We live in the age of technology, of instant access, where busy seems to be the new black. Most parents are consumed by busy… living off too little sleep, on too much coffee, chauffeuring kids to and from school, play dates and the endless extra-curricular activities. As a result it can often seem that most of our day is spent on auto-pilot.
Have you ever experienced the following?
- Driven in the car and arrived at your destination without remembering the journey
- Asked your partner the same question four times and still don’t remember the answer
- Eaten a whole packet of Tim Tams and wondered where they all went
We live in a constant routine without truly experiencing, our minds forever wandering to what happened yesterday, last week, last year, or focused on that never ending ‘to do’ list.
If we do this surely our children must too?
Have you ever asked your child what they did at school that day and been met with an empty response? Like adults children can also fall into the trap of running on auto-pilot … being told where to be, what to do, and how to do it.
How do we encourage our children to live in the moment and be fully present and why is this important?
The answer is teaching them to be mindful. Mindfulness is the process of ‘focusing attention to internal and external experiences in the present moment, without judgement’.
The benefits of mindfulness in children include:
- Increase self-awareness, social awareness and self-confidence
- Help those high energy kids to better regulate their emotions and behaviour.
- Improve the ability to understand what another person is thinking or feeling
- Help build positive relationships.
- Reduce the severity of depression and anxiety
- Build resilience by helping them to cope better with stress and engage more fully in the world.
How do I get my child to practice mindfulness?
Mindfulness is most effective when it is done regularly in short doses. It doesn’t require you getting your 6 year old to lie still for 30 minutes or meditate for hours. Children are imaginative and creative, and that is how their mindfulness practice should be. Start with mindfulness exercises of no longer than 5 minutes. As your child grows and mindfulness is practiced more regularly the duration can increase.
Here are some quick, fun and creative activities to get you started:
- Body Scan
- Have your child lie down on their back on a comfortable surface and close their eyes.
- Then, make your way through each muscle group telling them to squeeze that muscle in their body as tight as they can – squish their toes and feet, squeeze their hands into fists, make their legs and arms as hard as stone, shrug their shoulders, and scrunch up their faces.
- After a few seconds, have them release that muscle and relax for a few moments. Repeat for each muscle group two times, before moving on to the next muscle. Encourage them to think about how their body is feeling throughout the activity.
- Awareness of breath – Balloon Breathing
Sitting in a comfortable cross-legged or lying position, ask your child to place their hands on their stomach. Tell them to imagine they have a balloon in their belly, and get your child to choose the colour of the balloon.
Instruct them to take a deep breath in through their nose, noticing their tummy rise as though they are filling up the balloon with air. Gently, blow out through their mouth, getting them to imagine the balloon is floating away in to the sky. Get them to choose a different colour balloon and repeat the process five times.
- Spidey Senses
For those little super heroes, instruct them to turn on their ‘Spidey senses’ – smell, sight, hearing, taste and touch. Ask your child to identify three things they can smell, see, hear, taste and touch in their environment. This activity is simple, but so effective in bringing your child to the present moment
- Mindfulness Walk – Safari
This activity turns an average, everyday walk outside into an exciting new adventure. Tell your child that you will be going on a safari, and their goal is to notice as many birds, bugs, creepy-crawlies, and any other animals as they can. Anything that walks, crawls, swims, or flies is of interest, and they’ll need to focus all of their senses to find them, especially the little ones.
- Blowing bubbles
Have your kids focus on taking in a deep, slow breath, and exhaling steadily to fill the bubble. Encourage them to pay close attention to the bubbles as they form, detach, and pop or float away.
- Gratitude Time
Before bed, share something that you are grateful for that happened that day – something that made you happy, and have your child do the same.
On a final note, a popular application that I recommend daily to parents in my psychology practice is the Smiling Mind app. This app is free to download, and features hundreds of guided mindfulness exercises for children as young as 6 years old.
Let’s aim to be mindful instead of mind full!
Whatever you are doing, ask yourself, “What’s the state of my mind?” – Dalai Lama, 1999