Children and mindfulness: Ways to help children feel calm and happy in 2019
Mindfulness can help children pay attention, control their emotions and make better decisions. It’s even been shown to improve concentration.
What is mindfulness?
Quite simply, mindfulness is defined as paying deliberate attention to what’s happening to your mind and body in the present time, not stressing about what you’ll be doing next or worrying about what went wrong before. It’s about learning to treat yourself with more kindness and compassion and accepting the present moment, so that you can feel calm and focused.
How can mindfulness help children?
A number of schools across the country have begun to introduce mindfulness to pupils’ daily routines, while studies have suggested that teaching mindfulness to children can improve their ability to pay attention and help them feel calmer and more in control.
One of the biggest benefits of teaching mindfulness to kids is instilling the idea that children are in charge of their own thoughts and feelings and can dial down negative and anxious thoughts and dwell on positive ones.
Children can often feel that everyone around them – parents, teachers, relatives – are telling them how to act and behave. This can make children feel they are not in control, leading to feelings of anger and acting out this frustration in their behaviour. Learning that they are in charge of their thoughts and feelings can be very empowering and increase feelings of happiness and self-confidence.
How parents can model mindfulness
As with so much of being a parent, the best way to teach your child mindfulness is to try to practice it yourself.
1. Try to be fully present
Children are hungry for our attention and affection and can sense when you’re distracted. So even with babies, try and engage properly by making eye contact and smiling. With toddlers put down your phone and spend time doing activities together that promote focus and curiosity, like reading books, playing with building blocks and drawing. When children and teenagers ask for your attention, give it to them wholly, not half-heartedly.
2. Try and stay calm
When children throw tantrums, try not to become upset yourself, so you feed off each other’s bad moods. A popular mindfulness exercise known as S.T.O.P. can be helpful:
Stop. Just take a momentary pause, no matter what you’re doing.
Take a breath. Feel the sensation of your own breathing, which brings you back to the present moment.
Observe. Acknowledge what is happening, good and bad, inside and out. Just note it.
Proceed. Having briefly checked in with the present moment, continue with whatever it was you were doing.
3. Try and be kind
Treat your children kindly, even when you may be feeling overwhelmed. A simple exercise, known as R.A.I.N., can help you stay in the present moment and not dwell on negative feelings:
Recognise. Acknowledge what is happening, just noting it in a calm manner.
Accept. Allow life to be just as it is, without trying to change it, and without wishing it were different.
Investigate. See how it feels, whether it is making you upset or happy, giving you pleasure or pain. Simply note it.
Non-Identification. Realise that the sensations you are feeling are fleeting and will soon pass. That feeling doesn’t define you.
4. Talk about the good things in your life
When you feel happy, take time to enjoy the feeling and express your feelings of gratitude.
How to practice mindfulness with your children
Aim to demonstrate that mindfulness isn’t just something you turn to in moments of stress, but instead a regular part of the family’s day, just like reading at bedtime or eating dinner together. From the age of four, children will be keen to mimic your behaviour and explore how they’re feeling. Talk about how when you’re meditating you’re noticing feelings and thoughts – and letting them pass. Teenagers may be naturally more cynical, but try to check in with each other at dinner time and simply give your full attention, without tech distractions.
Simple fun ways to teach your child calm reflection
1. Give a teddy a calm ride
Young children can sometimes find it difficult to concentrate on breathing in and out and instead end up holding their breath. Get a favourite stuffed animal, ask your child to lie flat on their back and put their hands on the teddy. As they breathe in and out, ask them to focus their attention on the gentle rise and fall of the toy as they breathe in and out. This is great for children who have trouble sleeping or feeling calm.
2. Pop thoughts in the happiness box
Each time something good happens that puts a smile on your child’s face, ask them to write it down on a brightly coloured piece of paper, fold it up and pop it in the container. Younger children can join in too by asking you to write their ‘happy’ moments down for them. It can be as simple as capturing when someone says or does something nice for them. Whenever your child feels down, pull a ‘happy’ note out of the jar to remind them of positive things.
3. Practice the ‘I’m glad because’ exercise
At the end of each day, ask your child to reflect on five things that they’re glad about that happened during the day. That way they’ll go to sleep feeling grateful for the day and positive about the next.
4. Try a one minute silence walk
It’s always fun to go for a walk with your child and take the time to notice and comment on things you see. Agree that for one minute you will each be completely silent and concentrate on the sounds you can hear and the thoughts in your head and feelings in your body. Afterwards, you can talk about what you felt, heard and thought.
5. Shake your mind jar
Either using a snow globe or a homemade one (with glitter, water and glycerin in a closely screwed jar), shake it up and watch the storm. When you sit and breathe deeply and watch the storm settle, you mind will feel settled too. This is a good one to keep in teenagers’ rooms for when they may be feeling stressed or anxious.
Read Blissful Kids’ 12 Bit-Sized Mindfulness Activities for more helpful tips.