The practice of mindfulness isn’t reserved for adults! In fact, research shows that teaching your children to live mindfully can have a dramatic effect on their lives. Some benefits include improved attention spans, stress reduction, and an increased capacity to both regulate emotions and feel compassion and empathy. However, many parents struggle with how to begin introducing mindfulness into their children’s lives. Here are five, easily implemented exercises to get you started:
Before beginning, there are a few things of which you must be mindful. Not only will these tips improve your efficacy in promoting your child’s practice of mindfulness, they can also be beneficial in your own parenting journey and mindfulness practice.
- Set realistic expectations. Your goal for teaching mindfulness to your child is simply to help them develop awareness of their experiences and how to relate to them….not to turn them into gurus. Don’t set your child up to fail because you are expecting too much of them.
- Never use mindfulness as a form of punishment. Using lines like “You know you’re not supposed to ____! Go sit over there and be mindful about what you did!” is a sure way of making your child resent the practice. Never approach mindfulness from a negative mindset. That goes for your own practice, as well!
- Don’t force anything. Often, kids just aren’t ready to tackle a paradigm-shattering concept like mindfulness. If your child is not responding or interested, don’t force them to continue. Come back later, or try to re-package your lesson and present it in a different way.
Here are five ideas to help teach your children to mindfully live moment by moment:
- Meditate with your child. Introducing your child to the practice of meditation is a great place to start. Chances are, if you have a meditation ritual, your child has interrupted you a time or two, so next time, invite them to join you. Sit down with them and listen to a guided meditation, or, if you’re an experienced meditator, guide them through the meditation yourself. Remember to start small and work your way up to longer meditation sessions.
- Be grateful with your child. Teaching your child to acknowledge and appreciate everything good in their life as opposed to focusing on material and negative elements is a wonderful way to help them develop an attitude of mindfulness. Take turns listing things that you are grateful for in your lives- everything from good health to favorite life experiences to friends and family. This can be a great exercise at dinner that involves the whole family!
- Take mindfulness walks. Getting outside with your child and being cognizant of what’s happening around you is a great way to introduce mindfulness. Alternate between minutes of silent awareness and discussion about surroundings. Try to pay attention to everything around you from sounds and sights to the smell of flowers. Simply talking to your child about their environment helps them to establish a habit of mindfulness.
- Help your child tap into their internal self. While your child may be unable to change their emotions or feelings, they can change how they relate to them. Sit down with your child and talk about the emotions and feelings that they’re experiencing today. The Huffington Post recommends Eline Snel’s book, Sitting Still Like a Frog; the book helps children unravel their connection to their feelings using weather while helping them to understand that their feelings don’t define who they are.
- Develop a bedtime ritual focused on mindfulness. Bedtime presents a perfect opportunity to be mindful with your child. Start by helping them bring attention to everything from their toes to the tip of their nose. Here are some great downloadable meditation scripts for children, or you can use an app like Headspace. Be mindful to develop a family-wide bedtime ritual of mindfulness, calmness, and reflection.
Mindfulness is a journey- remember to start small, keep it simple, and to have fun. Not every idea works for every child, so don’t be afraid to experiment!