We hear the word mindfulness a lot these days. While some may feel it is a trend, I have not only seen the benefits of it first hand, but I think that it has become so popular because we are in need of it. The world moves fast, information is constantly flowing, and we rarely seem to get peaceful moments where we can be still. Sometimes we even struggle with just being still that when we do have a moment we start messing around on our phones. Mindfulness can benefit us all especially our children.
There is growing research looking at the benefits of mindfulness as it pertains to children. In short mindfulness can help children better cope, focus, and regulate their emotions. It can help them calm down, be more aware of their internal states, and make better decisions.
As with many things in parenting, it is helpful if you begin your own mindfulness practice first. This will allow you to better teach your children mindfulness as well as benefit your parenting overall. It is easier to teach our children about something if we have experience with it. Don't worry if you "aren't good at it". Your children can join you one the journey.
Go into this with no expectations. Mindfulness is about being in the present and accepting what is at this moment. There is no performance outcome that we need to worry about. Simply a practice that may change day to day. If your child isn't interested, let it go and try again another time.
I practice mindfulness with my children often and letting go of expectations is critical to this practice. Sometimes my children calm down after practicing mindfulness but sometimes they don't. Mindfulness isn't a quick fix to all parenting challenges. Tantrums have not disappeared from our house and my two kids still are driven by impulses (thanks to brain development and their age). What they are gaining is an awareness of their internal experiences. An ability to identify and feel their emotions. They gain the ability to focus on to identify how feelings manifest int heir bodies. They are learning to sit with these feelings and accept their thoughts as just thoughts. As they advance they will begin to understand how thoughts can shape emotions and how they can calm themselves and recenter when needed.
Now onto how you can incorporate mindfulness into your child's day. Remember that it doesn't have to be complicated. Having a mindfulness practice does not necessarily mean you meditate for hours every day. It consist of simple activities that you can sprinkle through out your day. Keep it simple.
1) Mindful walking. Whenever we are going for a walk we like to play a mindfulness game. Sometimes the game is identifying all pf the sounds we hear as we go on our walk. Other times we choose to do a "rainbow walk" where we go through the colors of the rainbow and identify the things we can see that match this color.
2) Mindful breathing. I like to do this by teaching my children belly breathing. I have them lay down and place a stuffed animal of their choice n their stomach. I then encourage them to breathe into their belly and watch the animal rise and fall.
3)Mindful Rocks. We have a jar of rocks, some of which my children have decorated, that we use for this exercise. I have my children hold a rock and we simply explore this rock. I ask them to identify how it feels, what colors they see on the rock, what shape it is, etc. You really just want them to focus on all aspects of the rock. Maybe they smell it, or identify how it feels. The key is to focus on the rock with as many senses as possible.
4) Gratitude practice. Every night before bed I have my children identify at least one thing that they are grateful for. This is really to help them shift focus to a mindset of abundance rather than lacking. It is also a great way to remind your child about the positive things in their lives.
5) Body scan or muscle relaxation. I often do these together. I will ask my children to scan their bodies and identify where anything feels tense or uncomfortable. I then have them imagine a light that shines through the top of their head and moves to their feet slowly filling their whole body allowing it to feel comfortable and relaxed. As I do this i describe how the light is filling their head, moving to their neck and shoulders, moving down their arms to their fingertips, etc. I describe this all the way to their toes. I then have them tighten and loosen various body parts. So starting with the feet, curl your toes up as tight as possible, I count to 5 , then have them release. I have them scrunch their face, pull up their shoulders, make a muscle with their arms, make a fist. Each time I have them hold for 5seconds and then relax. At the end you can ask them to do another body scan.
Claudia Glassman is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Registered Play Therapist, and Parenting Coach who offers one on one coaching services. Claudia is passionate about helping parents find joy and gain confidence in their parenting abilities. Her vision is to share her knowledge and bring awareness to the importance of the relationship that we have with our children.