I don’t know too much about Mindfulness or how one goes about promoting mindfulness in children. I know it helps calm you down as your focus is on the present and not on your worries; but how this translates into a change for the whole family, I’m not sure. My family is definitely one that could do with being more calm. The fights that break out sometimes are like world wars! With 4 children living in a tiny 2 bed flat I guess that’s to be expected somewhat, but if I can aid and promote calmness then why not, eh?
I decided to to speak to someone who does know about mindfulness: bring on the experts! So far, the closest I have gotten to practicing mindfulness, is listening to meditation basics in bed as I’m drifting off to sleep. I find that the only time I really have is when the kids are in bed. I guess, I thought it would be a great way to relax and aid sleep.
Christalla, is a mindfulness teacher with her own practice; she has worked with children for over 20 years and has a degree in psychology. She shares her expertise with Mumspiration below.
Why is promoting mindfulness in children important?
Mindfulness has become something of a buzz word at the moment. The media seems full of articles on the subject. Similarly, in the news recently, there have been concerns about mental health and the emotional well-being of our children. Worrying statistics show the increase of mental illness in the young. Fifty per-cent of mental illnesses begin before the age of fourteen and rates of depression in the under eighteens have doubled since the early eighties.
In my working life, I encountered anxious pupils and they were not in the minority. Stressed for reasons relating to events both in and out of school. Mindfulness equips the children with strategies to help them cope with the ups and downs of life, and sits incredibly well within the PSHE curriculum and ethos of schools.
Mindfulness seems to give us another tool in our tool box. Studies have shown that it can boost resilience, developing hardiness. In a busy school, it pays to take a little time out to reflect and enjoy the moment – for adults as well as children – and research shows that there are long term benefits to be had.
New research shows mindfulness can improve the mental, emotional, social and physical health and wellbeing of young people. Incredibly, neuroscientists have found that long-term practice alters the structure and function of the brain to improve the quality of both thought and feeling. Even short periods of mindfulness practice have been shown to change neural pathways in the brain in ways which increase the areas associated with kindness, compassion and rationality and decreasing those involved in impulsivity, anxiety and worry.
Does mindfulness promote calmness?
It may be a common misconception that mindfulness is mainly about relaxation and meditation. Of course, it induces a sense of calmness and can relax you but it is much more than a simple calming exercise In fact, a lot goes on in the brain – in can literally change your brain!
We teach children the various parts of the brain and their functions. Children also learn to direct their attention to an experience as it is unfolding moment by moment. With an open mind, curiosity and acceptance. Rather than worrying about what has happened or might happen. We use the breath a lot and it gives children an anchor- something to hold onto in “wobbly” moments.
Have parents noticed a marked difference in their children?
YES. I have been delivering this programme in schools since September and I am always amazed at the results seen by pupils and parents. Parents will email me telling me what a difference it’s made with their child regulating their feelings and taking more control. One parent said her 7-year-old managed to get himself out of an “almighty tantrum” by using 10 mindful breaths and that he was like a “different child” afterwards. Other children will run and find me in school to tell me how they were able to calm themselves before a music exam or find ways to self-calm when arguments brew with siblings.
I really do see first hand the benefits of promoting mindfulness in children.
How does mindfulness differ from meditation?
Both are interlinked. It is hard to separate the two completely. Meditation is a large umbrella term that encompasses the practice of reaching ultimate consciousness and concentration, to acknowledge the mind and, in a way, self-regulate it. It can involve a lot of techniques or practices to reach this heightened level of consciousness — including compassion, love, patience, and of course, mindfulness. So, mindfulness is a type of meditation. Mindfulness is the act of focusing on being in the present, such as focusing completely on drinking a hot cup of tea, taking in its scent, warmth, and taste and removing overpowering emotions from the mind.
Mindfulness stems from Buddhist philosophy, with its roots in psychology, as a way of understanding and relieving the causes of human suffering. The term mindfulness refers to the ability to direct the attention to the experience as it unfolds, with curiosity and kindness. Rather than the constant shuttling of our mind, worrying about the past or planning, mindfulness trains us to respond skillfully to what is happening now.
Although the Paws. B programme I teach in schools is based on Buddhist values, the practice is not about religion or philosophy, it’s about gaining control of your negative thoughts and emotions. These skills not only help young people cope with academic stress, but also enable them to deal better with the pains of growing up and day-to-day pressures of life outside the school gates.
What are some exercises parents can do with their children to practice mindfulness?
Firstly …Be realistic and check your expectations. A core principle of mindfulness is letting go of expectations. Are you expecting mindfulness to eliminate tantrums? to make your active child calm? to make your house quiet? If so, you are likely to be disappointed. While feeling calm or being quiet are nice side-effects of mindfulness, they are not the ultimate purpose. It isn’t a quick magical solution so regular practice is the key.
Keep it simple. Explain and encourage your child to stop for a minute and be aware or awareness or notice their thoughts, what their body feels like, what their ears are hearing, and anything else that is around them and happening right now.
Practice with a breathing buddy. For young children, an instruction to simply “pay attention to the breath” can be hard to follow. They can use their favourite soft toy and then lie 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.
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. Perhaps, each night at dinner, share one thing you are thankful for.
Above all, remember to have fun and keep it simple. You can provide your children with many opportunities to add helpful practices to their toolkit — some of them will work for them and some won’t. But it’s fun to experiment!
Some excellent books and resources for parents for promoting mindfulness in children include: 10 Mindful Minutes: Giving our children – and ourselves – the skills to reduce stress and anxiety for healthier, happier lives by Wendy Holde. Sitting like a frog by Eline Snel
App- Headspace for Kids.
What is a good mindful routine for children?
If we can get the mindfulness 6 week programme delivered in schools then that is an exciting place to start. Time to nag your child’s school and make them aware of the many fantastic programmes that can be taught directly to children in school. We want to grow “happier’ children as the stress and pressures will not lessen so let’s equip them with the tools that will help them to think clearer, feel calmer and less stressed allowing them to savour happiness and ultimately enhance general wellbeing and mental health. Early intervention is the key.