We’re all aware that we need to be more mindful of the present moment. And we can teach mindfulness to our kids if we want them to enjoy the moment and be caring compassionate human beings fully. The question foremost on most people’s mind would be; is teaching mindfulness to children possible? It is, and it does not have to be boring.
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What Is Mindfulness and Why Do Our Kids Need It?
The dictionary meaning of mindfulness is achieving a mental state whereby one is focused only on the present moment. Simultaneously, a person acknowledges and accepts the environment, the emotions, sensations, and thoughts in a therapeutic way to declutter one’s mind and rid oneself free of pre-occupations of the past or the future. Mindfulness is a gentle, meditation technique. If you’re a parent, teacher, or a caregiver, you must be wondering what the importance of mindfulness for kids is? Teaching mindfulness is not easy because it’s something that can’t be taught. Instead, it should be modeled and shown through example. Studies have shown that mindfulness exercises for kids can positively impact their mental health and well-being. Mindfulness activities for teenagers were found the most effective among late adolescents (15-18 years of age). This should make a case for it to be incorporated in high school curricula and academics, whether through games, techniques, books, and other methods.
How It Helps?
Mindfulness activities for kids are beneficial in many ways. There is a growing body of research that proves mindfulness activities when taught in elementary and high schools can help children function better. Core among them are the cognitive, social, and emotional benefits.
The cognitive benefits of mindfulness training include improved attention and focus. Research has shown that with concentration meditation training, a mindfulness technique, children were more alert, focused, and were better at conflict management. Moreover, the children that practiced mindfulness could control their reactions better. The attention span increased among children who were trained to be more mindful either through breathing exercises or mindfulness games. And thanks to the improvement in their focus, attention, and concentration, their grades improved drastically.
Social skills are some of the most important when children go to school. And they can be the hardest for shy kids. These skills include managing anger, understanding other children’s point of view, problem-solving, negotiating with peers, managing conflict, dealing with peer pressure, actively listening, and effectively communicating with others. Social and emotional learning programs that use mindfulness techniques tend to improve their social skills. It makes them more empathic towards other children and helps them recognize and understand different perspectives. Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for children (MBCT-C) in children has shown to impact their behavior at school. Children practicing mindfulness tend to regulate their emotions better. This emotional self-regulation includes increased emotional awareness, utilization of regulation strategies, and emotional clarity. With this regulation, children can make better decisions without being influenced merely by their emotions.
There are emotional benefits too! Many schools that incorporate mindfulness observed that kids manage stress better with mindfulness. A 12-week intervention using mindfulness approaches to reduce heart rates and blood pressures. Kids using mindfulness ruminated less, had lesser intrusive thoughts, and less emotional arousal. They also had less test anxiety and weren’t as stressed out about their future scores as many were just focused on the moment of taking their exams. Mindfulness was found to reduce post-traumatic symptoms too significantly. A randomized clinical trial (RCT) with three hundred fifth to eighth-grade students in Baltimore’s public school were studied. Urban youth face many traumatic experiences, including community violence, substance abuse, multigenerational poverty, health risks, and trauma. Students who were part of the adapted mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) program had less depression, fewer negative coping mechanisms, decreased post-traumatic symptoms, and less
self-hostility. Depression currently affects nearly 2% of all pre-pubertal children and around 5-8% of the adolescent population. An RCT group mindfulness program aimed at reducing and preventing depression in among adolescents has shown that such programs can reduce depressive symptoms. They can even prevent depression among them. Such school-based prevention programs should be recognized and used in our public schools too.
How Does Mindfulness Work?
On the surface level, mindfulness is all about choosing to think differently. At the heart of the matter, though lies a complex series of functions and an interplay between various parts of our brain. The pre-frontal cortex, the amygdala, and the hippocampus all work together but have different roles. Studies have shown that with mindfulness training, each of these regions can be “re-wired.”
The pre-frontal cortex is mainly associated with our emotions, behaviors, impulses, and decision-making. During meditation, Electroencephalographic (EEG) studies demonstrate an increase in the alpha and theta activity. Mindfulness meditation tends to activate the pre-frontal cortex. So children with mindfulness can control their impulses better and make wiser decisions.
The hippocampus is essential for memory and learning. Studies have shown that following mindfulness meditation; there’s an increase in the density of the regional gray matter. After undergoing an 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), 16 healthy, meditation-naïve students were researched. Their MRI images showed that in the posterior cingulate cortex, the temporoparietal junction, and the cerebellum, there was an increase in gray matter density. All these brain regions are associated with learning and memory processes.
You may ask, what’s the big deal with the gray matter? Gray matter is responsible for executive functioning in human beings. Executive functions involve planning, solving problems, and regulating our emotions. Finally, there’s the amygdala. The amygdala is also known as the trigger of the “fight or flight” response. It is also stimulated when we have strong and difficult emotions, such as fear and anger. With mindfulness training, it has been found that this area becomes less activated or shrinks with practice.
