What is mindfulness? Basically, it’s the practice of bringing your attention to whatever is happening in the moment. It isn’t about changing your experience (although often when you begin to bring your full attention to your experience it begins to shift), but about gently noticing what is happening. Teaching children mindfulness is a powerful way to help them be less overwhelmed by their thoughts and emotions. Studies have shown that mindfulness helps to mitigate the effects of bullying, helps with focus and attention, and improves social skills. It helps kids build awareness of their own experience, and ultimately to exercise some control over their experience.
There are some simple mindfulness exercises that parents can practice with their kids. Here are a few:
1. Body Scan—lying down, tighten all your muscles as hard as you can for a few seconds, then let them all relax. Starting at your head, bring your attention to various parts of your body, noticing how they feel. Notice how your breath feels moving in and out of your body.
2. Glitter Jar—put a spoonful of glitter in a jar filled most of the way with water. Shake it up, then set it down. Watch how the glitter swirls around, but how as it sits, it starts to settle. Explain how this can happen with your mind as well. Practice watching the glitter settle to the bottom, giving it your full attention.
3. Gong—ring a bell or chime and listen with your eyes closed for as long as you can hear the sound, then raise your hand when you can’t hear it anymore.
4. Eat the raisin—take a few breaths to bring yourself into the moment, then put a single raisin in your mouth. Notice how it feels on your tongue, how it tastes. Slowly chew the raisin, paying close attention to every moment of how it feels to chew it, how it tastes, and how long its flavor lasts in your mouth after swallowing it.
5. Mindful breathing—set a timer for 1 minute (or more, if you have practiced this for a while). Close your eyes, and breathe in and out. Notice how your breath feels going out, and how it feels going in. Is it cool? Warm? How does your chest feel? Does your body feel any differently at the end then it did at the beginning? Was the experience unpleasant? Pleasant? There isn’t a “right” way to breathe–just try to notice your experience.
Mindfulness practices are exactly that—practices. They need to be done regularly to be of benefit. Spend a minute or two mindfully breathing before dinner or at bedtime. Incorporate ringing a bell into some part of your day. Find a way to weave the concept of mindfulness into your everyday life so that it becomes something you can turn to when faced with challenging circumstances or overwhelming emotions. Just like teaching your kids manners or hygiene, teaching mindfulness can be a part of raising a confident kid who knows how to navigate both their inner and outer worlds.