You’ve probably heard the word mindfulness many times before. It seems to be the latest thing for dealing with stress, anxiety and just living a happier life. There’s articles about it everywhere. Though how can mindfulness help children? And how can we teach them to be in the present moment?
I’ve noticed as my children have gotten older, they pick up the habits from grown ups. What I mean by that is babies tend to live in the present moment and, as children grow, they start looking to the past, wishing they could go back or looking to the future and wishing it would come faster or not happen at all.
For example my eldest son this morning, he’s six and he was in a very grumpy mood on the way to school. After a while of chatting to him, it became clear to me that he was jealous of his younger brothers school trip. He was then talking about how boring his own school day would be and how much hard work he’d have to do. A day which hasn’t happened yet and he’s already decided he won’t enjoy any part of it. He was getting so grumpy and feeling so bad over his imagined future. Then he started wishing for the past, he wanted a time machine so he could be 4 and in reception classes again. In doing this, he missed the beautiful sunny day, he missed having a fun chat with me and his brother, he even missed saying goodbye to his dad. Instead of his usual cuddle, he pouted, stomped his foot and snapped “bye”.
There was nothing wrong with the present moment. It was a lovely walk to school on a mild and sunny morning but he ignored it and got himself into such a bad mood over his imagined future and wishes for the past. I’ve tried helping him with mindfulness before and it used to be a big help and changed his behaviour for the better (when he feels bad, he behaves bad). So the rest of this post I will share what we used to do and what I’m going to start doing with him again.
1. Deep Breathing
Focusing on the breath is one of the most common and simple ways to bring yourself back to the present moment. However it’s hard for children to sit still, let alone sit still and focus on nothing but their breath, so how do you go about getting them to do this? I tell my son to choose a cuddly toy and put it on his tummy. Then to take a deep breath in and make his toy go up, then to breathe out and feel it going down. I usually get him to do this for a minute before bed. Since he’s laying down and he knows it’s time to be still and get some sleep, so it’s easier to get him to be still for some mindful breathing. It also helps wind down for bedtime and get to sleep.
2. Positivity Jar
This is a jar to fill with the positive things that have happened during the week. It’s so easy to get caught up in negativity. Like my son this morning, it was all too easy for bad feelings to overwhelm him, bring his focus to everything he disliked and affect his behaviour by putting him in grumpy, shouty mode. This can be a big negative cycle…feeling bad, expressing that through behaving bad, getting told off, then feeling bad again….and on and on and on. So talking about what good things happened during the day and finding a positive thing to write down and put in the jar can help.
At the end of the week we look in the jar and see that even though he had singing assembly, someone said something mean, he fell over in the playground, he had to do his maths homework and lots of other things he didn’t like there were also things he did like.
Whilst this may not be focusing on the present moment, it’s about bringing some balance back. We all have thoughts zipping around our heads all day, they’re just thoughts. However it’s so easy to get caught up in them and especially the negative ones. So when he’s caught up in this cycle, bringing the focus onto the positive things helps bring the balance back. It shows that even though there’s moments in each day we dislike, they’re just moments. They don’t last forever.
3. Sensory Meditation
Using our sense of smell, touch or taste can be a useful way to be mindful and it works for children too. Ask them to close their eyes, breathe in and focus only on a scent. You could use a flower, a piece of fruit, bubble bath. Anything you have which has a nice smell. You could also do the same with food or an interesting texture and asking them to focus on the texture and describe what they feel.
Visualisation is another useful way to meditate and relax. We use a book called Nightlights by Anne Civardi, Kate Perry, Joyce Dunbar and Louisa Somerville. Inside are 20 stories for meditation as well as background information for parents to get the best out of the book. Using stories for meditation and affirmation is a very relaxing way to end the day, boost his confidence and encourage calm.
All these ideas are tools children can use to calm, relax and slow down. Tools to focus on the present and bring positivity back. I’ll be using these mindfulness methods with my children again, especially my eldest. I wish I hadn’t stopped. I think as he became a calmer child I felt maybe he didn’t need them anymore, which is silly really, I’m 5 times his age and use mindfulness techniques everyday!
I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. The opinions are completely my own based on my experience.