These days it seems like much of our lives pass us by while we’re on ‘automatic pilot’. You drive somewhere and can’t remember how you got there, or talk to someone and can’t remember what you said. And we’re not the only ones experiencing this autopilot state of mind; our children are too.
Children tend to live more in the present than adults, and even strong emotions come and go quickly. You’ll know that if you’ve ever watched a toddler having a tantrum! Children usually find it easier to let go, but the older they get, the harder it becomes to just ‘be’. Our children live in a world of rules and timetables where they’re told what to do and when. They’re often going through the motions without being aware of what they’re doing.
What is mindfulness?
Being mindful is all about paying attention to the present moment. It’s a mix of simple meditation techniques which, practised every day, can help us to manage thoughts and feelings. It’s about really noticing things, being curious and being kind to ourselves and to others.
What are the benefits for children?
Mindfulness and relaxation can help to improve memory, concentration and focus. Children who practise mindfulness learn better, feel calmer and think more clearly. Mindfulness also helps children to manage stress and anxiety.
All of these skills are vital for adult life too. By weaving mindfulness into the everyday when children are young, it becomes part of their mindset for life.
How do I do it?
It’s important to make it fun and enjoyable. Some children take to it straightaway, but others can find it hard. If that happens, stop and try again another day; don’t force it. Start with sessions that are just a few minutes long, and build up to about 10 minutes every day.
Brushing teeth, eating an ice cream and playing on the swings are all great opportunities to be mindful. Children don’t need to sit still and meditate to be mindful either; they can walk or move mindfully. You could ask them to count their steps, or think about how their feet feel in their shoes.
Young children can lie down on their backs with their favourite soft toy on their tummy. They can count as it goes up and down with each breath.
Give them a snow globe and tell them to shake it up. Explain that sometimes we can feel shaken up inside and that the snow globe is a representation of their thoughts and feelings. Then watch the snow inside the globe settle. This can help them to see that being still can help to settle their minds, the scene is still there but it is much clearer.
Mindfulness can also help older children. Taking a ‘three-minute breathing space’ before an exam can help teenagers to focus and relax. The possibilities are endless.
Any child can learn mindfulness, but for some it’s more of a challenge. If your child has ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) or autistic spectrum disorder, it’s best to get advice and training before you start.
There are lots of relaxation techniques that work well with children too. Progressive muscle relaxation involves tensing muscles, letting the tension go and noticing the difference. Getting in touch with nature by being outdoors for a walk or play works well too.
The biggest tip for relaxation is to get back to basics and give children the time to free play, to imagine and to just be.
If you’d like to read more about mindfulness for children, here are some of my favourite books about it.
- 10 mindful minutes: giving our children–and ourselves–the social and emotional skills to reduce stress and anxiety for healthier, happier lives by Goldie Hawn and Wendy Holden
- Calm kids: help children relax with mindful activities by Lorraine Murray
- Mindfulness for children: a beginners guide to mindfulness for kids and teens by Kathleen Hanson
- Connected kids: help kids with special needs (and autism) shine with mindful, heartfelt activities by Lorraine Murray
- Take the time: mindfulness for kids by Maud Roegiers
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