Neuroscientific research on meditation practices such as Focused Meditation (FM) and Open Monitoring (OM) meditation has shown long term effects on the brain. The response of the amygdala to emotional stimuli is much lower when a person is using mindfulness meditation and also when a person is in a non-meditative state. The amygdala is the stress responder of the brain. And with stress reduction, evaluated through the perceived stress scale (PSS), there were decreases in the gray matter density of the right basolateral amygdala. So as various parts of the brain undergo neuroplastic changes, the psychological state also improves.
If this weren’t enough, the initial studies have shown that mindfulness meditation affects eight different brain regions. Yes, eight! To give you a brief overview of these regions here are a few. The frontopolar cortex which is responsible for self-awareness of thoughts and actions. The anterior and midcingulate; orbitofrontal cortex which controls how we regulate our self and emotions. The sensory cortices and insula, which makes us aware of our bodies. The superior longitudinal fasciculus and the corpus callosum which is responsible for the communication between the various parts of the brain. So by teaching kids about mindfulness, you can re-wire their mind and help improve their executive processes and other high processes of learning. Apart from the brain, mindfulness meditation works on the rest of the body too, by reducing markers of stress. Some of these include C-reactive proteins, interleukin 6, and cortisol.
Some of the early habits of mindfulness meditation include first practicing it yourself. Children learn through modeling and example. So, it’s essential that you first practice what you’re trying to teach them. Also, children can’t focus for very long periods. They’re easily distracted, and so any simply breathing exercise or meditation game needs to be for just five minutes or ten. Get them involved in physical activity too. Physical activity will increase their endorphins and make them feel good. Talk to them about what they already know. Ask questions about what makes them feel better, how they think, why they, and whether certain situations make them uncomfortable or worried, and they’re experiences about their day.
Explain to your children about the power their thoughts have. Teach them how to be present at the moment. You can start with a mindful eating exercise. For example, while seated at the dinner table, make sure no one has an iPhone, tablet, or TV on. Show them mindful eating by asking them to taste their food. Tell them to describe the texture and taste to you. Help them stay focused on the task at hand whether it’s sports or studies. Don’t encourage them to multitask. That never works because no one can. The brain is merely switching from one activity to another, losing energy and productivity in the process.
Demonstrate to them how, when they feel angry, they can calm themselves by breathing. Or when they feel jealous, to practice gratitude for all they have. If they’re feeling anxious, show them how they can focus on solving the problem that makes them anxious if they can or how not to worry about something that hasn’t happened yet. If they’re sad, then show them how smiling and laughing, and focusing on the current moment can dissipate their sadness.
Teach them visualization early. The habit of visualization can be a powerful tool to teach kids whereby they can always perceive success and happiness and choose to pursue those paths instead of self-destruction and hostility. The first couple of times you do any mindfulness exercise; their responses will be vague. Gradually, as your child watches you be more mindful and also realizes you’re serious with your intentions, he or she will follow through. Mindful children require mindful parenting!
It’s easy to go out and buy every book out there on mindfulness for children. Here’s the thing, you can model mindfulness to them by practicing it yourself, especially if you’re a mum. Ask yourself, are you mindful? Do you live in the present moment? Do you focus on the now? Or are you always pre-occupied with the future or ruminating about what’s happened in the past?
How Do I Get Started?
You can start with an audio exercise. Kids love AV aids. Carla Naumburg’s—Ready, Set, Breathe is a good example of this. Use this to introduce it to them. Another gentle initiation would be to recognize various body parts, their awareness of them, the emotions they experience, and the thoughts they have. For example, the sun feels warms on my skin, I feel happy playing in the rain, or I don’t like the way this feels. This helps your child gain more insight into themselves. Get them to stop during the day and examine their surroundings. Ask them to pay attention to the sound of the birds, the scent of flowers, and the things they can see. Even if you’re doing something mundane, like riding an elevator or sitting at a laundromat, help them to tune into their five senses and describe their surroundings to you.
Make it a game. Children love games. You can practice the hunting game with them. Tell them to go outside and stay alert, going very slowly and remaining watchful of everything that happens around them. It could be a small animal scurrying about or a beautiful flower nestled among the leaves. The hunting game will cause them to be very mindful of everything happening around them. If you’ve noticed children naturally do that. They’re always so much more mindful as they explore everything unfamiliar to them. You can turn virtually any mindfulness technique into a game whether that’s breathing or even hugging.
