Mindfulness is the ability to bring ourselves back to the present moment with curiosity, love and openness. Children are naturally mindful. They have the uncanny knack to stay in the present moment. In essence, if you want to start teaching your child to be mindful you have to keep the idea of mindfulness and play with it, have fun with the concept of being present and also have a sense of humor about yourself and how serious you make life out to be.Giving you helpful tips to do so is Aarathi Selvan. She is a licensed clinical psychologist and a qualified mindfulness teacher at Pause for perspective. Trained in the US and India, Aarathi loves working with women, families, and individuals. She teaches people about the ability to pause to gather perspective. She sees clients in her private practice and leads workshops online and in-person and writes E books on mindfulness and creative journaling.
Read on for the full talk she had with KidEngage.
Q1. How can mindfulness for kids help?
A:Simply put, mindfulness is the ability to bring ourselves back to the present moment with curiosity, love and openness. Children are naturally mindful. They have the uncanny knack to stay in the present moment without worries about the future or regrets about the past. Growing up in a world that is so past and future oriented they lose some of this ability. Mindfulness then, as a practice helps to bring them back easily to this place of presence helping them focus, stay present, be curious, and also open.
Also, if we are teaching mindfulness to children it is because we want them to turn this natural ability into staying present to themselves, to teach them about the magical properties of their own brain and body and to develop skills that helps manage attention, tolerate difficult emotions and allow for skillful action.
Q2. There is an emerging body of research that indicates mindfulness can help children improve their abilities to pay attention, to calm down when they are upset and to make better decisions. So where do we start? How can we teach these important skills to our children?
When we think of mindfulness we think of meditation. Sometimes our imaginations take us to these long and arduous exercises where one has to sit in lotus position, still and focused on an object for anywhere between 20 to 30 minutes.
Can you imagine 3-7 year old children sitting still, closed eyes, following their breath for so long? Older children may manage to sit for a few minutes but for younger children it is painful to do a formal mindfulness/meditation practice.
Some of the simple practices in mindfulness are called the informal practices. Informal practices are those practices that you incorporate into your normal life- while you are talking to someone, when you are walking to somewhere, sitting and doing a task and such. These are skills that help children the most.
Some of the simple things to incorporate into a child’s life in terms of mindfulness would be:
- Curiosity about what is happening in their bodies when they feel certain emotions- Sitting with your child you can have them enact different emotions and tell you what the different emotions feel like in the body. This allows them to become aware of how the body is involved in different emotions and becomes an entry way into calming their bodies when they are feeling difficult emotions. Sometimes, when my 5 year old is whining, I ask her where in her body she feels the whine and she’ll think about this and tell me. This gives me an opportunity to reach out to her and perhaps press her leg or be with her at the time of her whine instead of throwing a tantrum myself and saying “Stop Whinning, Anika!”
- An interest in the environment around them. Simple games that encourage their ability to be open and interested in their environment helps children to stay present and keep coming back to this present moment. If you take a walk in nature asking your child to point out to different shades of yellow, or search for heart shaped items (leaves, poster ads, stones in that shape) helps them focus on their environment in a specific way. This helps build their ability to stay curious, open and also focused on their environment naturally. This can be done indoors as well and builds their ability to concentrate and be focused.
- Saying Yes! As a parent our natural go-to response for most anything our children do is No! Encouraging parents to say “yes” to children’s pursuit, to what they want allows parents to see how mindfulness is naturally available as a choice in the relationship that one has with their children. In saying “yes” to our autopilot “no’s” we as parents come to confront with the reason why we say so many no’s. It also allows us to see how in our yes’s lie our child’s natural ability to be mindful of whatever they are doing.
In essence, if you want to start teaching your child to be mindful you have to keep the idea of mindfulness and play with it, have fun with the concept of being present and also have a sense of humor about yourself and how serious you make life out to be.
Q3. To authentically teach mindfulness to our children, do we need to practice it for ourselves?
A: Ofcourse! As a parent you would have already seen that your children learn from their environment. That they are watching you keenly and learning from you how to live their lives.
