There is an emerging body of science that suggests that doing mindfulness practices with kids can help increase focus and awareness and improve emotional regulation. I’m pretty confident that we could all benefit from having calmer, more aware kids, and these are skills that will benefit them for years to come. But how in the world are you supposed to help a child enthusiastically engage in a calm “awareness” practice when they won’t even sit still for five seconds?
Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Have realistic expectations. You can’t expect your five year old to sit for a 10 minute meditation. If you do, you are setting yourself and your kid up for failure. Recognize your child’s gifts, limitations, and personal interests and build a practice around those things. Also, use age appropriate language to talk about mindfulness. A little kid may not know what it means to be mindful, but they probably know what it means to pay attention.
- Keep it simple & change it up. Don't over-think it. Incorporating mindfulness can be as easy asking your child to list 3 things they can hear. The best part is, there are a ton of excellent resources available on the internet. Try new ideas to find what works well for your kids and let go of what doesn’t work for them.
- Create a regular practice, but be flexible. Like any new habit or thing we want to cultivate in our lives and in our kids, it takes consistency. You can’t teach your kids to eat healthy by asking them to take a bite of an apple one time and you can’t cultivate mindfulness by doing one exercise. Be consistent, but recognize when to let it go. Like all good things, sometimes it doesn’t go how we hoped and it just isn’t worth the fight.
Here are some simple exercises to get you started:
- Practice Gratitude. Each day, perhaps at dinner or bedtime, ask your kids to name one thing they were grateful for in the day. This forces them to reflect on the day and find something positive in it.
- Take a mindfulness walk. Go for a walk in your neighborhood and ask your child to try and notice as many bugs, animals, and birds as they can. This will help them to focus on the details of their environment and stay present.
- Breathe with a buddy. Have your child lay on their back. Place a stuffed animal on their belly and have them watch it move up and down as they breathe for one minute. This practice will slow their breathing and help them to be aware of their bodies.
At first, doing these practices may seem a little forced and awkward, but with a little time and consistency, you will notice the awareness you are teaching in these structured moments is carrying over into your child’s everyday life. The ability to slow down and be more aware will help them navigate relationships, school, and tough emotions more effectively so it’s well worth the effort and the little bit of awkwardness you may have to endure to get them started on the journey.