The 2000s have seen a revolution in mindfulness for children. Mindfulness classes and programs can now be found in schools all around the world.
So, how did mindfulness move from the “fringes” into more mainstream conversations? It began with researchers in psychology, neuroscience and education who asked questions like:
• “Can we measure how mindfulness affects children’s brains?”
• “Are there behavioural changes that happen when children practice mindfulness regularly?”
• “Does mindfulness have an effect on kids’ emotional intelligence? On school performance?”
• “What are the internal changes that children describe when they practice mindfulness?”
Here are just some of the answers they found. Mindfulness for children was shown to:
• Improve focus and concentration
• Foster compassion for themselves and others
• Help them make better decisions
• Reduce stress, anxiety and depression
• Foster self-awareness, independent thinking and confidence
• Help them relax and have better sleep
• Increase the ability to self-regulate emotions and behaviour
• Enhance creativity
It’s a pretty impressive list, isn’t it? It’s even more impressive that these benefits flow from a practice that’s essentially very simple: paying attention to what’s happening here and now, with kindness and curiousity.
Researchers found this practice of paying attention with kindness–rather than judgment or criticism–can have wide-ranging effects on how kids experience themselves and behave in the world.
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HOW DO KIDS PRACTICE MINDFULNESS?
Many mindfulness practices can be enjoyed by children as young as five. Practices that are the best fit with young ones focus on paying attention to their senses or engaging their imagination. Older kids enjoy these practices too, as well as learning how to become mindful of the more complex world of their thoughts and emotions.
So, what do sense-based practices look like? Kids learn to explore how their senses connect them with the world inside and outside of them: “What do you smell?” “What do your clothes feel like on your skin?” “Do you hear the sound of the bell disappearing into silence?” Mindfulness practices that focus on the senses have a simple, but powerful purpose: to teach children how to notice and value all parts of their experience.
And, because our senses are an ever-changing information flow about what’s happening right now, they connect us to the present moment. Learning how to be aware of the present moment, rather than being caught in the past or the future, is a core skill of mindfulness. So, the senses are a natural and powerful place for kids to “be here now.”
The fact is children are already very present in their bodies and their senses–usually much more than adults! Mindfulness is a way to nurture this ability–and it just feels good. Kids enjoy the calming and grounding feeling of being fully in their bodies.
IMAGINATION BASED PRACTICES
Another practice kids love unleashes the power of their imagination to bring out their natural strengths. Kids can imagine a grounding cord connecting them to the centre of the earth, giving them stability and a way to drain negative feelings or thoughts down into the earth. Or, kids can imagine their stressful thoughts are like leaves, flowing by on a stream, while they stand safe on the shore.
Kids’ imagination takes them quickly into this type of empowering and positive practice. When they do, they bring back a complex impression of physical sensations, emotions and thoughts that captures their experience of feeling strong or caring for others.
PRACTICES FOR THOUGHTS AND EMOTIONS
Senses and imagination-based practices also show older children and teens how to be curious and kind observers of their own bodies, and to use their imagination to connect with strengths they may not know they have.
This is a great support for teenagers who sometimes feel they’re in a whirlwind of emotions and thoughts. When they feel at home and grounded, teens can approach these experiences from a strong and caring place, rather than being swept up in the whirlwind. There are mindfulness practices to guide teens to recognize what sadness or confusion or anger feels like in their body, for example, and to learn how to be with these emotions with some objectivity and acceptance.
HOW CAN YOU INTRODUCE THE IDEA OF MINDFULNESS?
If you would like to try mindfulness with your child, here are a few ways you can start:
• There’s a good chance your child has heard about mindfulness in school. Ask what they’ve heard and what they think about it. Help them to connect what they’ve heard to something they are interested in or something that challenges them. For example, do they want to be less stressed before tests at school? Or not to feel bored when they’re waiting in line at the store? Talk about how mindfulness can help.
• Talk with them about how other kids have used mindfulness. There are many stories on the web about how mindfulness helped kids with depression, improved their concentration, increased their sense of well-being and much more. You can also find stories about famous athletes and other well-known personalities who practice mindfulness.
• If you would like to try doing mindfulness exercises with your child (the best way to start!), explore some of these web resources and choose one exercise to do together. Keep the practices short–about one minute per year of age: five minute exercises with five year olds, and so on.
YOUR QUICK START GUIDE
• Keep mindfulness fun and casual.
• Relate ideas and practices to things your child cares about.
• Keep practices short.
• Talk with them about their experiences.
… how the skills and abilities we’ve talked about might help your child build a new lifelong strength or meet an ongoing challenge.
When kids practice mindfulness–always “with kindness and curiousity”–they are learning to treat themselves with compassion and respect. This becomes a warm, strong home base to rest in to cope with life’s experiences and situations.
About the author:
Ann Vrlak is Founder of OneSelf Meditation and a meditation practitioner for over 25 years. She’s a Certified Meditation Teacher for adults and for children (the best job ever!). She loves to share how the perspective and practice of meditation can support people with their everyday stresses, as well as with experiences of deep dissatisfaction and disconnection. www.oneselfmeditation.com
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