September 27, 2021
Mindfulness for Children – Positively arming our children with defences against the stresses of modern living
Mindfulness is a bit of a buzzword at the moment. While you may be tempted to believe it is synonymous with the Gen Z population, Role Models are keen to explain that not only is mindfulness around to stay but that it can affect positive change in a big way.
What is mindfulness?
By definition, mindfulness is when you practice dedicating your full attention to something. It requires you to slow down and focus entirely on something. It is the antithesis to rushing around and multitasking. In a time when multitasking is common practice – where we communicate with several people on various devices all at one time, mindfulness can feel counterintuitive. However, it is a necessary skill that modern life has increasingly eroded.
Why is mindfulness a necessary skill to teach?
Many of us take work calls whilst doing the school drop-off, play with our children whilst responding to emails, and cook family dinners whilst participating in meetings. It is no wonder that our children have become competent in multitasking themselves. In many ways this can be seen as a positive thing, research currently suggests that it is detrimental to one’s mental health. We need to focus our attention on not only raising children to be efficient and proactive, but we also need to make sure we safeguard their mental wellbeing. At Role Models, we believe that mindfulness is a lifelong skill that we should teach our children. According to an article written in The New York Times, teaching mindfulness to children is particularly effective because of how their brains develop. The article states that new skills learned are embedded most efficiently during childhood. ‘Mindfulness can therefore have a particular impact on the development of skills including self-regulation, judgment, and patience during childhood’. Embedding these skills early is fundamental to providing children with meaningful armour against the growing stresses and pressures of the modern world. Furthermore, ‘children are uniquely suited to benefit from mindfulness practice. Habits formed early in life will inform behaviours in adulthood, and with mindfulness, we have the opportunity to give our children the habit of being peaceful, kind, and accepting.‘
At Role Models, we ensure that each of our online sessions has time dedicated to embedding useful wellbeing tips that will benefit the children in a meaningful way, including various mindfulness practices. In an article written in The Times on How to Help Your Child Cope with Stress and Anxiety, Professor Tanya Byron states that ‘Research has shown that 13-18-year-olds who did a five-week mindfulness course experienced significantly less mental distress than those who did not.’ Imagine the impact of embedding these skills from an even earlier age!
According to Mindful.org, there are three main benefits to teaching mindfulness to children.
1. Increased focus, attention, self-control, classroom participation, compassion.
2. Improved academic performance, ability to resolve conflict, overall well-being.
3. Decreased levels of stress, depression, anxiety, disruptive behaviour.
Where to start?
We know that modelling behaviours that we want children to demonstrate are fundamental. Therefore, if you wish to encourage your children to incorporate some mindfulness into their daily/ weekly life, it is a great idea to join them. Below, we outline some suggestions of what you can do with your child to support them in practising mindfulness.
1) Listen to a guided meditation
There are endless videos and audio available online to support you with this. It is important that you choose one that is appropriate for your child’s age. Find some time when there are no distractions, and you can ‘switch off’ from the outside world. Before bed is often a good time when the children are winding down. In a quiet part of the house, sit comfortably with your child. You can listen to audio to guide you through this practice. Take time to check in with your child after. It may be initially unfamiliar to them and they may struggle to be in the present moment. Discuss this with your child and if this is the case, encourage them to use the word YET, e.g. ‘I am not good at this YET.’ Like any new skill or habit, it takes time to develop.
2) Create a ‘mindfulness jar’
We created a video on our YouTube channel, explaining how to make these. This is a hugely popular activity that the children do during our ‘Brilliant Me & My Feelings’ course, which is just one of our fantastic offline courses, which run during the school holidays. When we wish to practice mindfulness, we shake these jars, which are full of glitter dancing around them. We relate the glitter to our thoughts, rushing around our heads in no particular order. We can’t push all the glitter to the bottom, we must wait patiently. As the glitter settles, so does our mind. We begin to focus on just our breathing and enjoy having a quieter mind. The glitter doesn’t disappear, it sinks to the bottom of the jar. Much like our thoughts and feelings – they are still in our minds, but they are no longer in our way and we have clarity.
3) Calm breathing
When we are anxious, emotional, or angry, our bodies go into flight or fight mode. Our heart races and our body is pumped with adrenaline. We feel as though we are in danger when we are really not. Teaching our children to breathe calmly is a powerful tool that they can access whenever they need it. There are many different techniques, but one that we love at Role Models is ‘Feather breathing’
· Ask your child to hold a feather in their hand.
· Take a deep breath. (Model this for your child)
· To help children learn how to take a deep breath, ask them to put their hands on their bellies and feel the rise and fall.
· Inhale slowly for a count of 3.
· Then, slowly exhale through the nose, and while exhaling blow gently up one side of the feather and down the other side.
· Relax your shoulders and chest area as you breathe and breathe from your belly. Place your hand over your heart, and it should be barely moving at all.
The internet is full of amazing and positive resources to support you with introducing your children to mindfulness. We have included a few of our favourite ones;
1) Headspace for Kids – The popular adult mindfulness app now has a kids’ series of breathing exercises, visualizations, and meditations.
2) Stop, breathe & think– With an emphasis on fun activities and meditations, this app is designed to help kids with focus, quiet, peaceful sleep, and processing emotions.
3) Smiling Mind – free meditation app available to anyone and everyone, including children’s meditations starting at ages three and up. Downloaded over five million times, this Australian app was developed by psychologists and educators to help deal with the pressures and stress of everyday life
This article was written by Laura Kay, Character Education Team Manager at Role Models.