“Mindfulness is a whole-body-and-mind awareness of the present moment. It is not a method of distracting yourself or tuning out, it is about tuning in. It is the opposite of the anxious, stressed or depressed state of mind - which is a distracted or mindless state”, says Craig Hassed, a GP, Australian mindfulness expert and co-author of “Mindful Learning”.
This discipline of “tuning in” is something that, as an adult, requires you to have a conscious, focussed mind, free from the distractions of the every day. Whilst this may sound like a lot of effort, you may be surprised to know that you are born like this. “Everyone is born mindful, and unlearns this skill as you get older and develop the capacity to think about the past and future,” Clinical Psychologist Emily Toner says. “So, very young children can often be your biggest mindful role models. Think of the child who becomes totally absorbed by the look or feel of a new blanket or toy, or who stares at you totally absorbed by your face. You can learn a lot about how to be mindful from young children.”
Both adults and children can benefit from regular mindfulness practice. Mindfulness has been shown to:
- Increase neural connectivity in the frontal lobe of the brain, which is linked to improved attention, memory processing and decision making abilities
- Increase self-awareness, social awareness, and the importance of motivation and praise.
- Increase children’s ability to self-regulate their emotions, especially difficult emotions such as fear and anger
- Improved empathy, or the ability to understand what another person is thinking or feeling, which helps children to build positive relationships
Indeed, interacting with children in a mindful way can have a positive impact on their self-perception and ability to be resilient. A study conducted by world-renowned mindfulness researcher Ellen Langer in 2010 asked two separate groups of adults to interview children about their experiences on a camp. One of the groups was asked to try to notice subtle changes in the students’ behaviour as they talked with them. In other words - to be 'mindful'. The study found that the children not only preferred to interact with the mindful group, but actually devalued themselves following their interactions with the adults who were not being mindful in their interaction. Emily says, “This study highlights how the way that adults interact with children has a huge impact on the way kids think about themselves, which has a huge impact on their subsequent levels of resilience.”
So how can you practice mindfulness with your children? Emily says, “The best thing parents can do to help their children become more mindful is to commit to some regular mindfulness practises themselves! The more present and mindful you are with your children, the more happy, mindful and resilient they will be.”
Some simple suggestions to try at home are:
- Mindful play – Dedicate a window of time each week to mindfully play with your child or children. Turn off all other distractions such as TV, and put your mobile away and on silent. Try to give them your full attention during this time and if your mind wanders off to all the things you should be doing, that’s fine – that’s just what minds do! Use your child as an anchor to come back to every time your mind wanders away.
- Mindful cooking – Cooking together can be a great way to spend quality time. Help your child notice the colours, smell and taste of the ingredients as you add them to the meal, and the touch of the different items as you cook.
- Mindful dinnertime – Create a time for your family to appreciate and savour their food at the start of a meal by spending the first few minutes of dinner in silence, just eating and enjoying the food. It’s a surprisingly nice activity to do with the whole family, and done regularly, can become a lovely ritual.
- Mindful teeth brushing – Getting kids to brush their teeth can be a challenge, so why not make it a challenge, by inviting them to try to do it mindfully with you? Invite them to pay attention to the feel of the brush in their mouth and the sensation and taste of the toothpaste. Ask them three things they noticed that was different about their brushing tonight than from the previous night.
Recently KidsMatter joined forces with Smiling Mind, a free program that helps develop Mindfulness Meditation skills in children. Together, we believe that promoting mental health and wellbeing in schools is vital to developing future generations of well-adjusted children and adolescents. Read more about the collaboration between KidsMatter and Smiling Mind.
There are also several great resources to introduce a mindfulness practice to both younger and older children.
For young children:
"Planting Seeds: Practicing Mindfulness with Children", by Thich Nhat Hanh
Based on Thich Nhat Hanh's thirty years of teaching mindfulness and compassion to parents, teachers, and children, the book and enclosed CD covers a wide range of contemplative and fun activities parents and educators can do with their children or students. They are designed to help relieve stress, increase concentration, nourish gratitude and confidence, deal with difficult emotions, touch our interconnection with nature, and improve communication.
"Meditation Capsules: A Mindfulness Program for Children", by Janet Etty-Leal
This manual provides a practical resource for adults who wish to teach children the skills of mindful meditation. It outlines a comprehensive program designed for classroom use, ideally with students at upper primary school level. But the lessons can readily be adapted to suit children of all ages, and the book will provide a helpful guide for parents, youth leaders, social workers and therapists – anyone who has an interest in teaching meditation or the enthusiasm to help children master meditation as a powerful personal tool.
For older children:
"Mindful Learning", by Dr Craig Hassed and Dr Richard Chambers
This book for parents, teachers and carers provides practical ideas and exercises on how to apply mindfulness in the educational setting, exploring how children can manage stress, improve performance and create better communication and relationships.