When I introduce mindfulness to my clients in counselling, I often hear, “I don’t have time for that!” – especially from those who care for and support young children. Yet everyone can benefit from mindfulness, starting from the very first years of life. Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention to the present moment, without judgement. It is becoming increasingly popular because of the proven benefits: stress reduction, improved emotional regulation, more relationship satisfaction, better focus and memory.
Everyone can benefit from mindfulness, starting from the very first years of life.
Taking time to practice mindfulness with children benefits both the caregiver or helper and the kids they support. Young children are naturally good at being in the present moment, so by teaching them mindfulness in an intentional, purposeful way, you are helping them build on their existing skills that will carry them forward into their lives. These simple tools will help them be better equipped to handle stress, their mental health, and other challenges they may face.
As the mom of a 3-year-old myself, I know when I work with other parents or caregivers that not everyone will want to add yet another thing to their to-do list, and that making space for a daily meditation practice might not be realistic. The good news is meditation is not the only way to practice mindfulness. My recommendation to both my clients and my friends is to always start by incorporating it into their existing routines and activities. Teachers and social workers can utilize short mindfulness practices in their existing interactions with children. Even busy parents can (and should!) practice mindfulness with their kids.
Taking time to practice mindfulness with children benefits both the caregiver or helper and the kids they support.
Here are a few simple ideas for how to teach mindfulness to children:
Take a mindful walk.
Go for a walk and invite the children you support to practice tuning in to their senses and observing what is around them. You can even make a game out of it: “What can you see that is red? Blue? Green?” “Name three things you can hear, three things you can smell,” etc.
I love to do this with my child in nature, but you can do it anywhere, even walking to or from school, or with a group of children as they walk between spaces.
Teach belly breathing.
Deep breathing is a simple mindfulness tool that can help us be more present and regulate our emotions. You can teach this to kids by inviting them to place one hand on their chest and one hand on their belly so they can feel their hands move as they are taking deep breaths. Like any new skill, it is a good idea to have the child start by practicing in moments when they are feeling calm, and then start using it when facing big emotions.
I sometimes use images with my son, like, “Imagine you are filling up your belly with air and then blowing out candles on a birthday cake.” You can use your creativity to find something that resonates with the child.
Cook and eat mindfully.
Food can be a great gateway to slowing down and tuning in to our senses. You can practice mindfulness during meals or snack time, or better yet, invite the kids in your care to prepare food with you. Encourage them to explore the different tastes, smells, and textures. You can do this by asking questions: “Does this taste sweet or salty?” “What on your plate is crunchy or soft?” etc. You can also model slow and mindful eating by taking time to savor and comment on what you are noticing: “I am really enjoying these fresh vegetables with this dip. What do you think?”
Help children name their emotions.
Naming our emotions helps us regulate them and keep better control of our actions. This is a skill that kids need to learn from adults. You can do this by helping them put words to their feelings. You might say something like, “I see you are really upset right now” or “You are very angry because we have to leave the playground.” When they are old enough, you can use visuals such as emotion cards or a feelings wheel.
Naming our emotions helps us regulate them and keep better control of our actions.
As you are teaching children how to self-regulate, you might notice that you are also getting better at paying attention to what you are feeling. You can model mindfulness by naming your own emotions in front of them. For example, “I am getting frustrated right now; I notice it in my chest. I will take a break and practice my belly breathing.”
Let them teach you.
Next time you hear a child say, “Look what I can do!” try to stop what you are doing and turn towards them with your full attention. Take opportunities to slow down and follow the child’s pace. Young children are good at paying attention to the simple things, so see what it feels like to follow their lead.
Practicing mindfulness with children can be simple and fun – it’s all about finding some first steps that work for you. Remember that the more you practice, the easier it will become.
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