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What is mindfulness for kids, and why is it important?
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What is mindfulness for children?
In very simple terms, mindfulness is about paying attention to something and slowing down to focus on what you’re doing in a relaxed way. It is the opposite of rushing about like a mad thing. It is taking your time and noticing what’s around you. And, in today’s busy world, it is harder than it sounds! In fact, it can be very difficult to maintain when we are caught up in our worries, anxieties, or desires. However, practising mindfulness can help us manage difficult experiences as well as things like boredom. Mindfulness activities usually involve three parts - awareness of how your body feels, awareness of emotions, a non-judgemental approach.
What are the benefits of mindfulness for children?
Even in the early days of our lives, mindfulness can reduce anxiety and increase happiness. For babies and toddlers, the process of getting to grips with the world can be a frustrating experience. As children grow, life becomes ever more complicated, often demanding resilience in bucket loads as they become teens. The very process of growing up creates stressful situations for every child (and parent!).
According to a study from the University of Exeter, “Well conducted mindfulness interventions can improve the mental, emotional, social and physical health and wellbeing of young people who take part. It has been shown to reduce stress, anxiety, reactivity and bad behaviour, improve sleep and self-esteem, and bring about greater calmness, relaxation, the ability to manage behaviour and emotions, self-awareness and empathy.” When it comes to the positive benefits of mindfulness, what’s not to like?
What is a good age to start mindfulness activities for children?
The habits we form early in life naturally guide our behaviours in adulthood, so starting early is a great idea. By encouraging mindfulness, we can help our children be peaceful, kind, and accepting and navigate the stresses of life. As with many social and life skills, the best way to teach a child to be mindful is to practice mindfulness ourselves. As most of you will no doubt be thinking, being a parent can be incredibly stressful - so, while mindfulness isn't always easy, it can be incredibly beneficial for children and parents alike.
What kind of kids mindfulness classes are there?
While there are some specific classes that focus on Mindfulness, including things like Yoga and Mindfulness classes for babies, being mindful is more about being in the present moment and being aware of thoughts and feelings. Therefore, lots of our wellbeing classes can help to promote a mindful approach - from singing and sensory classes to yoga and arts. If you need time to de-stress, take a look for classes like the Breathe Melodies for Mums, which is run by Breathe Arts Health Research in London, or Mama and Baby Yoga.
Mindfulness resources for children
The BBC Children In Need website has a mindfulness hub, and is home to a vast range of mindfulness activities to try at home, from colouring, guided meditation, and acts of kindness flashcards, to a video with mindful activities from CBeebies favourite Dr Ranj. The Mindful website also has a range of great resources and ideas, from breathing exercises and meditation to games.
How can I teach mindfulness to my kids at home?
Encourage your kids to notice and name body sensations, thoughts, and emotions.
Get them to stop and be aware of surroundings. If you can, identify and share five things you can see, feel, hear, touch or taste - get them to do the same (this is great when out in nature and is very grounding in stressful situations).
Describe how you might use breath to calm yourself. E.g “I feel a bit wound up. I’ll take a deep breath. Now I feel a lot calmer.” Encourage your kids to mirror this.
Get your kids to have a slow (or mindful) snack - and name the senses they use to enjoy the food. Does it crunch? Does it smell good? How does it taste?
Get your kids to put their hands on their belly and inhale deeply - tell them to imagine their belly is a balloon and try to fill it up. This process can encourage deep breathing, which is very calming,
Take a mindful nature walk with your child. Walk at their pace and let them lead the way - that could be running and jumping, or slow and steady - explore, enjoy and talk.
Teach by example. As we’ve said, often easier said than done, so we’ve included a few tips below to get you started.
Simple steps to mindful parenting
For babies: Often the best way, as with kids of any ages, is to simply be in the moment with them. While it can be tempting to use a smartphone, or check out the latest super-helpful childcare website (sorry!), being in the moment, sharing eye contact, and engaging with babies is the first step to modelling mindful practices.
Keep calm: Easier said than done when you’ve just asked them to get dressed or put their shoes on for the 27th time in a row, but keeping calm in a stressful situation is a great tool to master. Becoming agitated can trigger an unhelpful cycle where you wind each other up and the stress levels can rise quickly.
Try the STOP method:If you’re struggling to model mindfulness for your child, a popular mindfulness exercise known as S.T.O.P. might be helpful.
S = Stop - Stop what you’re doing; put things down for a minute.
T = Take - Take a few deep breaths. If you’d like to extend this, you can take a minute to breathe normally and naturally and follow your breath coming in and out of your nose.
O = Observe. Observe your experience just as it is — including thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Research shows that just naming your emotions can turn the volume down on the fear circuit in the brain and have a calming effect.
P = Proceed. Proceed with something that will support you in the moment: talk to a friend, rub your shoulders, have a cup of tea.
Move: There’s a common misconception that mindfulness equals stillness. In fact, mindful movement is about taking a moment to focus on how your body feels while you move. That could be activities commonly associated with being mindful, such as yoga or meditation, but it could also be a walk, or sitting in a certain position - the key is being aware of our own bodies. This article on Mindful Movement explores the benefits.
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