Mindfulness is known for bringing fabulous health benefits, and there’s evidence to show that regular practicing mindfulness exercises can actually restructure our brain and enhance our mental health. What’s good for us is often good for our kids as well, so how can we encourage our children to practice mindfulness in an enjoyable way?
Children are naturally curious and fun-loving, so harness these traits and make mindfulness practice more like a game than a chore. Keep things short, in line with their limited attention span—30 seconds of quality time is better than five minutes that leaves them restless and bored.
You can practice mindfulness at home, perhaps in a special corner with dedicated cushions or soft mats. However, mindfulness can be done almost anywhere, using the natural world around us as a stimulus.
1. Model mindfulness yourself
By being open about your practice mindfulness, you’ll get your kids used to the idea that it’s normal. Make them aware of when you’re meditating or focusing on your breathing, and begin to use the terminology in a simple way to draw attention to what you’re doing.
2. Be in the present moment
Play a game with your kids where you sit in silence and listen to see how many sounds you can hear. Start with the obvious ones like the passing traffic or an airplane overhead, but eventually focus on quieter ones like birdsong, the buzzing of a bee, or the hum of a refrigerator. Make a list afterward and try to beat your score next time—you’ll be amazed by their concentration.
3. Close observation
Let your kids take time to closely examine simple things, and talk about them together. For example, I remember when my son spent ages staring in fascination at the rainbow of colors in an oil spill on the sidewalk. Notice the beauty of a single flower, the detail of a flying insect, or the iridescence of a sparkling stone.
4. Encourage awe and wonder
Get out into nature and marvel at the Milky Way, stop to enjoy a richly colored sunset, or observe brightly-hued birds. Watch programs about the wonders of the universe or the rich diversity of animal life on Earth. Use homework as a starting point for amazement, such as the detailed patterning and balance in maths or the glories of an evocative poem.
5. Teach them the power of kindness
Kindness makes a huge difference to our mental state, including when we’re kind to ourselves. Teach kids that mistakes and failures are a normal part of life and that simply trying their hardest is good enough. Choose a person together each week—such as a lonely neighbor or harassed mom—and think of little ways to show them you care. You might bake a cake, leave a hand-made card, or help clear the yard. Look for opportunities to do random acts of kindness like buying a drink for someone in the coffee shop, and make sure your kids see and discuss the value in such acts.
6. Focus on breathing
Focusing on our breathing is a key area of practice mindfulness, helping us to center our thoughts, tune into bodily sensations, and concentrate on taking deep, healthy breaths. Explain the importance of deep slow breathing to our well-being, and build in short sessions where you focus on breathing properly. This can also help kids when they feel upset or angry, acting as a calming strategy for times when life is stressful.
7. Manage pain
Mindfulness has been proved to help manage pain, so soothe kids during sickness or injury by encouraging them to breathe deeply and focus while they’re recovering. There’s no reason why you can’t cuddle them as you do this together, to enhance their feelings of comfort and safety, and this part of the process can be recalled when they progress to their own mindfulness sessions.
8. Reduce stress
Even tiny children can feel stressed and under pressure, but helping them to manage those feelings with a short mindfulness ‘moment of stillness’ can bring fantastic benefits. Slowing their breathing and sitting quietly whilst focusing on the present moment will help relieve their stress, and could be a valuable tool as they get older.
Mindfulness isn’t a cure-all for every problem, but these few simple mindfulness strategies can help your kids to approach life more positively and confidently.
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