Anyone over 30 will tell you that childhood just isn’t the same as it used to be. Since the advent of PCs and smartphones, kids have been forced to choose between just being kids, and an ever-increasing proliferation of screens.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with a little screen time. Some forms of digital media can be educational, and keeping modern kids away from computers and iPads 24/7 isn’t a realistic goal anymore. But too much time spent perusing social media and playing video games can have negative effects on children’s physical and mental health, according to Cleveland Clinic research.
Luckily, you can undo some of this damage by teaching kids mindfulness, where they'll learn about enjoying the present moment without judgment or stress.
Here are five ways to teach mindfulness to kids.
1. Start early
By teaching mindfulness early, you’ll plant lasting habits in your kids, which will give them some seriously sturdy coping mechanisms when life throws lemons later on.
Of course, it’s never too late to start advancing the cause of mindfulness in the home or classroom, but the sooner you start introducing kids to mindfulness, the more effective it'll be.
So, how do you teach babies and toddlers to be mindful? You’re not going to arrange your infants in a circle and encourage them to say “om”. But you can act as a mirror of mindfulness for them to observe. The best lesson parents can give kids in the first years of life is to model staying in the present moment.
You can achieve this by maintaining eye contact when holding, feeding, or playing with a baby, rather than looking around or at your iPhone. Try your best not to react with frustration or anger when the baby gets upset, and if you need to take a time-out, do so. You and your baby can also get your mindfulness fix by going out for a stroll in nature together, or even for a walk around the backyard. Try to pay attention to every step you take with your baby on your hip. Focus on feeling the ground beneath your feet and the warmth of your child in your arms.
2. Practice mindful breathing
Breathing is the cornerstone of a mindfulness practice, and offers a host of benefits for both body and mind. You can start teaching children simple breathing exercises by the time they’re toddlers. And, you can continue to add in more pranayamas (breathing techniques) once they get older.
Here’s what to know from the start:
Contrary to popular belief, mindfulness isn’t about emptying the mind of all thoughts. Instead, mindfulness offers an opportunity to focus in on the senses: smell, touch, taste, sight, and sound. For this reason, breathing exercises are an excellent way to sharpen kids’ rapidly-developing sensory faculties and to extend their attention spans. Breathing exercises also offer an opportunity for kids to fill their own minds with positive affirmations which can truly transform the way they view themselves and the wider world. You can start by helping kids reinforce affirmations like "I have a positive attitude", "I care for others", "I am creative", "I have a strong body" and "I like myself".
3. Encourage yoga and mindful movement
One of the most effective ways to get kids on the mindfulness bandwagon is to incorporate movement and yoga. Just as stressed adults find refuge in a daily or weekly yoga class, kids can exercise both their bodies and minds in children's yoga classes. With more and more schools around the globe instituting kids yoga classes into the PE curriculum to address the issues of childhood obesity and mental health, you too might consider encouraging your kids to do some downward dogs. You might also want to consider teaching Pretzel Kids yoga!
4. Teach kids what mindfulness means
Oftentimes, mindfulness doesn’t stick with kids because we fail to tell them why it’s important. Instead, let your kids in on a secret: Mindfulness practice is like reading a really good story, or getting lost in a fantastic movie – except that the thing invoking the wonder is the world all around them. Here’s another way to explain mindfulness to kids:
Mindfulness can offer a real respite in the face of adversity. Mindfulness helps you cultivate the virtues of peacefulness, kindness, and acceptance. It also enables you to appreciate the beauty of life.
5. Lead by example
You can recite all the mindfulness research in the world. But this likely won't resonate with kids. Instead, lead by example.
If you’re truly an avid proponent of mindfulness, then you have to practice it yourself, and visibly, too. This way, your child can see it and observe its benefits. With some encouragement, your kids will join in!
Time to roll out your yoga mat, and illustrate to your kids just how important it is to press the pause button!
Harper Reid is a creative writer based in Auckland, New Zealand. As a freelancer, she has penned articles for multiple blogs and sites such as About Giving. She incorporates yoga as part of her daily meditation and mindfulness practice, and it has done wonders to her health! Get to know Harper more through her writings on her personal blog.