If you send them out to an expert to learn about mindfulness and they find that back home you are stressed, unable to manage your own emotions this comes off as a confusing message for them.
Further, one of the best ways to teach mindfulness to our children is by embodying it in our lives.
Q4. Should we use mindfulness to eliminate tantrums?
The only way to manage tantrums I believe, is through mindfulness. Now I have a very different view of children throwing tantrums. I believe that it is not just children who throw tantrums but their parents are very capable of throwing these tantrums. Bring to mind your struggle to put your children to sleep, feed them, dress them and get them out on time to school. Bring to mind what happens when after a long day’s work they are upset with you for not giving them a full roti on the plate neatly shaped as a circle but that you cut it into pieces and gave it to them like the last time. What do you do?
In situations like these we find ourselves yelling at our children, pushing them to a corner to get ready, do this and that. When they don’t our decibels rise and frustration peak- our very own temper tantrum wont you say?
Now, don’t get me wrong. I do these very things with my children as well. But what I am really getting at is that temper tantrums are inevitable things in the life of humans. What is needed during this time is the practice of loving kindness and compassion. The ability to be kind to ourselves and our kids who are hurting and to wish for them ease and peace and to wish for ourselves ease and peace. When we begin to practice this kind of an attitude with our children we begin to give ourselves space to understand their true needs (as well as ours) and hence starts the process of mindful action where we can work our way to give each other what we truly need-open and loving presence.
Q5. If they kids do not like this practice, what should we do?
A:Try another practice! Mindfulness is a very forgiving practice. If you are unable to come back to the present moment with curiosity, openness and love with one type of exercise, use another! In my workshops with children I use mindfulness based art as well as movement practices to encourage children to learn about themselves and their abilities to be there for themselves and the environment among them. Mindfulness activities provide a toolbox of skills for children to dive and explore their own inner lives as well as the world around them. The choices of practice activities are endless.
Q6. How can mindfulness help children and adolescents with conditions ranging from ADHD to anxiety, autism spectrum disorders, depression and stress?
A: Studies are starting show some very solid benefits to using mindfulness in a variety of conditions. However it is important to seek a professional who is trained in mindfulness to help your child incorporate the benefits that come from using mindfulness.
Q7. What technique or activities do you usually use for kids to get involved / actively participate in the practice of mindfulness?
A: I mentioned some practices in answering a previous questions. Some other simple ways are:
- Helping them see what happens in the brain when they are agitated. I have children observe a pitcher of plain water, I ask them to observe what happens when I pour a few spoons of Eno into to the water and I ask them watch till the Eno completely dissolves in the water. I share with them the function of how our brains need to come back to a still state before we can take any action when we are feeling overwhelming emotions.
- I also talk to them about the brain and its functions. Together we create a model of the brain that they can easily understand and work with. I highly encourage readers to this with their children. Take a look at this link to understand more about the process of what happens in the brain during difficult emotions and how mindfulness can help: http://www.mindful.org/how-to-teach-your-kids-about-the-brain/
- I use simple breathing and body awareness exercises to help children connect with mindfulness. Art is also a wonderful tool to use in helping children learn more about mindfulness.
Q8. How can Mindfulness help kids to manage stress caused by Social Media?
A: I think it is important for us to understand that nothing is truly black or white. That everything has its benefits and its dangers and it is really up to us to learn to discern the impact of people and things around us.
Social media is a gift and a bane and what is most important is to have a healthy discussion with our children-as parents and teachers about how to use it in the most mindful manner.
At any given point we are always paying attention. What we are paying attention to and what impact it is having on us is what mindfulness teaches us.
Q9. How is yoga beneficial in the practice of mindfulness?
A: Yoga is a mindfulness practice in and of itself. It helps us come back to the present moment over and over again through the practice of body movement and awareness. In partaking in yoga we learn to come back to the present moment, to where our body is and breathe and stay with it. This is a wonderful mindfulness practice.
Do you have any questions for Aarathi? Do share in the comments below or mail us at sammy kidengage.com