Life can sometimes be chaotic for parents and children alike. Parents often have effective coping mechanisms they can use when they feel a little overwhelmed or overstimulated. Children still need to learn healthy coping strategies to help them find balance in their lives.
Mindfulness is a simple approach to calming down and focusing that anyone of any age can use. Here’s what parents should know about the benefits of mindfulness and how it can help their children.
What Is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is living in the present. It’s focusing on only what’s going on around you without allowing yourself to be preoccupied with other thoughts or feelings. Mindfulness prioritizes your well-being by encouraging you to connect with yourself.
It sounds much easier said than done, but it’s much simpler than it seems. In some cases, it can be very easy for parents to find and utilize mindfulness exercises for kids.
Is Mindfulness Important for Kids?
Every parent understands the struggle of getting their child to sit down and focus on something productive for longer than a few minutes at a time. This doesn’t indicate something abnormal with your child’s attention span or ability to learn. It just means they’re a kid.
Kids would much rather be doing something fun. They get excited about small things and don’t always calm down immediately. They don’t inherently understand the value of patience, deliberate work, and prolonged focus. They get bored and want to move on to something they enjoy more.
This can become a problem as your child grows up. Schoolwork can become more intense. They’ll find themselves involved in activities that require more commitment, like sports, clubs, or martial arts. They need to be prepared to actively participate and achieve their goals by the time they reach their mid-teen years.
When you teach children to practice mindfulness at a young age, they can develop and refine the skill over time. Perhaps they’ll be experts at mindfulness by the time they need it most.
How To Help Children Practice Mindfulness
Mindfulness is a bunch of small practices that form the bigger picture. Mindfulness is being aware of your surroundings, how you feel, and how your body works. The simultaneous awareness of all three things can help to center you in the present moment, making it easier to approach tasks calmly and focus.
You can begin to practice mindfulness activities with very young children. Toddlers and preschoolers can practice mindfulness exercises.
By making them a part of your child’s daily routine, you’re equipping them with a wealth of self-soothing tools that can promote everything from independent emotional regulation to better self-control. This self-regulation is essential for a growing child.
Adolescents and children learn things better in bite-sized pieces. Once your child learns the basics of mindfulness, it will be easier to weave them all together into full practice. There are many fun ways to use mindfulness training and techniques in your family’s daily life.
Belly Breathe Together
When you’re overwhelmed or anxious, you’ve probably had someone tell you to “just breathe.” It might make you even tenser when someone says that because it can feel like they’re oversimplifying the issue. But there are some science-backed benefits of breathwork.
Anxious or overwhelmed people may breathe too fast or easily run out of breath. Being mindful of your breath can help your body find homeostasis, or a natural balance. Calm and measured breaths can help to reduce physical tension and stabilize heart rate.
A simple, silly breathing exercise is the easiest way to teach your children mindful breathing. Try belly breathing together. Have your child copy you while you place one hand on your belly button and take a slow, deep breath until your belly blows up like a balloon. When you explain it to your child this way, it seems more fun and engaging.
Hold your breath and slowly exhale, deflating the balloon. Repeat it three to five times, and practice it every day for a week or two until your child gets the hang of it. If you notice your child is stressed, you can tell them to stop and make a “belly balloon.” They’ll be able to soothe themselves in just a few minutes.
You can also combine this with affirmations and a body scan. As they breathe, encourage them to say nice things about themselves. Starting with the toes: “My feet help me walk and play!”
Play a Mindful Game of I-Spy
Sensory awareness can help to process input that may otherwise be overwhelming. If you can break down what you’re feeling by analyzing each sense, you can ground yourself and manage your environment a little better.
Ask your child to stand in one place and ask them to name one thing they can touch, one thing they can taste, one thing they can smell, one thing they can see, and one thing they can hear from where they’re standing.
By encouraging your child to focus on one sense at a time, you can improve how they understand the world around them.
These games are most fun in areas with many pleasant sensory experiences, like on the beach or in a garden. You can also bring this game into situations where you’re teaching your child an important life skill, like preparing a meal.
Teach Your Child Bodily Awareness
Children experience complex emotions all the time, but they may still be developing the social skills they need to explain them to you. They just know that they do or don’t like how they feel. It’s much easier to describe a physical feeling, and physical cues can help to demystify an emotional state.
Anxiety can sometimes cause a “butterflies in the tummy” feeling. Sadness can cause feelings of bodily fatigue. Happiness might make children feel like their bodies want to run or jump. Ask your child to identify how they feel physically and contextualize it with your current situation.
Ask your child why they feel how they feel. When they consider it, they’ll begin discovering their emotions. You can combine this with simple yoga poses to target those areas of the body. Try Child’s Pose or Happy Baby for a soothing practice.
Treat Every Dinner Like a Gourmet Meal
Some kids tend to inhale their food in a way that makes you question if they even had time to chew. They usually wolf down a meal to finish it quickly and return to what they were doing.
Did they ever stop to contemplate what their food tasted like? What about the aroma, colors, or textures of their meal?
Encourage your children to slow down when they eat. Ask them to describe the sensory experience of their meal. This can keep children focused on mealtime and might even get them interested in trying new foods.
In addition to uniting your children with their senses, mindful eating can help them slow down while they eat. Mindful eating can be better for their digestion and satiety signals. They’re more likely to chew their food properly and give their stomachs time to catch up with their mouths. They’re more likely to realize when they’re actually full, which can prevent overeating.
Promoting Relaxation and Better Focus in Your Child’s Life
Mindfulness practices can be a huge help, but they aren’t a comprehensive solution to supporting focus and relaxation. A huge part of our overall mental and physical health is the quality of the diet we eat.
There’s also the matter of setting the stage for mindfulness. It isn’t always enough to work through distractions. Sometimes, the distractions need to be removed.
If someone hands you a pile of bills to pay and a video game controller, which one do you really want to engage with? You know you’d rather be doing something fun, but you’ve developed your impulse control.
You understand how to prioritize and know your fun activities will be there later. Children don’t always understand this. While you have to prioritize your job, your children have to prioritize their academic performance. They can translate this practice into their work life as they grow up.
Keep the TV off, put the screens away, and store the toys in a different room when it’s time for your child to relax or focus. They won’t be distracted by other stimulating things in the background or the temptation to do something that provides them immediate gratification.
If there are fewer obstacles between your child and the task you’re asking them to accomplish, they’re more likely to clean up successfully, finish their homework, or complete their daily reading.
Supporting Your Child with Proper Nutrition
The ability to relax and focus is also correlated with proper nutrition. If your child isn’t enjoying a wide variety of foods, their picky eating habits can impact almost everything they do. Your child needs vitamins and minerals for normal energy production and brain development.
A wide variety of whole foods, like fruits and vegetables, lean proteins like poultry and fish, and whole grains like wheat bread and brown rice, should make up most of a healthy diet. If your youngster is still learning to love whole foods, a multivitamin supplement can help to fill up the gaps in their diet.
The Wrap-Up: Mindfulness Is a Game Changer for Kids
It’s not difficult to teach your child mindfulness techniques. While mindfulness meditation might be difficult for children, you can treat it like a game to make them more engaging. Whenever your child needs to relax and focus, remind them of the techniques you’ve practiced.
You also need to keep distractions to a minimum when it’s time for your child to focus and provide your child with brain fuel in the form of nutritious foods.