Mindfulness – a Life Skill worth learning

What is Mindfulness?

A mother practising yoga with her young child
Image by LightFieldStudios via freeimages.com

Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention to the present moment, recognising what our body feels and how it responds in a given moment. It is about engaging and noticing sensations within us and around us.

Studies have shown that mindfulness can increase positive emotions and help with focus, memory and compassion while decreasing stress and negative emotions.

With practice, it can become a tool to help your child be calm when upset and to help them to improve their social skills and develop problem solving and better decision making. Remember, though: it takes practice and time and needs to become an integral part of your day. 

Tips for Teaching this Life Skill

  • As adults, we can learn a lot about mindfulness from our children. Children observe everything, touch everything and see the world from a different perspective to adults. They see something special in a rock, they jump in the rain, dance and move freely. Children truly experience moments. This is why it can take ages to get from A-Z when we go out. So, rather than rush them, instead leave home early so that they can experience their world hands-on as much as possible
  • Children crave attention and affection and can sense when a parent or carer is distracted. Even as an infant, developing a strong connection with the care-giver is essential for emotional wellbeing and development. Stay in the moment. Put away distractions such as your phone and simply hold your baby quietly. Maintain eye contact with a loving attitude. When a baby gazes at their parent/caregiver the parent needs to gaze back. This reflective mirroring of emotions is a really good way of teaching mindfulness and calmness.
  • Create good habits of attention in children by practising it yourself. 
    • Don’t look at your phone too often when your children are present.
    • Participate together in activities that promote focus, creativity and inquisitiveness.
    • Share stories, docraft activities, have conversations without the background sound of the TV. (Children under the age of 2 exposed to regular screen time hear 30 million less words than those who do not have access to screens)
    • Have regular times at home where noise is consciously reduced by turning off the TV and radio and just being quieter in general – have times where everyone in the family just comes together to “be”.
    • Show kindness even when frustrated and upset.
  • With young children, focus on soothing and comforting them when they are upset, particularly through touch and soothing sounds. As they get older, reassure children that they are valued and safe and that mistakes are normal. 
  • Incorporate mindfulness into your day. Keep it fun and playful. Adapt according to your child’s mood that day. Mindfulness can be involve being physically active; it doesn’t mean always being still.
    • If your child is not in the mood for it, then move on and revisit another time. Don’t expect them to engage if they are hungry, overtired, overwhelmed. 
    • Strike different poses – animal poses are great for children. Do some gentle yoga together, go for a walk and feel the wind. 
  • Practice mindfulness activities, especially conscious breathing, when your child is calm. The more it becomes part of the day, the more practice the brain has to draw on when these skills are needed. For young children, guidance might still be needed and it doesn’t mean your child will never have a meltdown again, but in time it will become more natural and as the child develops this skill, they will be able to use breathing exercises more independently.

Suggestions for activities

  • Teach your child to celebrate and recognise their strengths. Find their ‘Superpower’. Draw round them and put their silhouette on a wall. Then, write all their strengths down on it. Spend time discussing their strengths.
  • Gratitude moment: have a moment each day to all share one thing you are grateful for. It could be something that happened that day that made them smile or something they said or saw. Give each other time to reflect on the day.
  • Go outside in nature. Encourage your child to use all their senses to take in the experience and do the same yourself. Share what you each notice and, most importantly: take your time.
  • Helping children learn how to breathe mindfully helps them to recognise strange or unwelcome sensations in their body. This is a good starting point for recognising emotions and gaining calmness when upset, angry or frustrated. Lay down together and put a soft toy on their tummy – and do the same. Observe the toys going up and down as you both breathe. Encourage your child to share how their body feels when they do this. 
  • At bedtime, play a guided meditation as part of the bedtime routine. A ‘Body Scan’ guided exercise can be really helpful and can also be suitable for children with ADHD.
  • At the start and end of the day share a ‘three breath hug’. Whilst hugging, take three deep breaths together, then drop your shoulders, relax any muscles that feel tight and “let go”. This can be a lovely, personal way of saying ‘goodbye’ when going to school, for example. You can also do the same thing at bedtime to say ‘goodnight’.

Further exploration

I hope you’ve enjoyed my guide to Mindfulness. I will be looking at the topic in more depth in my Parenting Programme course which will be launched in the first few months of next year. Please sign up to my monthly newsletter to keep informed about that course, and other sessions I am running that will help on your parenting journey.