The other night my 6 year-old son was having trouble sleeping. I got up to his bedroom and he just couldn’t calm himself down. “Honey, do you want to try some mindfulness?” I asked and waited for him to laugh and say no-way. But he didn’t. I had taught him some basic skills (mindfulness of breath) a few weeks earlier and practiced a few times and as soon as I asked, he knew it was just what he needed. We did a short practice–listening to our singing bowl 3 times and then noticing our breaths go in like we are smelling a flower and our like we are blowing out a candle. When he calmed down, I simply said “I am going to ring the bell one more time and then I am going to leave the room”. Then I did. As I was leaving his room he said “Mom, turn my music on” and then he cut himself off “….no, no, never-mind” and he literally rolled over and went to sleep.
I am not perfect (by far!) and my kids are not saints (also by far!) but this mindfulness stuff is really working for our family. For one, it has made me more patient and present with my kids and able to modulate my strong emotions better. For my kids, they have started to really notice their own emotional states more and become more aware of their needs within those high’s and low’s which is an amazing life skill.
Truth be told, very young kids are the experts on mindfulness. They are the masters of living without judgement or attachment but exposure to culture and unconsciousness teaches kids to care more about doing and achieving than being attuned and grateful of the present moment. Adults in their life may want to teach them a different way: the way of mindful awareness. Being on this path with your child, and in alliance with them on their journey through the highs and lows of life, will be a divinely gratifying and nourishing to you as their parent and greatest teacher. But it is important to go on this journey with intention but also of awareness of these basic tenants so that the pendulum does not end up swinging back into more frustration, anger, or control for you or your child.
1. Start with parent. The first step to bringing mindfulness into your home is to ask yourself what motivates your interest? If your authentic answer is to change your child, it will not work. Mindfulness is a way of paying attention, non-judgmentally, to the current moment and if your child does not want to do that it will not work. Instead of forcing it on them, invite them to participate with you and be ok with them not being ready to learn it at this point in their life.
2. Learn basic techniques. It is important for adults to have a basic understanding of mindfulness before you start sharing it with your child or you are setting yourself up for failure and frustration. Learn about how to have a mindful body, how to listen mindfully, how to bring your focus back to your breath, and how to integrate heartfeltness into your moment-to-moment interactions.
3. Choose a time of day to insert mindfulness. Think about your daily routine. Is there a time of day when behavior is generally good and your kids are ready to listen? If your answer is like most parents, that may be hard to identify. Try talking them in the car when everyone is contained. But again, be mindful of your agenda, and willing to drop it if they are not interested.
4. Give them ownership of their practice and let children lead mindfulness. Allow them to ring a special bell to practice listening, cueing you to focus on your breath, or leading you through a body scan.
5. Don’t use it as a consequence. Being aware of your present moment and your breath is not a punishment–it is the sweetest gift you could give a child. Don’t allow it to be associated with anything bad or your child will resent it. That being said, if you want to use it as an intervention for behavior, make sure a practice is established.
6. Be consistent. You can not do a mindfulness activity and expect it to be suddenly integrated into your child’s brain. Like all learning, practice it regularly to strengthen the neural pathways in your child’s brain so that it becomes more and more natural for him to use it.
7. Institute short moments of awareness many times throughout the day for yourself and invite them to participate. Simply asking them to “notice how you are feeling” is a good starting point.
8. Integrate simple rituals. Taking some deep breaths before starting a meal or putting your fork down between bites during a meal is a good way to fold mindfulness into your regular life.
9. Let them teach you what they know. Listen with attunement and presence–exactly how you would want them to listen to you if you were explaining something new to them. Ask questions and look for answers, together, if your child stumbles over their explanation.
10. There is no one-sized fits all approach to mindfulness. Kids of different temperaments, ages, and abilities will need different approaches to learning mindfulness. Some kids might be interested in learning about the brain, others maybe interested in learning during a peaceful hike, and yet others in totally different ways. There are so many directions to try.
We will be sharing more mindfulness resources in the coming weeks so please follow us on FB/IG @NurtureFamilyEducation
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