Mindfulness for Children

on
0 0
Read Time:6 Minute, 57 Second

Children of all ages can benefit from mindfulness, the simple practice of bringing a gentle, accepting attitude to the present moment. It can help parents and caregivers, too, by promoting happiness and relieving stress. Here, we offer basic tips for children and adults of all ages, as well as several activities that develop compassion, focus, curiosity and empathy. And remember, mindfulness can be fun.

How It Helps

Adversity comes at us from the moment we are born. Infants get hungry and tired. Toddlers grapple with language and self-control. And as children develop through adolescence to become teenagers, life grows ever more complicated. Developing relationships, navigating school and exercising independence — the very stuff of growing up — naturally creates stressful situations for every child. 

At each developmental stage, mindfulness can be a useful tool for decreasing anxiety and promoting happiness. Mindfulness — a simple technique that emphasizes paying attention to the present moment in an accepting, nonjudgmental manner — has emerged as a popular mainstream practice in recent decades. It is being taught to executives at corporations, athletes in the locker room, and increasingly, to children both at home and in school.

Early Habits

Children are uniquely suited to benefit from mindfulness practice. Habits formed early in life will inform behaviors in adulthood, and with mindfulness, we have the opportunity to give our children the habit of being peaceful, kind and accepting. 

“For children, mindfulness can offer relief from whatever difficulties they might be encountering in life,” said Annaka Harris, an author who teaches mindfulness to children. “It also gives them the beauty of being in the present moment.”

Part of the reason why mindfulness is so effective for children can be explained by the way the brain develops. While our brains are constantly developing throughout our lives, connections in the prefrontal circuits are created at their fastest rate during childhood. Mindfulness, which promotes skills that are controlled in the prefrontal cortex, like focus and cognitive control, can therefore have a particular impact on the development of skills including self-regulation, judgment and patience during childhood.

Modeling Mindfulness

Mindfulness isn’t something that can be outsourced. For parents and caregivers, the best way to teach a child to be mindful is to embody the practice oneself.

“Learning mindfulness isn’t like piano lessons, where you can have someone else teach it to your children,” said Susan Kaiser Greenland, a mindfulness instructor who works with children. “You have to learn it yourself.”

Of course, being a parent is an incredibly stressful experience in its own right. For those raising children, practicing mindfulness exercises — and ideally practicing mindfulness meditation for even a few minutes a day — can be profoundly beneficial, allowing caregivers to not only share the skills of happiness and acceptance with a new generation but also take better care of themselves at the same time.

“In order to play the game of life mindfully,” said Sumi Loundon Kim, a Buddhist chaplain at Duke University who works with youth, “you have to practice mindfulness.”

Establish your own practice.

 You would have trouble teaching your children ballet if you had never danced. To authentically teach mindfulness to your children, you need to practice it yourself. You can start slowly with a meditation practice of just five to 10 minutes a day. Find ways to incorporate mindfulness into your daily activities. Don’t let this step intimidate you — you’re probably practicing a lot of mindful habits already!

Keep it simple.

 Mindfulness is a big word for young kids to understand. Put simply, mindfulness is awareness. It is noticing our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and anything that is around us and happening right now.

Check your expectations.

 Are you expecting mindfulness to eliminate tantrums? to make your active child calm? to make your house quiet? If so, you are likely to be disappointed. While feeling calm or being quiet are nice side-effects of mindfulness, they are not the ultimate purpose.

The purpose of teaching mindfulness to our children is to give them skills to develop their awareness of their inner and outer experiences, to recognize their thoughts as “just thoughts,” to understand how emotions manifest in their bodies, to recognize when their attention has wandered, and to provide tools for impulse control. It is not a panacea, and it will not completely get rid of what is, frankly, normal kid behavior, like tantrums and loudness and whining and exuberance and arguing…

Don’t force it. 

If your kids aren’t interested in your lesson or activity, drop it. This is a good time for you to practice non-attachment to outcomes!

Now that we’ve got the preliminaries out of the way, here are some suggestions for how you can begin to introduce mindfulness to your children:

1. Listen to the bell.

 An easy way for children to practice mindfulness is to focus on paying attention to what they can hear. You can use a singing bowl, a bell, a set of chimes or a phone app that has sounded on it. Tell your children that you will make the sound, and they should listen carefully until they can no longer hear the sound (which is usually 30 seconds to a minute).

2. Practice with a breathing buddy.

For young children, an instruction to simply “pay attention to the breath” can be hard to follow. In this Edutopia video, Daniel Goleman describes a 2nd-grade classroom that does a “breathing buddy” exercise: Each student grabs a stuffed animal, and then lies down on their back with their buddy on their belly. They focus their attention on the rise and fall of the stuffed animal as they breathe in and out.

3. Make your walks mindful.

 One of my children’s favorite things to do in the summer is a “noticing walk.” We stroll through our neighborhood and notice things we haven’t seen before. We’ll designate one minute of the walk where we are completely silent and simply pay attention to all the sounds we can hear — frogs, woodpeckers, a lawnmower. We don’t even call it “mindfulness,” but that’s what it is.

4. Establish a gratitude practice.

 I believe gratitude is a fundamental component of mindfulness, teaching our children to appreciate the abundance in their lives, as opposed to focusing on all the toys and goodies that they crave. My family does this at dinner when we each share one thing we are thankful for. It is one of my favorite parts of the day.

5. Try SpiderMan meditation.

 My 5-year-old son is into all things superheroes, and this SpiderMan meditation is right up his alley. This meditation teaches children to activate their “spidey-senses” and their ability to focus on all they can smell, taste, and hear in the present moment. Such a clever idea!

6. Check your personal weather report. 

In Sitting Still Like a Frog, Eline Snel encourages children to “summon the weather report that best describes [their] feelings at the moment.” Sunny, rainy, stormy, calm, windy, tsunami? This activity allows children to observe their present state without overly identifying with their emotions. They can’t change the weather outside, and we can’t change our emotions or feelings either. All we can change is how we relate to them. As Snel describes it, children can recognize, “I am not the downpour, but I notice that it is raining; I am not a scaredy-cat, but I realize that sometimes I have this big scared feeling somewhere near my throat.”

7. Make a Mind Jar.

 A mind jar is a bit like a snow globe – shake it up and watch the storm! But soon, if we sit and breathe and simply watch the disturbance, it settles. As do our minds.

8. Practice mindful eating. 

The exercise of mindfully eating a raisin or a piece of chocolate is a staple of mindfulness education and is a great activity for kids. You can find a script for a seven-minute mindful eating exercise for children here.

Above all, remember to have fun and keep it simple. You can provide your children with many opportunities to add helpful practices to their toolkit — some of them will work for them and some won’t. But it’s fun to experiment!

Happy
Happy
0 %
Sad
Sad
0 %
Excited
Excited
0 %
Sleepy
Sleepy
0 %
Angry
Angry
0 %
Surprise
Surprise
0 %

Average Rating

5 Star
0%
4 Star
0%
3 Star
0%
2 Star
0%
1 Star
0%

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.