Aliza Septimus, PsyD
Teaching Kids Mindfulness: The Benefits and Easiest Ways To Do It!
It's a phrase that is uttered dozens of times a week (if not more) in households where children between the ages of two and 18 reside. How is it that when they WANT to, for example when they are playing video games or watching cartoons, kids can have a tremendous attention span. Any other time, however, getting them to be present is harder than getting them to close the refrigerator door!
While getting kids to pay attention can seem frustrating, there is an answer to the madness: Mindfulness.
Mindful Kids are Happier Kids
Several studies have shown that kids who participate in mindfulness programs are happier. The sooner you get kids started with mindfulness, the easier it becomes for them to develop a capacity to become calm and centered when life throws them stressful situations.
What does this look like in real life?
Picture how a normal 7-year old responds to a situation that is scary, overwhelming, and generally unpleasant. Say they are getting ready to take a hard test or going to the dentist. Most will become so fearful and anxious that they have a hard time being calmed by a parent or other guardian.
The 7-year old who practices mindfulness mediation knows to stop, close their eyes, and breathe deeply to get themselves calm and focused.
The two outcomes are vastly different. That's because meditation and deep breathing exercises actually change the physiology of the brain, according to scientists. Instead of kids reacting emotionally to a charged situation (being controlled by their emotions), children can control their impulses and reaction to that situation.
OK, but how do you get kids to practice mindfulness when it's difficult to get them to do pretty much anything, let alone meditate!
Here are some way you can help your kids become more mindful:
1. Help Them Discover Their Inner Experience.
Spend time helping kids understand what is happening to their bodies during stressful and calm situations. Ask them to explore their emotions. The more insight they have into their inner experience, the better able they will be to control their responses to external experiences.
2. Breathe With Them.
Practice deep breathing with your child. You can do it while driving or before putting them to bed at night. Share with them how to relax, slowly breathe in deeply and exhale. Invite them to feel any tension melt away.
3. Be a Good Example.
Your child will not be inspired to try and be mindful and in control when they see you out of control. Are you one to yell at other drivers? Do you get far too angry when your dog tracks mud in the house? Does a telemarketer at dinner send you through the roof? If so, it's time to try deep breathing and meditation yourself. Be an example. If your child sees mom or dad handling stress in healthier ways, they will be far more likely to give it a go.
While it will take some effort to get your kid to commit to practicing mindfulness, the results that it will bring to their life are completely worth it.