“[I]f kids are over-tired, anxious or stressed out, it affects absolutely everything,” said Susan Kaiser Greenland, author of the book The Mindful Child: How to Help Your Kid Manage Stress and Become Happier, Kinder and More Compassionate. It affects everything from their ability to learn to how they feel, she said.
“Teaching kids tools to manage what is now the norm, a hectic daily life, is as important as teaching them to read.”
That’s where mindfulness comes in.
As with adults, mindfulness helps kids “develop an awareness of what’s happening.” It helps kids listen to their bodies and better understand their thoughts and emotions. It helps kids pause. It helps them become more attuned to the world.
It helps them calm down. When kids become upset, their emotional brain hijacks their thinking brain, so they’re unable to reason or think clearly, Greenland said. Mindfulness helps them move from being upset to “a body-based sensory experience, which has a way of calming your nervous system.”
Kids can soothe themselves with everything from focusing on the sensation of their breath to petting the dog to listening to a waterfall, she said. For instance, kids can focus on how their dog’s fur feels against their hand.
Greenland has heard stories of kids using mindfulness to help them fall asleep when they’re nervous and stop arguing with their siblings, leaving the room to calm themselves.
Greenland is the creator of the “Inner Kids Program,” an internationally taught curriculum that teaches kids the ABCs of attention, balance and compassion. When she’s teaching mindfulness to kids, she defines it as remembering: “We remind ourselves we have these tools to help us calm down.”
She shared these ideas for teaching your kids mindfulness.
- Practice mindfulness yourself.
“[S]o much of what kids learn is through example,” Greenland said. But this doesn’t mean you have to meditate for 30 minutes. Instead, find brief moments where you can tune into your breath and your surroundings. (You can learn more about mindfulness at these blogs: Mindfulness & Psychotherapy and Mindful Parenting.)
- Focus on the breath.
Have your kids pay attention to their breath (you can do this together). “This isn’t about manipulating your breath but lightly resting your attention on your breath.” You can do this anywhere, whether it’s in the car, at the dinner table or when “something is going haywire.” Just noticing your breath – without trying to change it – is calming, she said.
- Count your breaths.
This is helpful for kids in the beginning when learning to tune into the sensation of their breath. Greenland suggested counting from 1 to 3 on their inhale, and then relaxing on the exhale.
- Remember that mindfulness is for great times, too.
As Greenland said, “It’s not like mindfulness is for miserable times. It’s a wonderful opportunity to appreciate what’s going on in the moment…Think of mindfulness as a way to enhance all the great things in your life because you become aware of all the goodness that you have.” For instance, if you’re in a garden, instead of rushing by a caterpillar, stop, look and really observe its colors, movements and other details.
- Keep it moving.
Mindfulness doesn’t have to be a sedentary practice. For instance, you and your kids can take a nature walk, absorbing the experience with all your senses. What sounds do you hear? What sights do you see? What scents do you smell? What sensations do you feel?
You can learn more about mindfulness for kids along with tools and techniques at Greenland’s website.