Initially whenever I thought of mindfulness I imagined going to Bhutan and sitting with monks while meditating every day and clearing my mind. And if that was not enough, every time I tried to practice some sort of mindfulness with one of the little humans I worked with I was met with a “BBOOORRRIINNG”: from them .If you have had similar experiences, you can have a read through of this where I will be discussing what mindfulness is, how it benefits children and what fun activities you can do to be inclusive of busy bodies, without the flight ticket to Bhutan of course.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the act of being present and fully aware of what we are doing at any given time. A lot of people live their days on auto pilot and they merely act or react to what is going on through filters of how they have acted before. This is a reality for little children as well whose minds are developing.
Because Mindfulness is such a big word for young kids to understand, one can just explain to them that mindfulness is being here with every part of our bodies. It is noticing our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and anything that is around us and happening right now.
Moreover. Mindfulness also involves acceptance of how our minds process emotions and the thoughts this produces. In order for one to do this though, they have to slow down and act purposefully. This can be such a difficult task for our little. However it is a necessary skill to learn as there are many proven benefits of mindfulness for children.
The benefits of Mindfulness for children
What being present in the moment does is that it allows us to choose a skilful response to what is happening instead of digging deep into our already held skill set of responses which might be visceral as opposed to logical. Additionally, because mindfulness Strengthens self-control it allows for better decision making as well as improving emotional self-regulation. When a child is better equipped to self-regulate, this increases their sense of self-worth and creates a positive self-image for themselves and others. It can also be noted that with increase in self-control, a child can learn to be more empathetic of those around them too. One of the children I work with can now confidently express to me what emotion he is feeling and we can tailor our day and session around this. Great Communication!!
The reasons why mindfulness is such a handy skill is it gives children the opportunity to recognise their inner and outer experiences, to understand how emotions feel in their bodies so that they are better equipped in communicating in the long term and it gives them the opportunity to slow down and reflect on their actions. This can also act as a coping skill for when overwhelming emotions take over little bodies. There are also some health benefits of mindfulness:
What are the health benefits of mindfulness?
According to a Harvard Health Article called Health Guide, Some of the health benefits of mindfulness are as follows
1. Mindfulness can: help relieve stress,
2. Mindfulness helps with the treatment of treat heart disease,
3. Mindfulness also lowers blood pressure,
4. Mindfulness allows one to experience a reduction reduce chronic pain,
5. Improve sleep
6. Alleviate gastrointestinal difficulties.
7. Reduce anxiety
8. Improve academic performance
Thus in the long-term, mindfulness is a great skill for our kids so the best time to teach them is now. I realise that at this point mindfulness is starting to sound like the “heal-all”, “go to” every issue that a person can face and that is not at all the intention. Mindfulness is a skill which can be supplemented with other skills in order to help a child’s emotional as well as physical development. But. How can I practice mindfulness when all my child does is jump around you may ask? This brings us to some activities that you can do to help enhance the mindful experience for children.
Activities for mindfulness
If you are like me, you probably heard about all these great benefits of mindfulness and decided to google activities and follow them through to the t…to no avail. My conversations with one of the kids I work with around mindfulness went like this
Me: “Okay and now we will practice mindfulness, take 5 big breaths”
Little human: “No, I don’t want to”
Me: Still on the mat counting: 1. In ..2.. in
Little human: Already gone to find a more interesting activity to spend their time on.
I had to find ways to incorporate mindfulness with a twist that allowed for the way the child’s mind and body works. So I have included some mindfulness activities that one can do and I have also included a more practical twist for a child who might prefer to run around or need more stimulus and one for humans who are still too little to comprehend big words.
Deep Belly Breaths
- Sit or lie flat in a comfortable position.
- Put one hand on your belly just below your ribs and the other hand on your chest.
- Take a deep breath in through your nose, and let your belly push your hand out. …
If the child is not interested in sitting down or lying on their tummy, you can pretend you are blowing a big big bubble and you must take Deep breaths and blow out. This will create the same effect.
For our growing mindfullers
Blow real Bubbles!
I see the rainbows
Look for items in the room with different colours of the rainbow. Mention what the colours look like as if you are describing it to someone who has not seen it
Go on a hunt in the room for different coloured items. Name the colour for the child and have them look for many things of that one colour.
For our growing mindfullers
Print out coloured cards and have the child look for the same colours in the room.
The traditional way
Ask the child to close their eyes and evaluate how their bodies are feeling at that moment. Ask them to think about how their bodies feel, naming each part of their body 1 to 1.
For a child who is busy and likes to dash off, I prefer to use a bag filled with interesting things instead of them scanning their bodies. So I would fill a bag with things I know they would be interested in and I would ask them to search inside the bag without looking. They would tell me what the individual thing feels like in their hands.
For our growing Mindfullers
I would use the bag and ask them to match sensations. So in the bag I would put something rough and outside the bag I would put something rough and soft and so forth and they would have to match what the thing in the bag felt like.
These are just a few examples of activities that one can do. You could start by practicing the for Growing mindfullers first and slowly transitioning to the more traditional ones and you can tailor all mindfulness activities in a way that suits your child. More importantly mindfulness is about practicing being in the moment, and so you should not just be limited to activities one can do that constantly by showing the child things around them that they haven’t noticed or asking questions about their food or asking questions about the books you are reading. Let your creativity flow!
Veronica Muinjo, AIMS Global therapist, who is incredible in including mindfulness activities within her sessions with her “little humans”.