Mindfulness is becoming increasingly popular but what is it? The science and evidence behind its application with children and teens is growing. Mindfulness is being aware, moment to moment of your thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations and the environment around us. We notice these things without judgement. Recognize these sensations and then letting them go.
Another way to think about it is stopping the tendency to slip into autopilot mode or the opposite of mindlessness as this blog post point outs.
Mindfulness is a really great skill for EVERYONE. Not just kids who throw tantrums or teens who need to grapple with anxiety. By practicing this skill WITH your child, it can just be another routine/ritual your family does together.
I have been dabbling in mindfulness for over a year and learning a new skill can be challenging. Trying to fit it in your daily life and finding a new rhythm so it becomes a habit can be hard. But, stick with it and you will reap the benefits–and so will your children! As with anything, self-reflection and pause and forgiving yourself when you “forget” to practice mindfulness, is actually part of the process. Just don’t let roadblocks get you down. Keep on going!
When learning a new skills, it is often helpful to have kids “see” new skills and have a way to show you that they are doing it correctly. You can search YouTube for a bunch of video tutorials of mindfulness in kids, but I happen to really like the video below by Barbara Lester, LCSW (Mindfulness Meditation for Children). Here Owl learns how to handle her angry feelings.
For this book review, I chose Eline Snel’s book, “Sitting Still Like a Frog: Mindfulness Exercises for Kids (and their Parents)” because the title jumped out at me, the book is easy to read, has 106 pages and has a CD of guided exercises. The book has 10 short chapters that helps parents learn about mindfulness and several exercises that then they can coach their children through.
Chapter 1: Introduction to Mindfulness
Chapter 2: Parenting with Greater Mindfulness
Chapter 3: Attention Starts with the Breath
Chapter 4: Training your Attention Muscle
Chapter 5: Out of Your Head and Into your Body
Chapter 6: Weathering the Storm Inside
Chapter 7: Handling Difficult Feelings
Chapter 8: The Conveyor Belt of Worries
Chapter 9: It is Good to Be Kind
Chapter 10: Patience, Trust, and Letting Go
The author recommends starting this practice as early as age 5. I have taught deep breathing exercises to a class of preschool children using my fun technique of teaching them to “make Superman’s cape fly for a long time”, which is a brief intervention you can model in the office and model with the child. The key whenever teaching new skills is to not do it in the moment but when the child is calm and everyone is relaxed. Once you know a child can do it, then you can remind them about their newfound skill and in the moment coach them through applying it.
RELATED: Just Breathe: The Importance of Meditation Breaks for Kids (HealthyChildren.org)
Sprinkled through the book are call out boxes of helpful exercises you can do with children based on their age. Parents should know this book is really a book for parents to read through first. For example, there is a fun exercise to reinforce simple listening exercises, observation of the world around them and taking their body temperature.
There are helpful hints in chapter 4 about how to help children calm down and relax, including a fun exercise of practicing the “spaghetti test”. Using analogies such as helping kids turn their bodies from firm uncooked spaghetti into perfectly cooked strands of pasta, kids can “see” what you mean when you ask them to make their bodies calm like strands of spaghetti.
Having children learn to check in with their feelings and moods by comparing them to the weather (sunny, stormy, windy, overcast/cloudy) can be a nice way to give them the words they need to express their feelings in ways others can quickly understand. There are exercises such as “Accepting the Weather” in chapter 6 with great tips on how to do this with your child.
RELATED: PODCAST- Mindfulness: Why and How to Practice Mindfulness with Children (Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson, SeattleMamaDoc)
Check out the book at the link below and as always, have fun practicing mindfulness with your children! You are giving your child a gift of self-acceptance, self-regulation and awareness that they can use throughout their life.