WHAT IS MINDFULNESS?
In a nutshell, mindfulness is our ability to be fully present in this moment, in the “now.”
WHY SHOULD CHILDREN PRACTICE MINDFULNESS?
- There is a lot of research which shows that mindfulness can help with regulating emotions, focus and decision-making.
- When your child learns how to recognize and address emotions, there will be fewer meltdowns and tantrums and that will make your life less stressful as well.
- A mindfulness practice can significantly reduce anxiety and improve your child’s sleep.
- Children are born with the natural ability to be present in the moment. They don’t understand the concept of time and live in the now and here. It is us, adults, who constantly try to take them out of the present moment. Most of the time we are not even aware that we are doing it. We talk about yesterday and tomorrow. We plan ahead or worry about the past. Every single little thing like this removes the child from “now.”
- Practicing mindfulness early on will create healthy connections in the brain and aid your child’s emotional development in adulthood.
- The more your child meditates and practices mindfulness, the greater the benefits will be.
As a side note, if your child is learning mindfulness from you, that means that they will be spending more time with you – and that creates a connection. And if you are practicing mindfulness with your child, then you get to reap the above-mentioned benefits as well! Also, it’s never too early nor too late to start. The best time to start practicing mindfulness is NOW. ;)
MINDFULNESS ACTIVITIES FOR CHILDREN
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Children can be children only once, so how can you preserve their childhood without having them rush through it too quickly? Here are a few simple exercises you can try:
- Make Suminagashi art! – It’s a great way to teach about emotions and perfect for art therapy. To read my post about this mindfulness art activity, click here.
- Buddha Board – a mess-free, meditative art activity. It comes with a brush and needs only water to work. The image disappears as you paint and so it’s also a great way to illustrate impermanence and change. We also have a Buddha Board Mini for when on the go. The surface is fragile, however, and should not be scratched or used in a way not intended. For this reason it is most suitable for older children and adults.
- Take mindful walks. Smell flowers or other plants.
- When experiencing an emotion, encourage your child to lie down and place their favorite toy on their belly. Tell them to breath and guide them to focus on the toy moving up and down on their belly. This might not work when your child is experiencing a big emotions, but if they are willing to try, it will calm them down. And over time, they will look for their toy when an emotion arises.
- Listen to birds or insects outside. Help your child pay attention to various sounds around the house.
- While eating, bring your child’s awareness to the five senses. This way they can eat mindfully, too.
- While lying down, have your child close their eyes. Next, instruct them to squeeze various muscles in their bodies as tightly as they can. Tell them to hold the squeezed position for a few seconds and then release.
- Use a snow globe to illustrate how emotions can cloud our view and what they look like when one is mindful and calm. My husband had an idea of putting Adèle’s photo inside a snow globe. We explained to her that when she shakes it and can’t see herself clearly, it’s what a big emotion looks like. But once she uses mindfulness and calms down, the snow in the globe falls down and her picture becomes visible again.
- Create a “quiet corner” in your house just for your child. It should be a space without any visual distractions. Encourage your child to use it as a “safe place” when feeling an emotion. Adèle’s “quiet corner” is in her bedroom and just has a very small table with a cushion in front. On this table she placed her snow globe mentioned above. This is how she uses it: “When I feel sad or having an emotion, I go there, in the quiet corner. I look at my my snow fall. There is a picture of my toy and I. It helps. It makes the emotion go back up into the sky.” – Adèle, 3 year old.
- Meditation at bedtime – guide your child through a body scan. As your child’s eyes are closed, tell them to bring attention to various parts of the body.
- Yoga classes for children, baby yoga classes or parent-child classes (whichever fits your situation).
- Gratitude journaling for kids who can write. Gratitude oral ritual for everyone else. Just have your child name at least one thing they are grateful for every day. Could be every morning upon waking up or just before going to bed. Let them decide when they want to do it, but help them build it into a routine.
- Books (see my recommendations below).
- A magical art activity that you can read about at the bottom of this post ;).
HOW TO ADDRESS YOUR CHILD’S EMOTIONS
Have you heard the term “Unicorns” and “Dragons” when referring to children? If you haven’t, these terms are quite widely used. Basically “Unicorns” refer to children who are easy-going and easy to take care of – children who are east to settle and don’t worry their parents too much. “Dragons” refers to kids who cry a lot and make parents feel very frustrated to say the least.
