Mindfulness isn’t just for adults. Children can see huge benefits from it too. But it can be a bit harder to teach young ones how to be mindful. So here’s a few ideas to get you started
Can Mindfulness Really Work for Children?
Well, the short answer is yes. Actually, with each new generation Mindfulness could become more and more important. Our children our growing up with access to more and more information, and it can easily become overwhelming. If we don’t teach our kids how to unplug from their devices and live in the moment, they could grow up at a huge disadvantage to the previous generations.
As a member of the millennial generation, I have first hand experience of how quickly technology can become an essential part of our day to day lives. And the easier it becomes to use, the harder it is to break free from it. Who else remembers the effort it took to log on to MSN with dial-up? Sometimes it just wasn’t worth the ten minute log on process and it was actually easier to just go and see your mates in person. Now within seconds we are online and not only seeing what our friends are up to, but what billions of people all over the world are up to. That’s a lot of information to process even for an adult brain, let alone one that is still developing.
But My Kids Will Never Sit Still Long Enough!
I know most parents will be thinking this right now, but this is where you have to think outside the box a little bit. Mindfulness isn’t just about sitting still and taking stock of your senses. There are many ways to adapt it to suit a child.
Here’s a few easy ideas to get you started which can be adapted to children of any age.
1. Create a Mindful Bedtime Routine
I mean you probably have one of these for your children already, but I suspect it can be a rather rushed process sometimes, in order to get everyone to bed at a decent hour. Have you ever considered that the bedtime routine can actually be a very mindful process. It might be worth just starting it a little bit earlier and taking some more time over it to really take advantage of those last couple of hours in the day. For example, ask your little one to describe how the water feels in the bath on their skin. Is it hot? Cold? Can they smell the bubble bath? Does it remind them of anything? How does it make them feel?
Similar prompts whilst they drink a warm drink and then when they climb into bed can also work. Can they feel the drink in their tummy? Is it warming them up? Does the bedding feel soft on their toes? How does it make them feel?
Taking some time to process these sensations with your child can make bedtime a relaxing process for them, helping them to switch off from the huge amount of data they have had to process that day. You might even find they drop off to sleep a bit quicker and stay asleep for longer.
If you find they struggle to switch off, you can download apps which do mindful bedtime stories. Much like the adult ones, they give them a chance to wind down and clear their thoughts before they drop off. Some of them even have a built in nightlight for those little ones who don’t like the dark.
2. Have a Breathing Bear
Children can be susceptible to stress and anxiety just like adults. It’s not really that surprising when you think about what they are exposed to compared to us when we were children. But telling them to stop and take some deep breaths can be a lot harder to explain than to adults.
When you’re struggling to get your child to understand, how about adopting a cuddly toy to help? Having someone to associate with a calm moment can be a powerful tool for small children. Pick a specific toy which will be their “breathing bear’.
Perhaps you could use the buying/selecting process to explain to them that when they are holding the bear, the need to take long breaths in and out. By including them in the set up stage you may find they actually initiate using the toy more when they feel stressed. Show them how to do it and repeat a couple of times with them. Soon they will get the hang of it and they will have a reassuring pal when they need to chill out for a bit.
It can also be a great tool for you as a parent. Often children find stress a difficult emotion to articulate. So if you notice them reaching for their calming mate, you can be pretty sure what’s going on inside their head.
3. Go on a Mindful Walk
Much like adults, getting a breath of fresh air can do wonders for children. But instead of letting them run off, talk to them. Ask them what they can hear, see and smell. Investigate how the bark on a tree feels and ask them to describe it to them. Get them to count how many shades of green they can see. You could even turn it into a game. For example, ask them to find you something beginning with every letter of the alphabet.
Why not combine with a craft session and create some walking prompt cards, each with different mindful activity on? Your child can pick one before you walk out the door, ensuring they are inthe moment from the start. Maybe take the colouring pencils and some paper and ask them to draw a picture of what they can see during the walk. If possible, leave the devices at home or in the car so that they aren’t distracted by it.
4. Use a Personal Weather Report
As we’ve already seen, sometimes little ones find it hard to explain how they are feeling. Stress and anxiety can easily be mistaken for bad behaviour and through no fault of anyone, children are discouraged to share how they are feeling for fear of being told off.
This is where the weather report can be a fantastic tool.
Use a crafting session with them to make up a chart that is easy for them to see and reach. Again, but invovling them in making the chart it is much more like to be successful.
Agree with them what each weather type means to them. For example, sunny is happy, rainy is sad and thunderstorms are angry. You can use other types of weather to fill in any gaps. Then, when they don’t know how to explain how they are feeling, ask them to tell you or point on the chart which weather type best matches the emotion they are experiencing.
Having a tool like this can make resolving issues much quicker and easier if you know what is going on inside their little heads.
5. Cook and Eat a Mindful Meal
Much like going for a walk, why not try having a mindful meal? Eating can be one of the most stressful parts of the day for both parent and child. But maybe by making it fun, dinner can be something to look forward to again.
Maybe you could cook a range of different foods with your child and ask them to describe the different stages with you. Try asking the children to describe what they see, feel and smell.
When it’s time to dish up ask them the same questions, this time including taste. What colour are the vegetables? Is anything on the plate their favourite colour? What smells the best?
Ask them to pick out foods with different textures too. You could even ask them how it makes them feel when they eat food they like compare to food they don’t. It might even help you understand why they refuse to eat brocolli!
Hopefully you will find some or all of those ideas useful. Maybe it’s given you an idea not on the list above.
Mindfulness is a powerful tool for both adults and children alike. If we can teach the next generation early how to take a step back from the vast amount of information pushed on them, they will likely be more able to manage the stresses and strains of adult life when the time comes.