By the end of August stores are filled with parents and students loading the cart with everything from crayons for preschoolers to sheets and towels for college students. While this transition to school can be exciting, it can also be stressful whether your child is worried about making friends on the playground, sitting still or getting into a “good” college. Mindfulness practices can help students of all ages and starting early will benefit your child for life.
There are numerous ways to introduce mindfulness into our child’s life depending on their age. This month we will focus on young children. At this age, children are often told to “calm down” or “pay attention” but do not know how to do so. Children can learn these skills through mindfulness practices in addition to many additional benefits.
Studies have shown that the benefits of mindfulness practices for students are:
• Improved academic performance
• Better concentration and organization
• Reduction in behavior issues and fidgeting
• Improved resiliency
• Increased self-awareness
• Better sleep
With young children it is important to have someone help them practice these skills on a daily basis because consistency is important in training the brain to work in a new way. Small children have short attention spans so it is important to start small and build gradually. It is also important to make it a pleasant experience and not just another task. Some suggestions to start practicing with your child are:
• Breathing Buddies – In the video Edutopia, Daniel Goleman, psychologist and author of Emotional Intelligence discusses the benefits of “breathing buddies” to teach mindfulness. When visiting a classroom in a Spanish Harlem neighborhood he discovered that the teachers had found a way to help children who were coming in from violent surroundings and many also had ADHD. As a part of each day the children would lie on the floor with a stuffed animal on their belly and watch the rise and fall as they breathe in and out 1,2,3. This simple mindfulness exercise allowed the children to calm down quickly and improved their brains ability to focus. The children also became more aware of their emotions and were able to use this awareness to breathe through difficult feelings. This simple practice can be taught at home and can easily become part of a young child’s day.
• Frog Meditation -In her book “Sitting Still like a Frog” Eline Snel teaches mindfulness to young children through a “frog meditation.” Children are instructed to find a place at home where they can have privacy and practice “doing the frog” each day. Snel explains how a frog can jump about wildly but can also sit very still. The sitting frog breathes in and out and is aware of what is happening in the moment. After learning this meditation she teaches children to observe their emotions and thoughts through a -change the weather outside, they also cannot change emotions. Instead she teaches how to breathe through the emotion and allow it to be separate from them.
• Red Light, Green Light – The game “red light, green light” can be used as a mindfulness tool. When the child needs to calm down or pay attention the “red light” comes on indicating it is time to take 3 deep breaths before the light changes to “green light.”
• Use technology to reinforce and build skills – There are many great apps that help teach children Mindfulness. Enchanted Meditations for Kids 1 was developed by Christiana Kerr and is designed for 3 to 9 year old children and teaches how to become calm and focused through guided mediations with dolphins and rainbows. It is also available as a CD. She also developed Sleep Meditations for Kids which includes relaxation tools for children of all ages. For children 7- 18 Smiling Mind is a great app to help reduce stress and focus the mind.
• Use a simple mantra- In his book Planting Seeds: Practicing Mindfulness with Children , Thich Naht Hahn’s adapts the mantra “Breathing in, I am calm. Breathing out, I smile” for children.