I am not sure many of us were taught as children that we can control our thoughts or set an intention in our minds, that in turn will change our behaviors. I was never taught how to self sooth merely by knowing or integrating the skill of mindfulness. Needless to say, this skill would have assisted me through trauma or even in my daily life.
TALKING TO CHILDREN ABOUT MINDFULNESS:
Mindfulness is simply… noticing what is happening right now.
Mindfulness is taking notice of how your body feels and what you see, smell and taste. Maybe you even feel emotions in your body, perhaps through a tightness somewhere, or a good sensation.
What happens when you practice mindfulness?
When you notice what is happening around you, you focus more deeply, and that attention to your own senses will help you improve in diverse areas of your life. Improved focus can help you achieve at higher levels in sports, school or music. It will help you score higher on tests, too. We always do better when we’re able to pay attention to what we’re doing, right?
But there’s more…
When you notice what is happening around you, it can help you to calm down when you’re sad, angry or frustrated. Mindfulness helps you deal with tough emotions, and mindfulness can make you happy and feel good.
Would you like to try it out? Let’s try it out. YouTube is your savior here.
HOW TO EXPLAIN MINDFULNESS TO TEENS:
When talking with adolescents, you could simply expand on the previous explanation and say that mindfulness is a basic life skill that can benefit us in many ways. A popular way to put it is to say: mindfulness is about paying attention in a particular way – on purpose, in the present moment and without judgment.
The non-judgment part means that we simply have an experience without contemplating if the experience is good or bad. There is no judgement or being critical to yourself. By doing this, we develop more self-awareness, emotional balance, and impulse control. It’s about recognizing our inner and outer experiences and understanding how they affect our well-being.
How does mindfulness work?
We tend to be reactive, defensive, and downright vindictive when we feel discounted, criticized, or judged. Many times, when someone says something, we don’t like to hear, we react. We react in words, behaviors, and posting on social media. Often times, we say something that we would like to take back, and that is not possible. Words hurt and behaviors are just as damaging. Our heavy emotions affect us and many times, it is tough to bounce back from these emotions and sometimes we never do.
Mindfulness helps us create space between a strong emotion and our actions. We learn to deal with positive and negative experiences more calmly and by making better decisions.
When we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings, we can respond in a healthier way, without hurting ourselves or the people around us.
As we create more emotional balance, we are less easily knocked down by our emotions, but in moments when we are knocked down, we bounce back faster. As a kid, I remember my dad using the phrase, “Sleep on it” which basically is the same idea. His intention was to go to bed and the next day “make a decision on it”. This can be used with teenagers.
Adolescents deal with strong intense emotions, and mindfulness skills can make a difference.
Mindfulness is a tool teens can learn to stop themselves from overthinking, assuming, and making impulsive decisions they might regret later. When kids practice mindfulness, they focus on the present. It can help kids notice negative thoughts and shift their attention to what they’re doing or feeling right now. Practicing mindfulness can ease stress and anxiety.
We know mindfulness is good for us.
Mindfulness allows us to be present in our parenting, choosing a skillful response, instead of succumbing to our visceral reactions. Mindfulness is just as helpful to kids. Research indicates mindfulness can help children improve their abilities to pay attention, calm down when they are upset, and stop out of the emotions and actually think about how they feel. This leads kids to make much healthier decisions. In short, it helps with emotional regulation and cognitive focus.
So, how do we teach children and teens mindfulness? It is never too early to incorporate this mindset.
- Establish your own practice. You would have trouble teaching your children ballet if you had never danced. To authentically teach mindfulness to your children, you need to practice it yourself. You can start slowly with a meditation practice of just five to 10 minutes a day. Find ways to incorporate mindfulness into your daily activities. Don’t let this step intimidate you — you’re probably practicing a lot of mindful habits already!
- Keep it simple. Mindfulness is a big word for young kids to understand. Put simply, mindfulness is awareness. It is noticing our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and anything that is around us and happening right now.
- Check your expectations. Are you expecting mindfulness to eliminate tantrums, morph your kid into a sweet perfect angel? The practice of mindfulness is a coping skill for life. Your house will not suddenly become quiet, peaceful, calm but you will experience a change if this practice is implemented.
