Tips for teaching mindfulness to children
Being able to pay complete attention to your senses, emotions, environment and stimuli in the current moment is mindfulness. The current moment means paying attention to now, removing thoughts about both the past and the future. Being mindful is a natural process that leads to the betterment of emotional and physical wellbeing and can be used as a tool to help manage stress, anxiety and depression.
By definition, mindfulness is the ability to focus and to remain in the current moment, without fear, judgement or the desire to shift your thinking away.
Although not a new strategy, mindfulness has recently regained popularity owing to its effectiveness and ease of use. The modern life sees so many people frantically busy and overstressed which usually results in the asumption that there is no time to be in the current moment. We continually find ourselves thinking about past context like… ‘I wish I hadn't of said that' or future thoughts like ‘I need to earn more money' yet we rarely find ourselves smelling the actual rose.
Most of us would not even remember the last time we did something as simple as having a cup of coffee without thinking of anything other than drinking the coffee. It is more likely that we are in conversation talking about other people or scrolling through our phones paying no attention to the warmth of the drink, the aroma or taste (unless it’s a particularly bad cup of coffee!) Why? Because we aren’t there – we are not in the moment.
To appreciate the present moment and to remain a part of it takes a conscious effort, especially when the present might feel uncomfortable or unpleasant. Mindfulness or being or being conscious of the present moment is a skill worth learning. It has long-term benefits on both emotional health and wellbeing.
Mindfulness is a skill that is often easier for children to learn compared to (fixed mindset) adults. Children are often inherently mindful (like you once were) but like most, we tend to eventually lose it as we grow up, turning into busy multi-taskers. To be able to remain mindful throughout the lifespan we need to help children nurture and recognise this skill and mindset.
Here are 4 ways to help your child learn the skill of mindfulness:
Focus on breath
In a simple exercise to remain in the moment, ask your child to pick up their favourite toy and lie with it on the floor, placing the toy on their tummy. Now ask them to breathe quietly for 1-2 minutes and notice the movement of the toy as they breathe in and out. If they lose focus or have thoughts other than the toy moving, suggest to them that thoughts can turn into bubbles and float away as they breathe out.
Use the power of scent
For this activity you will a scented item; an empty perfume bottle, a piece of fruit, herbs from the garden, anything safe that might have a distinct smell. Now ask your child to close their eyes and smell the item. Ask them to breathe in the smell and to put all their attention and focus into it. Once the item has been removed from eyesight, ask them questions about the smell. Did they like the smell? Was it strong or faint? How did the smell make them feel? Did their mind try to guess what it was? Doing the exercise for the first time you may find that the child’s mind will wander mostly trying to guess what the smell is. Now try it again with a different item. This time, ask your child just to think about how the smell makes them feel.
Use the sense of touch
Gather some objects with different textures; soft, hard, smooth, scratchy etc. Ask your child to close their eyes and hand them the object. Ask them to describe how the object feels. Similar to the smell exercise, the first time, most children will try to guess what the object is. Now try again with a different object and ask them how it makes them feel.
Jump and feel
Ask your child to jump up and down for a minute and then sit down. With their eyes closed, ask if they can feel their heart beating throughout their body. What else do they notice about their body? What do they currently sense or feel?
These simple activities will help children nurture and recognise mindfulness and being attentive to the current moment. The more it is practiced the easier it is to hold on to.