Teaching mindfulness to kids at a young age gives them the awareness that they have all the resources within them to deal with external stressors.
By Vihan Sanyal
Mindfulness is paying attention to what is happening right now. It is observing what is happening right now without analysis and judgment. It is about tuning into our senses and being aware of our thoughts, emotions, feelings and of our bodily sensations in the present moment.
It is about being fully “alive” in the moment. I often ask my clients to close their eyes and to observe how they are feeling in the present moment (not how they were feeling five minutes back or half an hour ago, but how they are feeling now!). This helps them to experience the moment and then they can be introduced to living a mindful life.
Mindfulness needs constant practice to become a way of life. It is not about practicing techniques and being involved in activities. It is learning to do everything we do in day to day life, but doing them in a mindful way.
MINDFULNESS & OUR BRAIN
Mindfulness helps the following areas of our brain:
The Prefrontal Cortex: Helps us with decisions and to make choices.
The Amygdala: Protects us from threats and activates the “flight, fight or freeze” response in stressful situations.
Mindfulness has a calming effect on the amygdala and allows the prefrontal cortex to do its job, so that we can respond thoughtfully. Mindfulness helps with emotional regulation, with empathy and our executive functions, so that we remain balanced under stressful situations.
HOW CAN MINDFULNESS HELP YOUR CHILD?
According to studies, there has been a marked improvement in a person’s physical and psychological wellbeing by practicing mindfulness for just a couple of weeks.
Improved focus can help your child achieve better results in sports, academically and with learning new languages and musical instruments. Every responsible parent wants to see their child succeed in life and to raise independent and confident kids.
When a child is taught to notice what is happening around them, they learn to focus deeply, and by paying attention to their own senses will help them improve in multiple areas of their life.
Living a mindful life can also benefit your children in the following ways:
- Less stress and anxiety.
- Better physical and mental health.
- Enjoy better quality of sleep.
- Become better at solving problems.
- Be good at impulse control.
- Be compassionate and sensitive towards other people’s needs.
- Build stronger relationships.
- Enjoy a healthy self image and higher self-esteem.
HERE ARE FIVE MINDFULNESS EXERCISES TO TRY WITH YOUR CHILD
Focus on the Breathing Game
Encourage children to observe their breathing at bedtime. Ask them to make mental notes of the way in which they are breathing. Are they breathing in a fast or slow way? What is the temperature like of the air they are breathing? Is one nostril taking in more breath than another? What else do they notice? When you see them get distracted, encourage them to return their focus again onto observing their breath. Many children calm down during this exercise and find it easier to drift into sleep.
Eating Mindfully Game
Ask your children to sit with the food in front of them and to look at the food and pick up on as many details as they can before they start eating. Tell them that the trick is to see how many things they can notice before they start eating. Then extend the experience to the taste of the food and to eat as slowly as possible. This is an exercise where all of their senses can be used. What do they notice about the food, colour, texture, shape, etc? What does it smell like? What is the sound it makes when they put it in their mouth and as they chew their food? What does the food taste like and how does the taste change while the food is in their mouth as they continue to chew?
Go out for a walk (preferably in a park or in a natural surrounding). Walk quietly for a fixed amount of time. Ask your children to make a note of everything they see around them. Ask them to note the sounds they hear and of the smells around. To notice how the ground feels as they walk on it. To notice the way in which they are feeling right now. Make it a fun experience, turn it into a game.
Whenever your child goes for a bath or shower, help them to fully enjoy the experience. Talk to them about how relaxing and good it feels to take a bath. Tell them that all their muscles are being relaxed by the water. Ask them to focus on the sensations and feelings associated with bathing. Their mind will soon associate bathing to a form of relaxation. They will subconsciously reap the benefits each time they have a bath, once this exercise is regularly followed.
Create a sensory experience around reading a book (especially for young children). Once children learn to use all or most of their five senses while they read, it will enhance their reading experience. Ask them to visualise the characters and the places while they read. If food items are mentioned, ask them to recognise the taste and smell of familiar food items. If emotions are mentioned, help them to differentiate between emotional states and help them to express their emotions without restraint. This often helps to address any dormant emotions within a child and can be extremely useful for their emotional growth.
Teaching mindfulness at a young age is imperative to a child’s growth. It helps to instill the fact that they are always in control of their thoughts and their feelings. This can be extremely empowering. Just knowing that they have all the resources within them to deal with the external stressors can be extremely rewarding for a parent.
(The writer is a psychotherapist.)