Ask them to sit in whatever position they like and close their eyes. They’ll be all giggly at first, but I promise they’ll enjoy it, Have them put their hands on their tummies. Do five breath cycles by saying ‘in’ and ‘out’ as they breathe. Make them aware of the air and their breath. Ask them how they feel and listen to their description. Repeat this twice more and let them soak up the moment. Alternatively, you can make them count their breaths. Always an exciting thing to do. Good luck getting them to stop!
You can do the synchronized three breath hug. You hug your child, taking slow, deliberate, breaths together. Start with three and work your way up. Relax your muscles and make them feel all your love as you do it! Then count together.
Similarly, you can teach them to walk more mindfully or eat more mindfully. Doing it for short periods daily will produce lasting results. This is a good start. Then once they’re comfortable with the idea you can gradually work for more extended periods and increase the mindfulness meditation periods.
Guided Meditation For Children
There are various guided meditations for different age groups. Parents have started meditation mindfulness right from when their baby is born.
Maintaining Eye Contact
Eye gaze is one of the first milestones a baby achieves. In just 7 hours after birth, babies show a keen interest in their mother’s faces. By seven weeks, they’ve learned to direct their gaze to their mother with their eyes widening when held by their mother. So you can start by merely maintaining eye contact with your child and gently directing their gaze to you.
Be fully present and attentive
Immerse yourself at the moment with your baby. Be attentive to them. Enjoy the silky smooth skin and their baby scent.
If you’re fed up with them crying or unable to get them to sleep, stay calm. Practice deep breathing and calm yourself. Find your spouse or partner and get them to help you. Do not scream at your infant and transfer your emotions on to them.
When you are feeling frustrated
It’s easy to feel frustrated, especially during those sleepless nights and days when all you want to do is take a bath and curl in bed. Here’s an exercise for you. It uses the STOP acronym.
Stop. Just stop whatever you’re doing. There’s no need to get pre-occupied with your to-do list.
Take a breath. Experience your breathing. Count your breaths and realign yourself to the present moment.
Observe. Become aware of your surroundings. Use all your five senses to ground yourself in your environment. Understand how you exist in relation to everything else.
Proceed. Now, after returning yourself to the present moment, think about the task you have at hand and return to it with a more focused mind.
You must have seen how rhythmic physical movements can be very calming and meditative for infants. It lulls them into sleep, but the pre-sleep phase can be equally meditative. Use motion Aas a form of meditation for yourself and also for your infant.
Thankful With Every Step
Use gratitude as mindfulness meditation. With every step, move your thoughts away from your anxiety and ruminating thoughts. Some people call this the gratitude walk. You don’t have to be outside; you can walk the length of your living room or up to the stairs. We often want more than we are thankful for. And that can be a source of great agitation. So practice being thankful with every walking step including the infant you’re currently putting to sleep.
Mindfulness for toddlers is the next level in the mindfulness journey. You can introduce short rhymes and songs to continue mindfulness with children. These can help redirect their focus and attention to the object you want. Toddlers can have meltdowns too, especially if they’re not in a good mood. Calming exercises, music, and dance are great for this.
Calming exercises can center your toddler. These include lowering the tone of your voice, using touch therapy, rhythmic movement, and sidetracking. Your toddler can become completely absorbed in the process if you do it often.
Music and Dance
Use classical music to modulate your toddler’s energy level. You can pick the Manx lullaby or my favorite Johann Pachelbel’s Canon. If you have a fixed schedule using many of these techniques along with their eating and sleeping schedule, you’ll find it more natural keeping them in a happy mood as they are happier with a familiar sense of routine.
As children grow up, it is essential to not give in to the temptation of electronic devices. Help them be mindful of their natural environment. Take them to the park, to the beach or the forest where they can use all their five senses and learn to be mindful.
Being Mindful Every Day
Teach them to be mindful every day. Practice mindfulness meditation for five minutes daily. Children naturally allow themselves to be completely absorbed in what they’re doing. It comes easily to them. Try meditation games. It’s easy to talk to them and train them to be mindful.
As part of mindfulness, show them the concept of putting themselves in someone else’s shoes. And through this, teach them about forgiveness and how to let go. If you use calming techniques, teach them how to use a few simple ones. This could be counting breaths or mindful walking.
Guided Meditation: Mindful Breathing
You can use guided meditation to practice mindful breathing with young children. As shared earlier, use the mindful breathing technique. You can also use audio or video to explain this process of breathing to a young child.
For children in school, there are going to be multiple opportunities to talk about mindfulness. Some schools include this as part of the curriculum. Find out if the school has some mindfulness meditation program.
Before the day begins, tell your child to be quiet and still. Five-minute daily mindfulness exercises can help them improve their attention and focus. Start with deep breathing and then move on to mindful eating, mindful playing, and mindful walking techniques.
Relieve The Pressure
Teach children how to deal with situations that overwhelm them. Use this acronym to help them cope. RAIN is easy to remember and fun for children to remember.
