Too often our brains are running on auto-pilot — we spend time dwelling on the past or planning the future and miss being awake to the here and now. Yet, the only real time we can experience and impact is this very moment. That is why mindfulness is so important and practicing it can lead to a multitude of health benefits.
Children can also benefit from practicing mindfulness: schools across North America are slowing beginning to incorporate mindfulness practices in daily classroom routines. Even if your child’s school doesn’t have a program, you can take the initiative to teach your child at home by following these simple tips:
1. Start A Practice Yourself
If you're going to teach your child mindfulness, you should already be practicing yourself because you'll be able to translate your experiences into kid-friendly metaphors and discussions better.
A few great starting books for adults are: Finding Peace In A Frantic World by Mark Williams and Danny Penman, or anything from Eline Snel including her popular children's book Sitting Still Like A Frog.
2. Begin With Seeing The Environment
Because children think in literal terms, we want to start with the easiest concept to grasp first. That means teaching them to really see and be aware of what is around them.
Have them pay attention to what is in the area around them, then have them close their eyes and ask them questions like, 'What is on fireplace mantel beside the candle holder?' Or 'How many books are on the coffee table?' Move on to smaller objects like a plant leaf or a rose bud. Have them look at all the details, perhaps even draw them. The more mindful they are, the more details are included in the picture.
3. Focus On Body Sensations
A fun exercise for children is to eat something delicious with complete mindfulness. The idea here is to make the experience focused and slow, and for the kids to pay attention to every detail using all their senses. Guide your child verbally or Google “The Chocolate Meditation."
For example, get your child to peel an orange and have them pay attention to the smell first, then the feel of the peel, and finally the sweet taste of the orange as they bite into it.
4. Follow The Breath
Some people give the advice "take a deep breath" without really knowing the science behind it. When we pay attention to the breath and have satisfying, deep breaths, the body and brain calm down.
Have your child lie on the floor and place a favourite stuffed animal on their belly. Ask them to slowly breathe in and out so their stuffed animal rises and falls with their belly. Ask them how they're feeling compared to before they started the exercise. What did they experience? Remind them that they can do this anytime if they want to feel calmer, more grounded, and connected to their body.
5. Letting Go Of Our Thoughts
Note: Don’t move onto this final step until you feel your child has been able to accomplish the first three activities.
Our thoughts are just the brain at work, but sometimes it's important to let go of them because they can disrupt our feelings of self. The idea here is to get your child to simply see their thoughts as activity in the brain which they can observe.
Have your child lay down, arms at their side, and take a few relaxing breaths. Tell them to pay attention to all the sounds around them — this gives them the idea of being an “observer” through which experiences are had, but are separate from us.
Next, have them listen to the thoughts that are inside their heads. See if they can treat them like a cloud that comes into view and then passes along. For example, “I am having the thought ‘I am worried about the test tomorrow’ but it’s just a thought. It comes by frequently, but, like a cloud, it passes."