Could your child use a boost with focus, learning, patience and self-regulation? Or maybe some help with stress or anxiety? Read on to find out why a mindfulness practice may be just what your child needs.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is being in the present moment. When thoughts pop into your mind, you don’t engage with them. You remain totally present, without worrying about the future or dwelling on the past. You watch and listen attentively to the world unfolding around you, without judgment or analysis.
A mindfulness practice strengthens the mind in the same way that weightlifting strengthens muscles. If you spend time working out at the gym, your muscles get stronger. As a result, you are able to lift heavier objects. Stronger muscles make it easier to perform certain tasks or to play games that require strength.
Similarly, practicing mindfulness helps strengthen the part of the brain that impacts how well we focus, pay attention and learn. Results can include improved self-regulation, judgment and patience.
How will a mindfulness practice help my child?
Children who practice mindfulness have better academic skills, social skills and self-esteem. Research shows that mindfulness can reduce stress, anxiety and depression. Many schools have incorporated mindfulness programs into the classroom.
James Butler is the creator of a mindfulness program for children. Mr. Butler is a social and emotional (SEL) Mindfulness Specialist with Austin ISD.
The program he developed has been used in over 200 classrooms in 44 different elementary schools in Austin ISD and Pflugerville Elementary. Mr. Butler says, “This program has helped empower students to be more aware of their feelings. The training helps improve interpersonal communication and conflict resolution skills. Teachers benefit by learning to be more present. They become more aware of their feelings and their students’ feelings.”
What is involved in a mindfulness practice?
Learning how to practice mindfulness involves the same principles as learning to play a sport. If your child bounces a basketball in the driveway a few times a year with no other practice, she probably won’t become a competitive basketball player. She needs a coach and a regular practice routine. The same is true for a mindfulness practice. An effective practice is more than taking a deep breath, stopping to smell a flower or savoring a PB & J. Of course, those activities can be part of a mindfulness practice, but there is much, much more to learn.
How do we implement a mindfulness practice at home?
Before you and your child begin a mindfulness practice, think about how you will implement it. Here are some recommendations:
- Locate a quiet place. It should be away from the center of family activity and in a place where your practice won’t be disturbed.
- Prepare a “Do Not Disturb—Mindfulness Meditation in Progress” sign or door hanger. Make it an art project for you and your child to complete together.
- Have a family meeting to share your plans for implementing a mindfulness practice. Explain how it will work and why it’s important.
- Within the quiet mediation space, identify where you and your child will sit. You may sit on a comfortable chair or on a pillow on the floor. It is best to remain upright as opposed to lying down.
- Designate a specific time of day for the mediation practice. Some people use meditation as a restful transition to bedtime. Make it a daily practice that you and your child look forward to.
- Before you begin each meditation session, survey family members about immediate needs. You don’t want to be interrupted by dad looking for his keys or your teenager’s hunger pangs.
- After the meditation, spend a few minutes to reflect. Talk to your child about the experience. Ask questions about what she noticed or how she felt. Reflection is an important part of learning a new skill.
How do we get started?
An easy way to start is to download an app that teaches mindfulness for children. Some apps offer free content without a subscription. Popular apps for kids include Stop, Breathe & Think Kids; Breathe, Think, Do With Sesame; Go Noodle; Headspace; and Smiling Mind.
Smiling Mind is a good place to start because it is completely free. This evidenced-based app was originally developed to support a mindfulness curriculum in Australian schools. Programs are designed for specific age groups, so choose the one that fits your child. Their website at smilingmind.com.au offers an excellent, free downloadable guide for parents who want to learn more about mindfulness.
Brenda Schoolfield is a medical freelance writer located in Austin.