Well, I don’t believe in either. I don’t think children can be put into two categories like this. What I do believe is that babies and children have emotions and needs which they are learning how to express and it is our job to help them learn how to deal with those feelings as they arise (see some suggestions below). Children might make their caregivers feel frustrated or might make them feel relaxed. But if we call a child a “Dragon” or a “Unicorn,” then we are actually projecting our feelings onto children instead of dealing with our own emotions.Whenever emotions arise, it is our responsibility to name their feelings and discuss them with the child. Children who are just learning about various emotions don’t actually know what they are experiencing (and that can be extremely scary for little ones!) so it is important to give those feelings names and explain what they are. This will also help you in your own mindfulness practice. 😉
For example, if your child is feeling angry, explain that the feeling they are experiencing is called “anger.” Describe what anger feels like using what is occurring in the present moment as an example. So if your child is stomping and crying, say “anger is making you stomp and cry.” If they are not receptive, patiently wait until they have calmed down and have a discussion afterwards. The important thing is to listen to your child and stay calm, focused and present. Learn how to manage your emotions so that you can help your child navigate through theirs.
4 PICTURE BOOKS THAT HELP IDENTIFY EMOTIONS & TEACH MINDFULNESS
- Feelings by Richard Jones and Libby Walden – This book will encourage your child express their emotions and allow opportunities for wonderful conversations. Rhyming makes it easy to memorize and the central illustration of a child is gender neutral. All pages are cut through (around the child) emphasizing the fact that one child has all these different emotions. With a very clever design and rich vocabulary, this book is suitable for kids of all ages. I also want to add a wonderful story about this book. We bought it in Italian, but I had a difficult time translating a few pages for Adèle. So, I contacted the author and asked her to tell me what she wrote on a few pages. Instead, she mailed Adèle the English version of this book as a gift (plus her newest one that I’m going to review in a separate post)! We feel so grateful for these generous gifts, especially because the books have been helping Adèle on daily basis and having an English version was such a beautiful surprise.
- In My Heart: A Book of Feelings by Jo Witek, Illustrated by Christine Roussey – Just before we moved with Adèle the first time, her best friend gave her this book in order to help deal with all the upcoming emotions. The illusions are simple and playful, making it easy for toddlers and preschoolers to relate to. The heart is die-cut and it is used as a tool to refer to each emotion. So, for example, instead of saying “I feel,” it says “my heart feels…”
- You’ve Got Dragons by Kathryn Cave and Nick Maland – In this book dragons represent worries, problems, fears, etc. The use of this metaphor works wonderfully and comes with practical advice. Whenever Adèle has a strong emotion coming, she can describe the type of “dragon” she is having and can use suggestions from this book to help the dragon go away. I found this book at a red bookshop for myself while visiting London before Adèle was even born. I collect well made picture books, and this one really caught my eye.
- The Color Monster: A Pop-Up Book of Feelings by Anna Leanas – Oh, this is such a simple book, and yet so powerful in its simplicity. It only focuses on the few most common emotions and associates each one with a different color. It’s suitable for toddlers and preschoolers. The amazing thing is that because it is so simple, Adèle started to identify her emotions by color very quickly after reading it. And then I came up with the following art activity which works so beautifully to regular her mood. Curious? Here it is:
- Teach your child to identify their emotions with specific colors.
- When the difficult emotion arises and they recognize it, have them draw it with a color changing markers. It can just be a scribble or shading. Anything really, as long as they use the specific color of their emotion. (Note, I am not affiliated with Oekonorm in any way, but we love using their organic, natural art materials).
- Use the blender marker to change the color of their current emotion into the color of the emotion they desire.
- Your child will now not only see how quickly their emotions can be changed, but also realize that they are the ones in control of changing their own emotions. And that is empowering! Furthermore, the activity itself becomes therapeutic and will take your child’s mind into a more positive space.
5. Mindful Monkey, Happy Panda by Lauren Alderfer, illustrated by Kerry LeeMacLean – I’ve searched for an age appropriate book about mindfulness for Adèle for months and found this one which is perfect for preschoolers and toddlers. It explains the concept of mindfulness in a very easy to understand way. We use the characters and phrases from this book to help Adèle stay in the moment. I have even used it successfully, as a reminder, to help her fall asleep at night!
6. Sitting Still Like a Frog: Mindfulness Exercises for Kids (and Their Parents) by Eline Snel – Designed for older kids and their parents, it’s one of the best introductory mindfulness guides on the market. It comes with a CD with meditations which help with a variety emotions such as anxiety and sadness. It can even be used to help your child fall asleep.
Do your kids have a mindfulness practice? If so, what is it like?