Being more aware of our body, our environment, our thoughts, and our feelings makes up the core of mindfulness. If these sound like great skills to teach your child, you are on the right track.
The benefits of mindfulness on children are evidence-backed. Although the research area is new, the results are impressive.
What are the benefits of mindfulness on children?
Several studies involving children discovered that mindfulness had effects such as:
- Declining anxiety symptoms
- Academic improvements
- Declining aggressive behaviors
- Fewer symptoms of ADHD
- Becoming calmer
- Better sleep patterns
Studies show that children as young as 3 years old benefit from mindfulness.
In one study, preschoolers and elementary school kids became better at regulating their emotions and behaviors through mindfulness. Interesting part? Kids who were worse at self-regulation improved more than nonparticipants and already well-regulated children.
It's a good time to start learning about mindfulness so let's start right away.
What is mindfulness?
The goal of mindfulness is to focus on the present, noticing thoughts and feelings, and letting them go, without judging your own experience.
The most common definition of mindfulness is:
"The awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally." Jon Kabat-Zinn (2003)
Does my child have to meditate while learning mindfulness?
Contrary to popular belief, mindfulness doesn't require practicing meditation. Meditation can be a tool to develop mindfulness but it is not required. Mindfulness can be practiced while walking, eating, or even having a conversation.
How to start teaching mindfulness to children?
Kids are already great at living in the present moment. That's why teaching kids mindfulness is not as complicated as it sounds. With your guidance, they can easily incorporate mindfulness into their lives.
Here are 4 ways you can start practicing mindfulness with your child
While picking one of the below ideas, make sure you consider what your child likes and dislikes. Think about things they love doing and things they avoid. Choose a starting point that fits your child's interests and temperament.
For example, an introverted child might benefit from an indoor activity and an extroverted one might prefer one outside.
1) Observing an object
- Sit together. Place an object or a food in front of you. Observe and describe it out loud, together.
- Place an object or a food in front of you. Draw it or write about it on a piece of paper.
- Go for a walk. Observe a particular flower, a car, a building from multiple points of view.
2) Observing the environment
- Sit outside. Observe the stars and describe them. Use a telescope if you have one.
- Go to a park. Sit on a bench and observe the view for 5-10 minutes.
- Spot an animal such as a bird or a dog and observe its movement. Describe together.
- Key is to describe non-judgmentally so avoid subjective words (i.e. "nice bird") and let them describe what they see, objectively (i.e. "The bird picked up a worm.")
3) Observing body functions
- While walking, focus on a particular body part and describe its movement.
- Notice a sensation, such as a smell, and describe it objectively.
- Eat a snack together and describe the sensations it creates.
- Lay down on the floor together and fill your diaphragms with air. Notice how your stomach rises and falls. Describe the sensation.
4) Advanced: Focus on thoughts and feelings
- Noticing thoughts and feelings is an advanced skill so take it slow. Start by describing their feelings to them. ("You might be feeling x.") You can start this even when they are newborns.
- As they grow, help them become aware of their self-talk. ("This is the Worried Girl in me.) Lead them into self-talk that will help them reach their goals. ("Thank you, Worried Girl but I don't need you right now. I'm working on a new skill and I need the Learning Girl to speak.")
“The Everything Parent's Guide to Emotional Intelligence in Children” by Korrel Kanoy