is in Seattle. We walked out to the end of a dock and we kind of, you know, decided, okay, for the next few minutes, let’s just see everything we can hear. And then we did the same thing with everything we could see and everything we could smell and I guess in some ways, that’s the same thing. But when it seems more natural to do when you have a child who’s just discovering the world, and then as we get older, those things start to be less interesting. Or maybe Minecraft is more interesting. Right? But yeah, so I guess kind of continuing that kind of practice too.

Kate Berger  14:42

Absolutely. And, and, you know, we get the question all the time, like, Am I doing am i doing mindfulness right or am I doing it wrong and it’s, there’s no right or wrong way to do it. Just like you said, if you know going out and seeing whatever you can see and hearing whatever you can hear, that’s being mindful, right that’s being put isn’t so you know, but it’s a hard thing. If people haven’t experienced that it’s a hard thing to explain, of course. So it’s an important thing to keep in mind.

Debbie Reber  15:08

So let’s talk about differently wired kids. And I think I know your answer. But I want to hear I want to hear more like, Why is it you know, or how can mindfulness be especially are particularly helpful for kids who might be, you know, anxious, or, you know, super intense or highly sensitive, or really inflexible, kind of the traits that we see in kids that have ADHD or Asperger’s or sensory integration to school disorder? Why, you know, are the reasons why it is especially useful for that population?

Kate Berger  15:40

Yeah, yeah, it’s, it’s really, it’s really interesting and exciting, because this is a direction that the mindfulness practice and intervention is definitely taking. I’ve recently done training specifically on working with teens with ADHD and, and or autism diagnoses, that using mindfulness interventions with this population. And it’s really neat, because for many reasons, one of the things that I think is really important to mention, and that I’m most excited about is, you know, these kids often are getting feedback from the environment that something’s wrong with them. And that, you know, they’re not good enough and can’t sort of be like the rest of their peer group and these kinds of things. And so the mindfulness practice, you know, helping kids to understand, to develop awareness, for the mind in the body and situations and developing this sort of curiosity and compassion for what’s happening with their mind in their body. And so, you know, through that, one of the most exciting things is about the confidence that develops with that the the empathy for the self, right, so rather than sort of, you know, feeling really different and horrible and isolated, actually feeling okay with who you are, and an understanding what you might need in a situation to be able to move forward. So that self empathy, that compassion for the self is a big piece that I really love. And you know, with that, of course, bigger picture is, you know, if you have young people, individuals who are able to be compassionate for themselves and take care of themselves, you know, you can think about kind of what they bring into the environment that they’re in how they interact with other people, what their relationships are, like, right? And if we, if we have these connections between them, and the rest of us, you know, the kind of ripple effects of that energy, that compassion is really, really exciting.

Debbie Reber  17:43

Yeah, that’s interesting. I love what you said, especially about the teen hood piece, because I think, you know, teen hood is a difficult time for any child. And, you know, neurologically typical or atypical. And I think, for kids who, you know, may be aware of a diagnosis they have, who may feel really kind of good about who they are, once they hit adolescence, and the hormones start to change. And they may shift into a space where they want to be more like everyone else. So I could see it being especially useful for them to have that self empathy at that stage. Really interesting. So I know that your program is based on the curriculum developed by the mindfulness in Schools project in the UK. Is that correct?

Kate Berger  18:27

Yeah, that’s the one I’m using nowadays. Yeah.

Debbie Reber  18:30

So what can you kind of paint a picture for us of what you know, programs with kids might actually look like what is when you do an after school group course? What does your work look like with them?

