Put simply, mindfulness is an awareness of the present. It is a focus on what is happening around us and within us at this very moment, in short because this moment is all we have. Not surprisingly, living a more mindful lifestyle comes with benefits galore-physical, mental, emotional, social. And it just so happens to be an amazing practice to teach our children. By doing so we can help them learn to become more self-aware, recognizing and understanding their thoughts and feelings and identifying how their emotions are reflected in their behavior. Impulse control, reduced stress and anxiety, and an enhanced ability to focus and pay attention are just some of the additional positive changes that this practice can bring.
Unfortunately, mindfulness education is not the norm in the U.S., nor does it necessarily come easy to every parent. I’m certainly still learning myself how I can be more mindful, in addition to teaching my kids this important life skill. Because I think it is so important, however, I’ve come up with a few ideas to share with you on how to effectively communicate to your children this idea of mindfulness.
- First and foremost, establish and embrace your own mindfulness practice and be the example you want your kids to emulate. Meditation is an excellent way to get started. If you are new to meditation, there is a plethora of information on the Internet that can point you in the right direction. In addition, there are guided meditation apps available, one of my favorites being Headspace. But even simpler, another way to instill mindfulness in your own life is to turn everyday tasks into opportunities to practice living in the moment. Whether you are working behind a desk, running on the treadmill, cooking dinner, washing the dishes, driving the kids to school….make these moments matter. Be present and feel all the sensations that go along with performing these tasks. Accept and embrace your current situation for what it is, good or bad, and chuck the personal judgments at the door. Learn to control your reactions to certain circumstances, making a point to act with intention and compassion in everything you do. Simpler yet, be fully present for your kids. Put down your phone and give them the attention they crave and deserve. (I know, easier said than done!)
- Teach your children to BREATHE. Give them this tool to aid in shifting negative energy into positive energy. A couple nights ago, my 4 year old daughter was fighting bedtime with a vengeance. And trust me when I say, the girl knows how to throw a tantrum. After a while of leaving her alone with her behavior, I heard her call down the stairs to me, amidst dramatic cries…”Mommy, come breathe with me, come breathe with me.” I went upstairs and sat with her, and we took deep breaths together until she was calm. We began teaching our kids this concept about a year ago, and this was a very magical moment for me. 🙂
- Go on nature walks, encouraging your children to engage their 5 senses along the way. Help them recognize the sights, sounds, feels, smells, and tastes of the experience. Allow a couple minutes to just sit quietly and observe. It’s amazing how much information they will perceive.
- Give thanks. Making gratitude a daily priority is an amazing way to help your children grow more mindful. For my family, this usually happens at bedtime. Each night before our prayers, we take the time to identify what we are thankful for, and then we thank God for these blessings.
- Provide opportunities for creativity. Children love to get artsy and crafty. Allow them ample time to create through drawing, coloring, painting, writing, cooking, singing, playing instruments, etc. This will teach your children to use their minds in ways they otherwise wouldn’t and to become more in touch with their own unique personalities.
I was recently watching an episode of Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday (my FAV!), during which mindfulness expert Jon Kabat-Zinn said, “We are not being educated on how to be, only how to accomplish.” So true this is, and I’m all about shifting that mentality. Let’s teach our children that while accomplishments and success and hard work matter (of course they matter!), they are not the be-all, end-all. Let’s teach our children to be present in each moment and to fully embrace this thing called life before life passes them by.