No doubt about it, mindfulness is one of those concepts that is big in mental health circles these days! Almost any mental health provider you see nowadays will have a handful of mindfulness exercises they have a personal affinity for, and a quick Google search will pull up a plethora of resources for your perusal. As more people embrace this resurgence of a practice based in Eastern philosophy and tradition, the question that is always at the back of my mind as a therapist surfaces once again: “What about the children?” YES!
Children can learn to practice mindfulness as well!
Simply put, mindfulness is the practice of becoming fully aware of what’s happening in the present state. It’s taking the time to pause the overthinking about yesterday’s problems and the worrying about tomorrow’s demands in order to enjoy the peace and beauty of the current moment. It may come as no surprise to the parents out there, but children and teens need this time just as much as adults do, particularly with the current state of our world. In fact, a study in 2008 showed that “training in mindfulness has the potential to enhance children’s attention and focus, and improve memory, self-acceptance, self-management skills, and self-understanding.”
So, how do we go about practicing mindfulness with our children? Here are 5 keys to making this practice a part of your everyday routine!
1) Practice mindfulness yourself.
As with most things, one of the easiest ways to teach your children a new skill and demonstrate its importance is to use it daily yourself. The more comfortable you are with the practice of mindfulness, the easier it will be for you to practice it with your children. When they see that you value mindfulness and use it in your daily life, they will be more apt to integrate it as well.
2) Be willing to be open with your children regarding your own mindfulness.
One easy way to do this is to share your emotional state at different times throughout the day. Comments such as “I get so happy when I see you laughing that it feels like my heart is getting a warm hug,” and “I got frustrated when that
car cut me off, so I need to take a few deep breaths,” help communicate that you are practicing mindfulness and see its value in your daily routines. It also invites your children to start discussing emotions with you, giving you the space to help teach them mindfulness to regulate those emotions.
3) Find two or three mindfulness exercises to practice with your child.
There are a lot of different exercises out there, and it can be tempting to start working on them all! However, with mindfulness, the “quality over quantity” principle DEFINITELY applies! Find about two or three to begin with, and commit to incorporating those into more and more of your daily routines with your children.
This could also be a cooperative effort, which will help give your children ownership and autonomy in their own mindfulness. Involve them in the process and see if there are mindfulness exercises that they would enjoy practicing. Visit sites such as Psychology Today and Very Well Family to see some examples of kid-friendly mindfulness exercises!
4) Practice during calm or mundane times throughout the day.
It is tempting to get caught in the thinking that mindfulness is something we just use when we’re agitated or upset. While it certainly helps during those times, it’s important to practice it during the calm and/or mundane moments so that it becomes almost second nature. When we’re in an agitated state emotionally, it’s hard to access the rational part of our brains that know mindfulness can help. The more you practice it while you are calm, the easier it will be to practice it when you are upset. Find little times throughout the day to practice mindfulness with your children, such as car rides or dinner time. When mindfulness is part of your normal routine, it becomes easier to access when that routine is disrupted!
5) Plan “mindfulness excursions” with children to add an element of fun!
We’ll talk about this more in my next post, but find fun days trips and activities in the area that can include moments of mindfulness. Not only will this bring an element of fun and bonding to the activity, it helps reinforce the concept that mindfulness is something we can practice anytime and anywhere!