Adults can sometimes view childhood as an idyllic, innocent time where the youngsters are wholly care-free, running laughing in the sunshine all day long with no worries in the world. But modern life does not always support that happy vision. News stations trumpet doom and gloom on a never-ending streak, stressing out parents and caregivers. Children are incredibly attentive little eyes and ears, picking up on all those signals. Add to that the pressures on even young children to perform well in school, in extracurricular activities, and the normal stress and bullying that happens to many children, and it’s no wonder that stress is on the rise for many youngsters.
Mindfulness is the answer.
Mindfulness provides the tools and techniques for a child to navigate not only those challenges of growing up but all of the situations we find ourselves in simply being a member of a family and a community. Mindfulness is a foundation supporting us as we make our way through this world.
What Is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the practice of being attentively, compassionately non-judgmental about the moment we are in. We recognize that we are feeling an emotion. We learn to examine that emotion and understand where it came from, without letting it take over our entire being. We learn to take a breath. To think before acting. To consider how our actions might impact ourselves and others.
These are all valuable skills for a child to learn and master.
How Can a Child Practice Mindfulness?
Children by their nature are in the moment. They don’t yet have a full capacity for looking far into the past or forecasting the future. That is wonderful in terms of developing a talent for mindfulness. A child is the perfect student.
Here are some adventures to explore with mindfulness.
- Go for a walk. It can be in a forest, through a park, at a local shopping mall, anywhere. Observe what you see. Talk about the little details. Explore how they make you feel.
- Eat a meal slowly and attentively. Talk about all the people who helped bring this meal to you. Mention the farmers who grew the ingredients. The workers who picked the food. The truckers and boat-drivers who transported it. The shopkeepers who sold it.
- Check in regularly to examine how you are feeling. Talk about it as you would discuss the weather. This is your “internal weather”. It can be sunny or cloudy and that is OK. The weather changes. The house is still there. The house is still strong. Thoughts and emotions come and go, but the you that is unique always remains.
- Every feeling should be compassionately validated. It’s all right to be sad, angry, frustrated, or disappointed about things. Every event or situation can “matter” enough for an emotion. The question then is how one examines that emotion and takes a next step.
- Practice calming breathing. Pause for a moment and take in long, deep breaths, feeling the air move past your nostrils. Fill your lungs into the upper chest, mid chest, and lower abdomen. Feel the calming air fill you up. Pause. Then let the negativity and waste air flow out of you, cleansing you. This can be done anywhere at any time. It triggers the body to relax.
The more variety of skills the youngster learns, and the more they practice them, the more those tools will be accessible and useful when needed.
A main key is for the adults to model this behavior. Children learn from watching and mimicking adults. The more that the adults practice mindfulness, the more that the children will learn to do the same.