Mindfulness. What is it? Why is it important? How can we teach our children to engage in mindful practices?
Per the Oxford Dictionary, mindfulness is, “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.” It can also be the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.
When we think of mindfulness, we often conjure images of people practicing yoga, meditating, or engaging in stress-reducing activities like breathing exercises for relaxation. These practices traditionally reserved for adults have years of research backing their benefits to reduce stress, anxiety, depression, and more. Only in the last decade have scientists and medical professionals started funding research focused on the benefits of mindfulness for children and adolescence. In 2016, researchers in Italy implemented a school-based study and found that Italian school-aged children who participated in mindfulness-based interventions had increased focused and enhanced children’s socio-emotional development and academic skills.
Over the last few years, engaging in mindfulness-based practices has emerged as an effective strategy when treating children and adolescents with a range of psychological and cognitive disorders and diagnoses. Collectively, as a global community, we have all experienced heightened stress and concern over the last two years and children have been especially affected by the uncertainty of the world around them. By teaching our children simple mindful practices we can help reduce their anxiety, support them in talking about big feelings in a healthy and productive manner, and guide our children to self-regulate their emotions which promotes a child’s overall happiness.
Teaching mindfulness to little ones may sound intimidating but it is possible for you to guide children in mindful routines as early as preschool through adolescence and beyond. Here are some of our suggestions, tips, and favorite resources to get started!
Mindfulness for Toddlers
The most important thing to keep in mind with toddlers and mindfulness is that teaching mindfulness is not the goal. Creating space and providing opportunities for toddlers to identify their emotions and be present is our aim with the littles.
Strategies can be as simple as validating your child’s feelings and really allowing kids to experience their full range of emotions sans judgment or trying to, “fix,” whatever is going on for them.
- Next time your little one is upset, resist the urge to tell them, “you’re ok,” or, “brush it off, you’re good,” try something like, “I understand you’re sad because it’s time to go home. I feel sad when I am not ready to leave too.”
- Mindful breathing is not as out of reach as one may initially think for toddler-aged children. If you are looking to incorporate breathing exercises to help regulate your children’s breathing and calm their nervous system, we have a strategy for you!
- Grasping the idea of longer inhales and exhales is a hard concept for toddlers; however, when framed in a context they can understand, such as blowing bubbles, it can be introduced as early as two years old (dependent on child’s interest). Modeling inhales and blowing bubbles with your little ones is a great way to practice long exhalations and get their lips comfortable with the movement needed to start mindfully breathing.
Find more ideas for mindfulness and your toddlers here!
Mindfulness for Older Children
There has been a huge movement growing within the world of education to promote emotional education and mindful school practices in the classroom. This has provided a new range of resources for parents and teachers to use with their elementary-aged children. Elementary-aged children are old enough to understand the benefits and the why of mindfulness when guided by an adult.
Resources like guides and lesson plans, even full curriculums exist for social-emotional learning and trauma-sensitive informed training!
- One of our absolute favorite resources for school-aged children has got to be Cosmic Kids. Cosmic Kids has yoga and mindfulness sessions available on video for free via YouTube for children to engage in at school or home. Each video is easily accessible for children and led in a kid-friendly way that incorporates stories, creativity, and silliness to encourage relaxation techniques and mindful movement.
- Walking mindfully in nature is a great way to help children get in tune with themselves and reflect inward while noting the sights, sounds, and smells around them. These walks are a great way to shift children’s awareness and fine-tune their focus while encouraging presence. Find more great ideas here.
Mindfulness for Teens
Being a teenager is SO hard. The teen years are formative for your child as they go through the emotional and physical growing pains of puberty and adolescence. One of the hardest challenges for teens is navigating the social aspect of adolescence and the ebbs and flows that come with high school. Having a strong toolkit of resources to keep your child grounded and happy can go a long way in combatting and reducing social anxiety, stress around testing, and school pressures.
- Encourage your teen to sit and think of a quote or a word that makes them feel powerful, at ease, or optimistic. Teach them how to turn this phrase into a daily affirmation practice to get them started in the morning before school or when they are feeling stressed or worried. Find more great ideas for teens and mindfulness here!
It isn’t always easy to stay in the moment or regulate our feelings when we are overwhelmed and it is ten times harder for our kids. Kids need adults they can trust who can model positive attitudes and behaviors for them to learn from. Find a nanny you can rely on by contacting us via email or at 973-466-2669 to fill your home staffing needs before the new year!