Kate Berger  18:41

So it’s an eight week program, and the kids are coming once a week and you know, we kind of just start with the beginning of what we call playing attention. So understanding that, you know, we can use our attention, we can shift our awareness in different ways, we have the power to do that. And we do that through really fun activities, we use a flashlight, we talk, we use animals, talk about animals, Bring, bring that into the exercises, and then throughout the course it’s really having kids sort of check in on what they’re paying attention to. And developing that self awareness for where they are in each moment. And, you know, lots of I mean, it’s not it’s not you know, we don’t typically have kids sit and meditate, because it’s really challenging, some of them like to do it and some of them do it. I mean, I’ve seen you know, five and six year olds sit for 10 minutes, which is amazing. But you know, so any kind of activity that’s helping them to build that awareness so we do, we do movement, walking, we do, sometimes some different kinds of yoga movements. We do and one of the classes is just about using mindful eating and we use a chili pepper and chocolate. It’s really interesting. And you know, right away when you say that to the kids, or when they discover that this is what the object is that they are being encouraged to eat, you know, noticing the immediate thoughts that come with that, or the aversions right, or the excitement about it. And so the course is really fun and exciting and really engaging. There’s, there’s videos, there’s worksheets, there’s take on practice. And you know, it’s, it’s a big, this is a big sort of concept, a lifelong process of being mindful being present. And so the course is really just about introducing that language to kids, and then for them to go off and apply that in any way that works for them.

Debbie Reber  20:43

That sounds very cool. 

Kate Berger  20:45

Yeah, it’s so fun to teach.

Debbie Reber  20:47

Well, it sounds also from what you’re describing that it’s not necessary to have this kind of formal mindfulness practice that you, you know, sit quietly for. I mean, some kids may want to do that, but it doesn’t have to look that way for kids to start incorporating mindfulness into their lives.

Kate Berger  21:05

Right, right. Absolutely. Yeah. Yeah. And I should say, you know, a big piece about, one of the things that we find is that kids who are most successful in taking on these ideas and applying them in their lives are the kids whose parents are also practicing, or have the intention to make this to incorporate this in their day to day life. So we really encourage parents to get involved and either do the exercises with their kids at home, or do their own sort of adaptation, or even take a course themselves is just for adults or for parents, because that seems to be the way that kids are going to continue with their own practice as if their parents are modeling this at home.

Debbie Reber  21:42

Yeah, of course. Yeah. That was my question. How can parents support the development of this? So I’m just thinking like, practically that might be just being like visible or visible thinking, like talking out loud? Yeah, what’s going on? Like, I’m really enjoying the taste of this right now? Or? I mean, is it? Is it that simple?

Kate Berger  22:01

Yeah. In some ways, yeah. It’s really modeling your own awareness in moments, right. And the, I think the most powerful ones are the ones where, and maybe this is more opinion, or just the, from my experience, but the moments where parents lose it, or get frustrated, or, you know, that doesn’t happen.

Debbie Reber  22:21

But can you describe what you mean? Yeah.

Kate Berger  22:26

Um, but for that, you know, for that to be a moment, when you say, oh, my gosh, you know, I’m feeling really frustrated, I noticed my heart is racing. I’ve got knots in my belly, My fists are clenching. And I’m thinking about, you know, I’m wondering, I’m asking myself, why or what did I do wrong? Or right, any of these kinds of things? And, and to be able to model that, and then, you know, to say, Okay, what do I want to do with this? What do I think I need, right, and including your kids in that too, can be really neat.

Debbie Reber  22:55

That’s great. That’s great. Yeah, and I find, I’m just reflecting on how in our first, especially in our first year here, I was trying to because my son was so unhappy to be to, you know, that we, you know, as he described, destroyed his life by picking up and leaving the home that he knew in the city and friends that he knew, I spent a lot of time when we were having good days, you know, you know, magical moments of lying in a hammock and having popsicles and just trying to really soak in every moment of that, both from my own personal well being, so I could have that to counter the more difficult times, but also to kind of help him start to appreciate things in the moment to and recognize it’s not all hard, or it’s not all bad, or, you know, it’s we have this full range of experiences.

Kate Berger  23:46

Right. Right. And it’s challenging. I mean, especially in a transition, like you’ve described, you know, it’s it’s stressful, there’s, there’s this inherent stress in relocation, there’s no question about it, and parents, you know, any of us I mean, in the work that I’m doing, you know, we want to be supportive, we want to help, we want to bring, you know, all the tools that we have, and share them with children. And to be able to do that, it really has to come from a place of knowing where you are, and each and every moment, right, it’s looking in the mirror or putting your own oxygen mask on first. And that sort of idea, mindful of where you are, what you’re bringing into those interactions. So in that sense, you know, parents who are practicing mindfulness, working on their own, cultivating their own practice, it can be so so powerful and wonderful.

