May 21, 2018
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The concept of kids practicing mindfulness might conjure up a laughable image of a group of children sitting calmly while breathing “ohm. ” This is NOT mindfulness. A common misconception is that mindfulness is only for adults to understand and practice. When we understand what mindfulness is, and what it is not, it becomes easier to understand how to incorporate mindfulness into a child’s routine.Mindfulness is the practice of:
Easier than you may think! My guess is that, to some extent, they already are practicing mindfulness … perhaps at home, school, or both. There are moments throughout a child’s day that serve as great opportunities to learn and practice mindfulness. Consider playing a game that requires concentration and focus. This encourages your child to be involved in the present moment and it teaches patience. Practicing mindfulness with a child does not mean expecting them to sit quietly and clear their minds (in fact this often does not work for adults either!). Rather, engaging a child in the present activity is creating a mindful moment. Helping your child to tune into their own thoughts, feelings, and experiences in the present moment is teaching mindfulness.
Perhaps your family takes walks, has a pet, or your child takes part in chores around the house. Believe it or not, these are all ways that you can begin to practice mindfulness together with your child. Taking a walk; petting a dog, cat, gerbil or feeding your fish or watching it swim; even helping to wash the dishes are all opportunities to create mindful moments.
For instance, while on a walk, promote discussion of what you and your child are seeing, smelling, hearing, and feeling. This prompts your child to focus on the current moment. Take this a step further. Ask your child to be a weather reporter but to report on how they are feeling internally (e.g., sunny=happy; rainy=sad; cloudy/stormy=worried/scared, and so on). Prompting conversation and exploration of current experiences helps your child to develop their mindfulness and emotion regulation skills.
We know that children sometimes have difficulty regulating emotions. They are going to have temper tantrums, emotional shut downs, or flat out melt downs. Rationalizing with a child in the midst of a meltdown is not reasonable. However, by creating mindful moments during your child’s daily routine you are enhancing your child’s internal awareness, insight, and ability to recognize feelings more readily with the hopes that they may be better equipped to deal with big emotions in the future.
Additionally, incorporating mindful moments that teach relaxation strategies is a great way to prepare them for success. Teaching breathing and regulation strategies to kids is typically not as simple as “take a deep breath”. Mindful moments should be fun and explorative. Incorporate your child’s interests into these moments. For instance, using super hero poses as a way to tense and relax muscles teaches your child a self-soothing strategy in a fun way making it more likely that they will use it when they are upset. Blowing bubbles is another great strategy that teaches children the outcomes of different breaths physically and visually encouraging them to utilize deep breaths to calm down.
Don’t force it! Make mindful moments fun, interesting, and creative. Do not be afraid to be silly. Be a part of the moment and activity. Modeling your own commitment to practicing mindfulness is a great way for your child to observe the skill and encourages them to engage with you. Be a “senses detective” or use your Superman/Wonder Woman or Spidey senses to discover what can be found and observed through the senses. Play a game, dance, sing a song, or color with them but take the activity further through prompting observation, exploration, and discussion. These activities are all moments for you to enhance your child’s awareness of the present moment. These opportunities build positive experiences and emotions while improving your child’s ability to concentrate and engage in the present. Building these moments into your child’s daily routine makes it more likely that your child will begin practicing these skills on their own.
Mindfulness can help improve concentration, regulate emotions, and enhance self-acceptance and confidence. Mindfulness also provides the opportunity to learn about our physical experiences and enhance the ability to self-soothe and relax. Lastly, practicing mindfulness promotes kindness, patience, and gratitude.