You’ve probably heard the term mindfulness, and have smiled and nodded while you think to yourself, “what the heck does that even mean?” Fear not, friends. We’re going to break it down for you right now, because it’s a super easy, super helpful thing that anyone can do. And the benefits of practicing mindfulness will have you and your family feeling like you can conquer the world.
In its simplest form, mindfulness is about paying attention to your breathing so that you can fully experience the present moment and not be worried about what has already happened or could happen. Being mindful gives you distance from your thoughts and emotions, so that you can decompress from, well… life.
Because mindfulness doesn’t come naturally to most people, it needs to be actively practiced. Most of us go through our days like little robots just doing what we have to, and not really being aware of our emotions or experiences. Get up, make the bed, head to work, pick up the kids, eat dinner, go to bed. Lather, rinse, repeat. But think of everything you are missing, the sights, the sounds, the smells that go by every single day that make life worth living. Unfortunately, our lives have just become a plane on autopilot, and it can be a real challenge to get out of that rut. Fortunately for your kids, that rut is like the divot you made on the side of the road when you were avoiding the roadkill, and not yet the size of the grand canyon so they’ll have an easier time learning those good habits the earlier they start.
Being mindful stems from three characteristics: intention, attention, and attitude. Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, a professor at the University of Massachusetts School of Medicine, founded the Stress Reduction Clinic in the late 1970’s from his experience with Buddhist teachings. He applied his findings and studies scientifically and created the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society. Needless to say he probably knows what he’s talking about when he says, “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”
Mindfulness activities are great for all children, but they are especially powerful for those who are struggling with their emotions. They are such simple ways to encourage self-love and self-care. They teach children how to be gentle and accepting of themselves in the moment. Mindfulness promotes happiness and stress relief by calming the body and mind.
Mindfulness has been studied for years and has shown to be of great benefit to ease anxieties and stress. Most studies have been on adults but preliminary studies have shown it to help children as well, setting them up for a lifetime of benefits. Stressors come at us as soon as we are born; infants get hungry, toddlers are trying to grasp language and we all know that adolescence in particular can be a really stressful time. By giving children simple tools, they will be able to have control over their attention and emotions. In children mindfulness has been used in conjunction with other treatments for everything from ADHD and anxiety to depression and autism.
When thinking about basic life skills, mindfulness should definitely be added to your list, if it isn’t already. It can help improve everything from social interactions, to schooling, to sports, and more. It also has the added benefit of developing the following skills:
- Better listeners
- Communicating effectively
- More focus
- Conflict resolution
The younger the child is, the easier it is to start with mindfulness techniques. Older children like to test their own decision-making boundaries, so if you can offer these techniques early enough in their lives they will learn to successfully pull them out of their toolbelt. If you are starting this with older children don’t push too much. Instead show them through modeling the behavior yourself and talk about what you are doing and why. You will want to explain the benefits in a way your children can relate. Make sure to ask them questions to see if they can draw their own conclusions about how these methods could be beneficial to their lives. It is not always about parenting the child in how to be mindful but more about coming together and just doing a mindfulness exercise. Start slow, and keep it fun. You only need to take 15 minutes out of the day to see the benefits.
Looking for other ways to teach mindfulness to kids? Check out our SUNCards! SUNCards™ are decks of cards that were developed by a 10 year old girl, and use evidence based strategies like cognitive behavioral therapy, mindfulness, positive psychology, and random acts of kindness to help kids manage their anxiety. They feature lovable monsters who share confidence building positive affirmations, and helpful tasks for redirection. Best of all, for every deck purchased another deck is donated to a nonprofit that serves kids.