Expert contributor Giselle Baumet discusses how teaching our children about mindfulness early in life can support their physical and mental health in myriad ways as they grow up and face life’s many challenges.
Life comes with a lot of unexpected twists and turns. Some people meet every challenge in life with confidence, while others find it tough to overcome them. No matter what your life situation is, the hard times will inevitably come. However, with mindfulness, anyone can learn to navigate life situations with confidence, calmness, and awareness.
While many of us parents are just learning mindfulness as adults to reduce anxiety and stress, we can empower our children early by teaching them mindfulness now, while they are young.
Mindfulness practice can help our children to overcome challenges. Furthermore, preparing our children to understand mindfulness prepares them to live a life being present, observant, and engaged while experiencing less stress and anxiety.
The Challenges Children Face Today
Today, children face an extraordinary amount of stress and anxiety. As a result, they are more likely to develop negative emotions, fatigue, and boredom. These early-stage stress levels can negatively impact learning, memory, and behavior, which can in turn hurt both physical and mental health. Self-awareness and mindfulness are the best remedies for these stressors and negative emotions.
Just like nutritious eating, exercise, or reading help grow the children into happy and healthy adults, mindfulness and awareness can help them connect with their thoughts and feelings. By being present in the moment, children can experience life to its fullest. In addition, mindfulness helps children build self-awareness and self-esteem.
The Antidote: Mindfulness
Today, both parents and teachers are instrumental in helping kids handle the pressures that a competitive environment throws at them. By teaching self-awareness, parents and teachers can focus on a child’s ability to precisely judge their performance and behavior and respond to different situations accordingly.
Children can tune into their feelings and the behaviors and feelings of others by being self-aware. It also helps children with their academic success and is vital to their social and emotional growth.
What is Mindfulness?
Habits that are formed early in life will become behaviors in adulthood. Mindfulness is one such habit that parents need to teach their children at a very young age. Mindfulness is a habit of bringing gentle awareness to the present moment.
In stressful moments, we often veer from the situation we are in or the matter at hand. Our mind takes flight, and we lose touch with the body. However, mindfulness helps us to attend to what is happening. It means slowing down and helping to notice what we are doing and where we are. With mindfulness, we are not overly reactive to or overwhelmed with the things going on around us.
Mindfulness is an inherent quality that every human being possesses. However, we do not conjure mindfulness but need to learn how to access it.
Benefits of Mindfulness for Children
Pressures and stresses amongst the children are growing with the increasing rates of anxiety and depression. Therefore, improving mental health has become a concern for parents and teachers.
Educating and guiding kids and teens to practice mindfulness can help them manage stress and regulate their emotions. With mindfulness, children can focus better on the task at hand and develop a positive outlook on life.
When children practice and focus on being mindful, they slow down and concentrate on relaxing and being more stress-free. In addition, by being conscious, teens and children can cope with frustration if faced with difficulties and challenges in their lives.
Mindfulness also comes to the rescue when they need to concentrate on something specific. Mindfulness doesn’t allow for distractions that derail the focus.
By teaching mindfulness to kids, you can gift your children the habits of being peaceful, kind, and accepting.
Four key benefits of mindfulness for children:
1) Mindfulness improves attention span.
The training of mindfulness in children starts with learning focusing skills. When they know to focus on just one thing like sound or taste, their mind calms down and grows stronger. The refined concentration skills of mindfulness then result in improved performance.
2) Mindfulness improves self-regulation.
Once children develop and practice mindfulness skills, they become aware of their minds and activities. Mindfulness helps children regulate emotions. For example, a child with mindfulness skills can replace impulsive reactions with thoughtful responses.
3) Mindfulness helps to develop life skills.
Mindfulness techniques are practiced by international athletes, musicians, and other professionals who perform under extreme pressure. For children, practicing mindfulness can help them in their activities, such as:
- Public speaking
- Peer interactions
- Family life
Mindfulness, therefore, is a set of life skills that can improve performance in most areas of life.
4) Mindfulness promotes empathy.
Mindfulness can help you to respond to the environment around you differently. The awareness that comes with mindfulness enhances self-compassion and promotes empathy. In addition, research shows that mindfulness allows children to better understand and empathize with others.
How to explain mindfulness to a child:
Like adults, kids are also distracted easily. And sometimes, they’re not aware of their circumstances. This can lead to challenges in managing their emotions and controlling behavior.
Explaining mindfulness to a child is difficult. It is a big word for kids to understand. You can describe mindfulness as noticing thoughts, feelings, physical sensations, and anything happening around at the moment.
Teaching mindfulness to children aims to help children understand how emotions manifest. Mindfulness also equips children to reorganize their attention and provides tools for control. But the remaining challenge is how to teach mindfulness to the children.
Involving the senses is the easiest and best way to allow children to understand mindfulness.
Asking them to pay attention and observe the colors, smell a scent, or how something feels will help them understand mindfulness. Tell them to pay attention to their place at the moment by involving their senses.
The other popular and easy way to explain mindfulness is to tell the child to pay attention in the present moment, without judgment. With non-judgmental awareness, the child will experience staying in the moment without contemplating if the experience is good or bad.
How to teach mindfulness to older children:
Mindfulness is cultivated through proven techniques. However, teaching or explaining any skill to a child is always a challenge if you have never practiced it yourselves. Therefore, to teach mindfulness to your child, you need to practice it yourself.
