A Quick Guide to Getting Your Kids to Practice Mindfulness
Mindfulness has heaps of benefits to offer both us and our children, many of which are now scientifically proven. But trying to get your kids to practice mindfulness is not unlike getting them to eat more fruit and veg: it requires a lot of subtlety and a certain amount of know-how.
Businesses, hospitals, community centres, schools; mindfulness practice is rapidly sweeping through the Western world and leaving no corner untouched.
This is unsurprising as there’s an emerging body of academic research supporting its effectiveness and proving its ability in everything from reducing stress and your risk of heart disease, to improving cognitive performance and creativity.
But one place it hasn’t yet found a regular home is in the busy schedule of parents. You may (and should) use mindfulness as a way to clear and calm your own mind after a busy day, but you know all too well that sitting down as a family and breathing for 30 minutes is clearly a non-starter.
Yet, to benefit from mindfulness, you don’t need a strict meditation practice. You don’t even need to use the terminology or be aware that you are partaking in the centuries-old Eastern practice.
Mindfulness is essentially just awareness, and there are so many ways in which awareness can be cultivated – noticing sounds, feelings, sensations, thoughts, etc. Sticking with this basic line of thinking, you can easily make mindfulness a fun and regular part of your children’s life.
But before we get into that, it’s important to fully get across why you should take the time to work on mindfulness. Below is a list of ways mindfulness has been scientifically-proven to improve the health and performance of children, courtesy of research published on MindfulnessInSchools.org:
Across a range of studies, mindfulness has been shown to:
- Improve academic performance
- Increase self-esteem
- Improve sleep
- Reduce depression symptoms
- Improve social skills
- Reduce somatic stress
- Reduce hostility and conflicts with peers
- Reduce reactivity
- Reduce anxiety
- Reduce substance use
- Increase cognitive retention
- Increase self-care
- Increase optimism and positive emotions
- Increase feelings of happiness and well-being
- Improve self-awareness
So you know why you should make time for it, but how do you get it into your kid’s lives? Well, first things first, if you haven’t already, the best place to start is by establishing your own practice.
Doing so will provide you with the confidence and understanding to teach mindfulness to your kids. Again, you don’t have to turn into a yogi – there are plenty of mobile apps out there such as Headspace and Insight Timer which can help you get started with as little as 5 minutes a day.
Once you’ve done this, you’ll be able to better grasp the underlying idea behind the practice: becoming aware of your thoughts, feelings, and sensations, and accepting them for what they are.
There are many definitions of mindfulness floating around on the web, but I find this one from meditation teacher James Baraz to be particularly fitting when our kids are involved:
Mindfulness is simply being aware of what is happening right now without wishing it were different; enjoying the pleasant without holding on when it changes (which it will); being with the unpleasant without fearing it will always be this way (which it won’t).
Finally, the list of its benefits is impressive, but remember – it’s not some wonder method that can eliminate all tantrums and make your house a tranquil zen sanctuary. Teaching mindfulness only works when you, as the teacher, have managed your expectations and can enjoy the moments with your children, regardless of the outcome.
Now that’s out of the way, here are some tried and tested methods you can use to introduce mindfulness to your children. Try them out, make up your own, and discover the best mix of activities for you.
Who can hear the longest
Lending all your attention to one sound is an excellent way to heighten your awareness and improve focus and concentration.
You can do this with your kids by sitting silently and drawing their attention to a single sound. You can use a bell, a set of chimes, a singing bowl, or even a mobile app with meditation sounds. Get them to listen to a sound and see how long they can hear it for (this can be around 30 seconds to a minute). This works even better if you do it with them and stage a playful contest.
The super spy walk
Getting in tune with your feelings and senses can be a powerful and exciting experience, from noticing the subtlest of sensations on your skin to sitting and becoming comfortable with painful emotions.
One way you can make this fun for all the family is to take a mindful or ‘super spy’ walk. Simply take a stroll through your neighbourhood or a park and discover all of the different things you and your children can notice – birds, frogs, aeroplanes, people talking. When they notice something, ask them questions about it: Where is it coming from? What animal makes that noise? Is the voice coming from someone old or young?
A moment of gratitude
Practising gratitude is a great yet all too often forgotten way to cultivate awareness in the modern day. Simply pausing and reflecting on what you’re grateful for can cause great shifts in perspective and have tremendous knock-on effects on your mental well-being and quality of life.
You can make it into a consistent practice in your children’s day by allotting a time to ask them about one thing they are grateful for today. It could be before they have dinner or go to bed, or, if they’re a little shy, in a letter or dedicated gratitude journal.
A great activity for keeping the waistline slim, mindful eating is an effective and enjoyable way to cultivate awareness in the here and now.
The exercise of taking a raisin or a piece of chocolate and analysing its flavours has long been a staple of mindfulness education. You can take this idea and experiment a little with different flavours and textures such as lemons, bananas, and single grains of rice. Test it out with specific foods or ask them at meal time to comment on the combination of flavours they’re eating (if you dare).
The personal weather forecast
In the book Sitting Still Like a Frog, author and children’s mindfulness trainer Eline Snel explains the method of checking in with your child’s personal weather forecast – is it calm, sunny, rainy, stormy, windy, or is there a tsunami?
This method uses a more indirect approach to getting your kids to become aware of their current emotions, without being heavily invested in the feeling. The weather also provides a good analogy – different types of weather come and go, just like feelings and emotions. We can’t change what appears, but we can change how we react and relate to them. Snel sums this relationship up nicely:
“I am not the downpour, but I notice that it is raining; I am not a scaredy-cat, but I realize that sometimes I have this big scared feeling somewhere near my throat.” –Eline Snel
Mindfulness doesn’t need to be difficult. Get started with these simple exercises today and you’ll no doubt soon be seeing the benefits and coming up with thousands of other ways you can incorporate it into your child’s routine.