Debbie Reber  24:33

So any kind of favorite tips or resources that you can share with parents who are listening who want to learn more? I don’t know if they’re certain websites or you know, even something they could try maybe even today to kind of get started. Any tips to share? Yeah, absolutely.

Kate Berger  24:49

Let’s see. So one of my favorite books that I’ve been using lately is called sitting still like a frog. And it’s by Alina Snell a Dutch woman. She’s actually written it in Dutch, originally, it’s been translated, but it’s fantastic. It’s got a CD, there’s exercises on it. And I really just like the way it’s kind of presented and packaged in terms of research and information. You know, the mindfulness in Schools Project website has a ton of stuff up there about their efforts and what they’ve been doing or again, Mindful Schools. For people in the US, there’s the mind app foundation that Goldie Hawn is a big spokesman for. So you know, there’s lots of information available, those are just sort of a few that I usually turn to, or we recommend people turn to. And in terms of practice, yeah, one of the first exercises that we start with children typically is mindful listening. So maybe setting you know, a timer on the phone for 30 seconds. Or if you’ve got one of those Tibetan singing bowls, that’s the one that we use in practice. But you know, just taking you don’t even need a timer, if that’s too much to think about. Just taking a few moments, to just sit and listen. So anything that you hear, you know, observing anything you hear, in the room that you’re in or outside of the room, maybe even any sounds coming from within the body, and just just noticing that, and then maybe noticing also the sort of immediate urge to want to label those sounds, or any emotions that are attached. You know, that annoying truck that keeps driving by or gosh, you know, I’m really hungry, My stomachs, grumbling, things like that. So, so just noticing the sounds and you know, catching the thoughts that come in. And just coming back to noticing the sounds.

Debbie Reber  26:39

I’m using the app right now called Headspace. Are you familiar with that? Yeah.

Kate Berger  26:44

Love Headspace.

Debbie Reber  26:45

Yeah, it’s been interesting. I’ve been trying to learn how to meditate since the beginning of the year. And he starts every meditation with that piece of just listening. And that is really interesting. It shifts things very quickly. Again, even as you said, I think 30 seconds is enough to realize there’s a lot going on that we’re tuning out, and it’s really cool. That’s a great tip. Thank you.

Kate Berger  27:10

We I love Headspace and, and you know, the mind is that’s the nature of the mind to wander. It’s constantly wandering and usually jumping to the past or the future. So even when we take that moment to check in, it’s like, Whoa, I didn’t know that was happening.

Debbie Reber  27:25

Yeah, very cool. Well, this has been super interesting. I’m just fascinated by the idea of mindfulness. And I also feel like it’s one of those things where just a little bit of effort can probably yield some substantial and immediate rewards. Yeah, yeah. Well, for listeners who want to learn more about Kate and X pack kids club, I will have links to Kate’s site, as well as all these resources that we talked about the books and headspace and things on the show notes, where you can also check out our site. It’s www dot expat kids. And I just want to thank you so much for coming on the show. This has been fascinating and great food for thought on not only how mindfulness can really benefit differently wired kids, and not to mention parents raising them, but also just how we can start weaving it into our everyday lives. So thank you so much.

Kate Berger  28:16

Oh, thank you. It’s been my pleasure.

Debbie Reber  28:20

Thank you so much for listening to this episode of The Tilt Parenting podcast. I hope you got some good insights on the potential for mindfulness for our kids. For more information on all the podcast episodes visit to To access the show notes for this episode with links to kids practice as well as all the books, websites and other resources we mentioned in our conversation. Go to and if you like this episode, I would be grateful if you could take a moment to visit iTunes and subscribe as well as leave an honest review. We are brand new to the podcast world and our goal is to make sure parents of differently wired kids can find us. Your reviews and podcast subscriptions are super helpful and working towards that goal. Lastly, for more information on tilt the revolution for parents raising differently wired kids and to sign up to be a part of the community, visit


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