The purpose of teaching mindfulness to our children is to give them skills to develop their awareness of their inner and outer experiences, to recognize their thoughts as “just thoughts,” to understand how emotions manifest in their bodies, to recognize when their attention has wandered, and to provide tools for impulse control. It is not a panacea, and it will not completely get rid of what is, frankly, normal kid behavior, like tantrums and loudness and whining and exuberance and arguing…
Don’t force it. If your kids aren’t interested in your lesson or activity, drop it. This is a good time for you to practice non-attachment to outcomes!
Now that we’ve got the preliminaries out of the way, here are some suggestions for how you can begin to introduce mindfulness to your children:
- Listen to the bell. An easy way for children to practice mindfulness is to focus on paying attention to what they can hear. You can use a singing bowl, a bell, a set of chimes or a phone app that has sounds on it. Tell your children that you will make the sound, and they should listen carefully until they can no longer hear the sound (which is usually 30 seconds to a minute).
- Practice with a breathing buddy. For young children, an instruction to simply “pay attention to the breath” can be hard to follow. In this Edutopia video, Daniel Goleman describes a 2nd-grade classroom that does a “breathing buddy” exercise: Each student grabs a stuffed animal, and then lies down on their back with their buddy on their belly. They focus their attention on the rise and fall of the stuffed animal as they breathe in and out.
- Make your walks mindful. One of my children’s favorite things to do in the summer is a “noticing walk.” We stroll through our neighborhood and notice things we haven’t seen before. We’ll designate one minute of the walk where we are completely silent and simply pay attention to all the sounds we can hear — frogs, woodpeckers, a lawnmower. We don’t even call it “mindfulness,” but that’s what it is.
- Establish a gratitude practice. I believe gratitude is a fundamental component of mindfulness, teaching our children to appreciate the abundance in their lives, as opposed to focusing on all the toys and goodies that they crave. My family does this at dinner when we each share one thing, we are thankful for. It is one of my favorite parts of the day.
- Try the Spiderman meditation! For the superhero kid, the Spiderman meditation is right up their alley. This meditation teaches children to activate their “spider-senses” and their ability to focus on all they can smell, taste, and hear in the present moment. Such a clever idea!
- Check your personal weather report. Encourage young children with “If you were like weather, what would you be right now “? Ask “what are you feeling right now”? Do you see yourself as sunny, rainy, stormy, calm, windy, tsunami? This activity allows children to observe their present state without overly identifying with their emotions. They can’t change the weather outside, and we can’t change our emotions or feelings either. All we can change is how we relate to them. children can recognize, “I am not the downpour, but I notice that it is raining; I am not a scaredy-cat, but I realize that sometimes I have this big scared feeling somewhere near my throat.”
- Make a Mind Jar. A mind jar is a bit like a snow globe – shake it up and watch the storm! But soon, if we sit and breathe and simply watch the disturbance, it settles. As do our minds. https://whereimaginationgrows.com/mini-meditation-mind-jars-for-kids/
- Practice mindful eating. The exercise of mindfully eating a raisin or a piece of chocolate is a staple of mindfulness education, and is a great activity for kids. https://heartmindkids.com/adapting-the-raisin-exercise-just-for-kids/
- Environmental Mindfulness. You can do this version anywhere and anytime, by getting your kids to close their eyes and observe how many different sounds they can notice in the environment around them. Ask them to describe each of the different sounds they hear both near and far away. It could be the sounds of nature (such as birds, insects or dogs barking), human sounds (such as people talking outside), or mechanical sounds (such as cars, planes and trains in the distance). Maybe they can even notice sounds in their own body (such as their tummy rumbling or their nostrils whistling as they breath).
- Music. musical sounds. You can also do this exercise by playing some music. Ask them to observe how many different instruments they can hear? What different sounds and melodies can they notice? How does the music make them feel? Does the music generate any physical sensations in their body?
Listening is something we do every day but rarely do we focus 100% of our attention on the act of hearing. Try it yourself, you’ll be amazed how much more you can notice when you tune in to just one of your senses at a time.
As always, if you catch your mind wandering, you simply acknowledge it and then gently bring it back to focus on the sounds.
Interested in more? I would love to meet to you! Email or call anytime to schedule an in-person or virtual session. (817) 701-5438 | email@example.com
CRT, CCDC, CACC | Counselor & Life Coach
Empowering individuals, families and communities to grow and heal through advanced approaches in Creative Arts Therapy, setting the standard for treatment, practice and training within the field.