Ways to Promote Mindfulness in Children and Teens and Why You Should
If you have access to any sort of media (which clearly you do) you have likely heard about mindfulness. It seems to be everywhere; coloring books, self-help manuals, on the cover of magazines. Despite being familiar with the word most of the children and families I work with don’t really know what mindfulness practice means. Mindfulness at its core is a way of purposefully paying attention, non-judgmentally, just BEING fully in your experience with NO EXPECTATIONS. Sounds easy, right?!
Spend time with a 3-year-old and you will notice that she is not hurried. She is not encumbered by thoughts of what she should have said to a snarky co-worker nor is she planning for what she will have for dinner or pondering the meaning of life. This is the luxury of being 3! The point in saying that is to illustrate that no one has to teach us how to be mindful. We are born with it, and then we lose it!
Just like other muscles in our body, we can practice and work our mindfulness muscle and re-learn how to slow down, engage in our experience, and spend more time in the present! There is an increasing body of research about the importance of living mindfully and the benefits it has on mental wellness, increasing the function of the prefrontal cortex, and can help children to pay attention, calm down, self soothe, and have greater ability to control their emotions.
Here are a few ways that I have used to successfully teach mindfulness to children, and of course, their parents too!
1.) 5,4,3,2,1 Grounding-I love teaching grounding exercises because they are so simple and are an effective way of paying attention on purpose, getting out of a stuck emotion, and coming back to our senses. Younger children will need prompting from parents or teachers, but older children (9-10+) can use this technique themselves with practice at school, at home, and in new or unfamiliar situations. I ask children to use all of their senses and name 5 sights, 4 textures, 3 sounds, 2 smells, and 1 taste (either being experienced or a favorite) in that moment.
2.) Mindful Eating-Eating is a great way to introduce mindfulness practice to children. I frequently use this exercise in session with kids to help them learn how to practice just noticing and being aware of the experience of eating. This helps kids to slow down, focus, and pay attention to their bodies. This can also help children learn to appreciate the experience of enjoying a favorite treat or meal.
3.) Forrest Bathing or Nature Walks- We have known for centuries the importance of being in nature, but never before have we had to so purposefully make the effort to engage with it. I am fascinated by the Japanese practice of Forrest Bathing and as it turns out, this is something that kids are naturally great at! Watching my seven year old turn over every rock or leaf and comment on the texture, smells, sights and sounds of nature has taught me a lot about how to really immerse yourself in the wonder of nature. Going on a nature walk in which you each notice and share parts of the experience is a great way to get more out of your time together, and in turn,
4.) Guided Imagery-Learning this technique is like a secret super power for being able to quiet the mind and can help with everything from calming at bedtime to handling physical pain. I often help kids create their own special or safe place through using expressive arts in session that they can travel to in their minds whenever they like. I also recommend practicing using scripts or audio at home to increase mindfulness in a fun way. Your Secret Treehouse Meditation is a good place to start!
5.) Gratitude Practice-It’s easy for kids to get caught up in negative thinking traps just like it is for adults. Kids are subject to a constant bombardment from advertisers and media, fighting for their attention on the next newest thing. Kids often compare themselves to others and can seem to have a never ending lists of wants. Focusing on what we don’t have makes us unhappy! Taking time to teach and model how to express gratitude for what we have is another way to practice fully experiencing the moment. I love talking to kids about the things they are grateful for daily and this practice is an easy one to start as part of a dinner or bedtime routine.
6.) Breathing Exercises-I love Birthday Cake Breathing when practicing mindfulness because it’s such a familiar visual for most of us. You can choose many other visuals such as a bowl of soup, hot chocolate or flower if you prefer. I ask kids to imagine a Birthday cake with lit candles. With every inhale they will smell the sweet icing, feel the warmth from the candles and pause at the top of the breath to make a wish before exhaling and blowing out the candles. Repeat for at least a minute.
These are just a few ways that you can practice mindfulness with your child. Have fun and be creative! If you would like to learn more ways to help your child relax and increase their emotional regulation and mental focus, email me to schedule a consultation.