‘Jonny, it’s time for mindfulness!’
Do you wish you were taught mindfulness as a child? I do! I never knew that thoughts were not facts. No one told me a short exercise could leave me feeling relaxed and happy.
But how can you go about teaching mindfulness to a child? Here are some key points and tips that may help you teach mindfulness to children.
Remember the fundamentals of mindfulness
Mindfulness is a present moment awareness with ‘mindful attitudes’. Different mindfulness teachers emphasise different values, but for me, being kind is the most important. That’s why I call it kindfulness rather than mindfulness.
Here’s some key attitudes of mindfulness:
- Present-moment awareness - being aware of any of your senses or inner thoughts and emotions. It’s the opposite of being lost in your thoughts or multi-tasking.
- Kindness - learning to be nice and friendly to yourself and others in thoughts, words and actions. Sometimes, it’s called compassion.
- Curiosity - being interested in the world around us and within us. Ideally, you would also be cultivating a sense of awe or wonder along with curiosity, which research shows is very good for you too - making you happier and healthier.
- Allowing or acceptance - letting things be instead of trying to change them, especially when it comes to emotions and thoughts, and observing experiences instead of trying to control or fight them. Mindfulness has roots in Buddhism, and the Buddha essentially stated: To be happy, you need to let go of control. Grasping and controlling is the root cause of suffering and unhappiness.
Set a good example
As you probably know, children learn a lot more from your behaviour than from your words. Try these tips to help your child be more mindful.
Practise mindfulness regularly
I know this is easier said than done. But you can’t expect to tell your child to be mindful if you’re not very mindful yourself. That won’t work too well, I reckon.
BUT! Remember, mindfulness is more than just meditating all the time. It’s about being kind and forgiving of yourself and others. Kindfulness is what you’re really doing and sharing. Be kind to yourself each time you accidently snap at your child. Don’t beat yourself up for not being the perfect teacher or parent. Treat yourself as you’d treat a friend, and your self-compassion will shine through to your child.
Schedule time to be present with your child
If you’re super busy, it can be easy to forget to be present with your child. If you run your life on a calendar or diary, use it to schedule times when you can be mindful with your child. Listen to them, talk to them, play games with them. See if you can switch your phone off and have some quality time with your child while having digital detox yourself. As you spend time with them being mindful, they in turn will start being more present too.
Make it fun
Children are automatically attracted to anything fun. A bit like me! Try these approaches when sharing mindfulness with your child.
- Short meditations
When sharing meditations with your child, keep them nice and short. Long meditations are not fun for children. And if they associate mindfulness with boredom rather than the pleasure of relaxation, they’re less likely to engage in it. Even one minute is a nice start.
- Connecting with senses
Think about creative ways to get your child to connect with their senses. It could be listening to music, playing in the sand, looking at and drawing a tree, smelling different scents, tasting some food very slowly, or feeling lovely textures. Mindfulness can be done in all sorts of creative, artistic ways. Anything that gets your child out of their head and into the conscious moment of now is mindfulness.
- Colouring in
Colouring is all the rage for adults nowadays, but don’t forget it can be great for children. Some kids love it, so give them time to carefully colour some positive images.
- Simply playing
Playtime is obviously very good for children. I see playing as a key element of mindfulness. In play, children are letting go and engaging in the present moment. If you can let your child play in nature, they will have a beautiful way of developing a more mindful brain. As I said earlier, too much control is the cause of suffering, and letting go leads to a happier life. The more you can let go and let your child play, the more your child may pick up this subtle way of being and be less controlling in their own life too.
Adapt for different ages
Children of different ages need different approaches to mindfulness.
Younger children—stories and games
I don’t have exact ages here, but each child is different, and if you know them, you’ll know what they like. Stories are very engaging for young children in particular. Find some ‘mindful’ stories online or in books, and read them to your child. Ideally, find a story which includes a little mindful exercise or some deep breathing.
I mentioned games and fun activities earlier. What sorts of games cultivate mindfulness? Here are a few games you can play with your child:
- Play memory games. For example, have your child look at a tray of objects while they try to memorise them, and then ask them to recall the objects.
- Listen to the sound of a bell until it dissipates into silence.
- Do ‘spot the difference’ exercises.
- Put a teddy bear on their belly, and ask them to watch their teddy go up and down as they breathe.
- Let them colour.
- Teach them how to do origami.
- Teach them fun children’s yoga poses described as different animals.
- Sing and dance with them.
- Sleeping lions - This is where children have to be as still and quiet as possible as they lie on the floor. That’s great for young children and fun for the adults to see, too!
Older children, teenagers and above, may start appreciating more serious meditations. You could try getting them to listen to:
- Body scan meditation
- Awareness of breath meditation
- Short loving-kindness meditations
- Mountain or Lake meditations
You can get these audio tracks when you buy most books on mindfulness, including mine. In fact, in my book Mindfulness for Dummies, there’s a whole chapter on teaching mindfulness to children. But try a few out different audios, and pick a voice and guidance that works well for your child.
When teaching mindfulness to children, setting an example is most important. Making it fun is key, especially for younger children. Be creative so it’s fun for you to share mindfulness in different ways. If you’re excited to share mindfulness, the young child will sense that too.
Use nature to cultivate mindfulness—spend time in nature with your child if possible. Even planting seeds in a pot is valuable.
Finally, short meditations are an important skill to teach children, so sharing some short guided mindfulness exercises with your child, whether you do the guiding yourself or via audio, is a great idea.
Do you know any other tips, resources or good ideas of teaching mindfulness to children? Please share in the comments below so we all learn together.
To find out more, and if you’re in London on Tuesday, 27 September 2016, attend a talk with Richard Burnett of Mindfulness in Schools and Beyond with Action for Happiness.