R: Recognize, everything that happens around you. Don’t worry about changing anything. Be calm and accept things as they are.
A: Accept. Now that you recognize the way things are accepted life as it is. As much as you may want to change things, take everything.
I: Investigate. Study what makes you feel angry or jealous? How does it make you feel, and why? Just note these feelings.
N: Non-Identification. Try telling them to experience the sensations they feel and let them know all these feelings will pass.
Studies have shown that mindfulness meditation is very effective among teenagers. However, a few of these the following can be done to make it more effective.
Mindful meditation can be a solitary experience, but a herd mentality often governs teenagers. When teenagers tend to practice mindfulness together with a friend, they tend to stick with the program. So class-based or group based mindfulness meditation can be beneficial.
Being A Present Parent
Teenagers, though pretending to be ignorant, tend to model closely after their parents. You can glean insights into being a present parent yourself, by reading some additional literature. Some of these include.
- Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting by Myla Kabat-Zinn and her husband Jon, the founder of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR). This is a comprehensive guide to mindful parenting.
- The Mindful Child Written by Susan Greenland is a helpful guide for parents that includes techniques to help children develop mindfulness.
- Mindful Games: An activity card set inspired several exercises in this guide about mindful games for children.
Keep It Fun And Simple
Mindfulness doesn’t have to be tedious or complicated. It can be made fun and should be. Try some of these with your kids.
Listen to the bell
Which child doesn’t like sounds? Using a bell is helpful as it can redirect their focus and teach them to be attentive. When a bell is rung, children must stop and become aware of the present moment and how they feel. Repeat twice more or hourly. Then continue as the day goes by.
Create A Mindful Bedtime Ritual
Mindful bedtime routines can be super helpful. We all know kids have monkey minds around bedtime, and the frenzied activity of just putting them to bed can be harrowing. A bedtime ritual of mindfulness meditation can help your child reconnect with their bodies, minds, and emotions. It could be a simple breathing exercise or a gratitude meditation.
Practice With A Breathing Buddy
Have your child pair up with his or her best friend as a breathing buddy. Teach them mindful breathing and encourage them to practice with each other.
Make Their Walks Mindful
Mindful walks, as discussed earlier, are great for the outdoors and indoors. This is where you teach children to practice mindfulness with each step. Experience the hardness of the ground, the softness of the grass, the way their legs and hands move and the feel of the breeze on their skin. Children love being outside, and mindful walks are a great way of keeping them reined in outdoors.
Try SpiderMan Meditation!
Who doesn’t love superheroes? You can use a Spiderman meditation script to introduce mindfulness. Spider-Man can tune into his senses. Like a spider, he can hear every minute sound. You can ask the child to pay close attention, calm their mind, and let go of the thoughts in their head.
Start with hearing. After sitting down, tell them to close their eyes. When they hear a bell, listen to the ring until they can’t hear the ringing sound. Similarly, do the same for seeing, touching, and smell.
You can adapt this to your style, depending on how old the children are. Give them a fruit, use it for taste. Use props like this to activate all those Spidey senses. Instruct them to get quiet and focus their body and mind. Tell children to use this technique to take a break from the hectic schedule whenever they want to calm down.
Establish A Gratitude Practice.
The gratitude practice is akin to the gratitude meditation. You are grateful for every little thing you have instead of focusing on what you want. Teaching this to kids can be very instrumental in introducing them not to want what their peers have and be satisfied with what belongs to them.
Meditate With Your Children
Practice meditation with your children. Let them watch you do this and practice being more mindful. They will imitate you.
Check Your Weather Report
We all check the weather report. How about our weather? Using a pictorial weather chart, teach children how to map their feelings and create their weather report.
Practice Mindful Eating
We already covered mindful eating in detail. However, enforcing this at every meal can be tough but not impossible. It teaches children not to multitask though and can build a mindfulness routine around mealtime.
The Mindful Jar
A mindfulness jar is also known as a calming jar. It contains glitter. When a child feels angry or upset, he can shake the glitter jar and watch the glitter settle. With the glitter, they can also feel their own emotions settle and calm down.
This is about being here and now among beautiful natural habitats of Africa through safari adventures. Not all of us can go over there, but some videos and audios introduce mindfulness with the iconic habitat and wildlife of Africa. Alternatively, you can use a simple walk to create a mindfulness safari with your child in your back garden, noticing each moment with a fresh mind.
Mindfulness For Children
We’ve provided you with a very comprehensive idea of mindfulness for children. It’s never too early or too late to start. If you want to start this with your children, you need to practice it yourself first. I can’t stress that enough. If you’re someone who likes to eat dinner while watching TV, stop. You cannot teach the kids something that you won’t do yourself. Besides, mindfulness is something that can benefit the entire family. So, you might as well get, everyone in the family to become more intentional.