You can help children enhance their well-being by teaching them meditation and mindfulness skills. These skills will enable children to handle the stress of society with self-compassion and openness.
For kids to learn mindfulness, try to incorporate mindful practices regularly at home. Pick one or two mindfulness exercises to start. Let your child set the pace for these exercises to get them involved. The beginning can be gradual.
Find other ways too to incorporate mindfulness into your daily schedule. The child will copy and learn from you.
Here are some ways to approach teaching mindfulness to a child:
First Thing’s First: Start with Yourself
Children are great imitators. So as a teacher or parent, you can give them something great to imitate.
You can start with your mindfulness practice and talk about it. You can then explain how you used mindfulness during your day. For example, you can discuss how you took a few mindful minutes before a stressful meeting or a mindful walk in the morning. Kids learn by noting the activities of their trusted elders.
Focus on Senses
Taking note of the senses is a great way to teach mindfulness. You can start with simple breathing exercises. Then, ask the child to try listening mindfully, eating mindfully, or seeing something using all their senses.
Teach these exercises when things are calm, and your child is in a good space. Doing any mindfulness activity as a family is a great way to connect. If the child is young, you can keep the time short.
Writing a Journal About Specific Activities
You can guide your child to write about their daily activities. Then, you can ask them to tell you about their writing. Pick any specific activity, like their morning routine or a sports activity at school. Then, inquire from them what they did— this practice will expand the storytelling abilities of your child.
Initially, the child may be vague in his recollection. Do not correct, simply ask curiosity questions. To develop mindfulness, make this a regular practice in your home.
Practicing through journal writing will help them become more aware of each activity. Children will start noticing emotions and feelings and start developing and understanding how mindfulness works in their daily lives.
Making Walks Mindful
It takes a lot of effort to make children aware of their bodies. Children are not always conscious of body movements. We can help them become more aware by going on nature walks and asking them to imagine various scenarios, e.g., imagine they are walking on thin ice. Tell them to move slowly and carefully to bring awareness to their movements.
Similar activities that interest a child can help them practice mindfulness.
The simplest and best way to quiet your child’s mind is by teaching them to pay attention to their breathing. Ask them to close their eyes and count breaths. This exercise will help them understand and become more aware of their breaths. They will become aware of their body and how their lungs feel when they are mindful.
Teaching Through Hearing
One of the easiest ways to teach children mindfulness is by paying attention to what they can hear. You can use anything to produce sounds like a singing bowl, a bell, or a set of chimes. Then, tell your children to listen until they can no longer hear the sound.
Practice Mindful Eating
Mindful eating is the practice of in-the-moment awareness of the food and drinks you put into your body. You can teach mindful eating to a child as they enjoy a snack or meal by, for example, asking them to pay attention to their chewing.
Above all, teaching mindfulness should be fun. You can create and provide your children with many exercises. Some of these exercises will work, some won’t—every child is different. But it is great fun to experiment and teach mindfulness to kids and together develop more ways to enhance mindfulness.
Mindfulness exercises for toddlers:
To make a toddler sit or focus for even a short period can be very challenging. But, teaching mindfulness through basic sensory exercises like recognizing smell, sound, taste, etc., is quite effective. Toddlers are curious, so sometimes, it becomes easy to develop an inquisitive mindset. Curiosity is the key to teaching mindfulness to toddlers.
Toddlers are always on the move! It is their natural state. So if you can merge movement and mindfulness, it will help teach mindfulness to your toddler.
Making noise while moving is quite fun for young children. You can choose a wide area to allow children to move freely and make noise as they move. Whether walking, running, or jogging, the child will hear noises of different intensity, helping your toddler focus mindfully.
Mindfulness Through Painting
Many toddlers love the sensory and visual experience of using color and creating art. Painting is an effective way to teach them mindfulness. Give children anything they love. For example, you can give them leaves, fruits, or flowers to paint. Children get absorbed in the texture.
In addition, painting and coloring are great for regulation.
Imitating Animal Moves
Toddlers are attracted by how different animals move around and behave. Imitating the moves of any favorite animal, dancing, or moving around like them is not only fun but also brings awareness to their surroundings.
As adults, we become less and less mindful, but as children, we tend to be naturally mindful. Therefore, a mindful observation exercise is an excellent way for your child to continue the ability to be a conscious observer. Conscious observation can be as simple as staring up at the sky, watching the birds fly, or observing the raindrops fall to the ground.
Feeling and counting heartbeats is another excellent way to teach your child how to be mindful. Ask your child to place their hand on their heart and connect their mind and body by counting and becoming aware of the beats of their heart.
Mindfulness for Children Takeaways
Teaching mindfulness is becoming an integral part of children’s classroom training. The benefits are many fold. First, it develops awareness in children that helps them with self-regulation, optimism, planning, and organizational skills. And second, it helps them navigate their lives and prepares them for more significant challenges as they grow.
Parents and teachers can gift the ability to be mindful through various activities and practices, as well as having their own mindfulness practice daily.
Giselle Baumet is an herbalist, aromatherapist, hypnotherapist, mental health educator, and more. She is also a Piper + Enza expert contributor. Learn more about her work at granolababies.com.