Mindfulness for children
Mindfulness for children Mindfulness seems to becoming the buzz word or practice. There is so much out there for adults, and in other countries, mindfulness is being introduced in schools. There are a number of schools now offering mindfulness here in Australia. I for one would like to see mindfulness introduced and supported in all […]
Mindfulness for children
Mindfulness seems to becoming the buzz word or practice. There is so much out there for adults, and in other countries, mindfulness is being introduced in schools. There are a number of schools now offering mindfulness here in Australia. I for one would like to see mindfulness introduced and supported in all of our schools. In my previous blogs on mindfulness (view via www.claresillencecounselling.com.au), I shared the benefits of mindfulness for both our physical and mental health. As adults we may carry the stresses of life, and in my practice I am seeing children developing significant levels of anxiety at a much younger age than when I first started practicing over twenty years ago.
What is Mindfulness?
- Paying attention fully to the moment you are in;
- Noticing what is going on in your mind, your body, and around you;
- Awareness of your surroundings;
- Non-judgemental stance – not judging your thoughts or feelings but just noticing them with curiosity;
- A state of ‘being’ rather than ‘doing’;
- Acceptance of your thoughts and feelings just as they are.
Young children in general, have the capacity to pay more attention to the moment they are in than adults. They are naturally mindful. If you watch a young child following an ant or other insect along the footpath, or focusing on a toy, playing with mud, food, playdough, or bubbles in the bath, you will notice that they are giving the activity their full attention. As children get older and the routine of school and activities sets in, they move into the momentum of rules and schedules which moves away from being as present as they were when they were younger. They start to face the pressures of busy lives, schedules, school, friends, and often lose the capacity of self-awareness and the awareness of the world around them. Children often have so many activities in their schedules and no time to just “be”. They can become automatic pilots, and when there isn’t an activity scheduled, they will say “I’m bored”; like there is an expectation to be scheduled with some new or extra activity.
How can Mindfulness help children?
People are recognising the benefits of mindfulness for reducing both physical and mental health problems. Research is showing that mindfulness can support children to:
- Improve learning and academic performance;
- Develop a sense of connectedness;
- Improve confidence;
- Increase attention levels;
- Increase social skills;
- Increase empathy and compassion;
- Increase creativity;
- Improve time management skills;
- Decrease symptoms of stress and anxiety.
How to get started with Mindfulness for your child
It’s probably a good idea to bring some mindfulness into your own life (if you haven’t already). Be a role model. Children know if you’re faking it or if you don’t know what you’re trying to teach them to do. Have a look at my previous blogs on Mindfulness, or search on the internet. There are many simple practices you can learn, and they are really very simple. You can practice with your child or children. If your child wants to do the exercises themselves, that’s fine. Some children may find that it takes a while to feel comfortable doing the exercises, but this is perfectly normal. The steps and activities are as follows:
- Pick a specific time for doing the exercises regularly;
- Aim for twice a week to start with, and build up as you and your child/ren get used to the exercises;
- If your child is resistant, make a verbal contract with them to do the exercises so many times each week;
- Put your ‘playful’ and ‘light-hearted’ hat on;
- Match attention span to the age of your child, e.g. five minutes for a five year old;
- Encourage your child with your appreciation when they engage in the exercises.
Some simple Mindful exercises
Noticing your breathing
- Get your child to sit in an upright position with their feet on the floor (if they can reach the floor);
- Close your eyes;
- Just notice that you are breathing;
- Notice the cool air coming in through your nostrils as you breathe in, and the notice the warm air going out as you breathe out;
- Don’t try to change your breathing – just notice it;
- Notice your shoulders rising as you breathe in;
- Notice your shoulders lowering as you breathe out;
- Notice your chest expanding as you breathe in;
- Notice your chest deflating as you breathe out;
- Different thoughts might come into your head. That’s okay. When they do, just come back to noticing your breathing.
To expand on this breathing exercise for moments of stress, unhelpful thoughts and feelings, and relaxing; you can teach your child to count up to three for the ‘in’ breath, and then count out for three. This will help your child to focus on the counting which will bring them into the present moment.
- Again, sit in an upright, comfortable posture and close your eyes;
- Remove any distractions such as phones, IPads, etc.;
- See if you can hear five different sounds in the room. The first one might be the sound of my voice. What else can you hear? Listen very carefully.
- Now see if you can pick five things outside of this room. Can you hear the birds? Can you hear different bird songs? Can you hear the traffic? Can you hear the different sounds that different cars make, or trucks, or motorbikes?
- See if you can keep listening to the bird or the car until the sound disappears;
- When you listen like this, you might notice that your mind will give you thoughts. Just notice that the thoughts will keep coming into your mind, and come back to listening to the sounds.
Ask your child questions at the end of the exercise. “How was it to listen to the different sounds?” “Could you hear different bird songs?” “How many different bird songs could you hear?” “Could you tell the difference between the sound of one car and another?”
If you search the internet for Mindful Eating, you will most likely come up with The Raisin Exercise. Although not the healthiest of foods, I choose to do this exercise with a small chocolate such as the round chocolate-coated honeycomb ones in a red packet! How many times does your child eat a packet of these, or their own favourite chocolate treats, and they are all gone before they have even tasted them properly? I have used this exercise with all ages, and everyone has been extremely receptive to the it!
- Firstly, imagine that you are an alien messenger from another planet and you have been asked by the Alien King to send a report back to the planet about this ‘thing’ the Earthlings call chocolate!
- You have never seen chocolate before so you don’t know what it is for, but you have heard that Earthlings get excited by it and they go to places and buy lots of it!
- Offer one of the chocolates to your child and ask them to hold it in their hand;
- Describe the weight of the chocolate;
- Describe the size;
- Describe the colour;
- Is it rough or is it smooth?
- What shape is it?
- Does it make a noise when you put it close to your ear?
- Take it up to your nose and notice what happens in your mouth when you do this;
- What does it smell like?
- Then open your mouth and place it on your tongue, but don’t bite it!
- Move it around in your mouth and notice what your tongue does and the different muscles in your mouth as you move the chocolate around. Is it touching your teeth? Which side of your mouth is it on?
- Remind your child not to bite the chocolate but to just notice the urge/sensation to bite it;
- Notice the honeycomb texture and the chocolate texture as the chocolate melts;
- Then bite it, but don’t swallow it! Notice the urge to swallow it;
- You can now swallow it, and notice as it goes down your throat and into your stomach.
This exercise can be done with many different foods, and is an exercise that will encourage your child to become more mindful when eating.
Remember that if you are practicing mindfulness, then it will be so much easier to teach your child/ren to ‘be’ in the present moment with greater awareness of their physical and emotional states.
If you have found that anything in this article has raised any issues, concerns or you would like to learn more, please contact me via the contact page, email or phone on 0403 848 398.