What do people tend to think of when someone mentions mindfulness? Many people think of meditation, or Buddhism, or some Zen monk off on a mountain somewhere. And if I were to ask you who are the experts in mindfulness, what would you say? Probably those same Buddhist monks again. Or perhaps you have someone more familiar who you consider to be an expert- a friend or family member.
Do you want to know who the real experts in mindfulness are? Through my own observation, I have learned the answer. Kids are the ultimate experts in mindfulness. Mindfulness means paying attention, and as most parents can attest- children pay attention to everything (whether we want them to or not). You see, we all have this innate ability to be mindful, to be enraptured by our experience. As children we were not burdened by anxiety and worry. Children engross themselves fully into whatever they do. They’re being mindful.
Now this may not be something that parents can appreciate at all times. After all, it isn’t much consolation to know that while the 2 year old was coloring on the walls, that she was likely being mindful of it! But there she was, fully engaged in the experience of drawing on the walls without a care in the world or a solitary thought of the consequences!
The key then is to tap into this innate ability for mindfulness and nurture it into something that can grow with them into adolescence and adulthood. So how do we do that? How do we take this wonderful gift that they are given as children and foster something that can make them more resilient to stress and life’s challenges?
The first and likely the most challenging step is to be mindful ourselves. After all, you wouldn’t expect to teach your child how to play the piano unless you knew how to play the piano yourself. The good news is that you can start small, and you can even start by doing some of these activities with your children.
1. Story Time
A long day at work, whether at home or at a job, can be tiring and can leave one wanting to wind down and crash. Sometimes the stress of the day lingers, and we have a hard time letting go. That is why I love story time with my children. It allows me to have some time where we all escape to a fairy tale land, free from stress and worry.
When I read stories to my girls, I’ll have them look at the pictures and describe what they see. When there are no pictures, I have them close their eyes and tell me what they imagine it would look like. If they are extra tired and unwilling to do that, then I have them close their eyes and then I describe in detail what I imagine it to look like. Added bonus: when you invest in story time and are really present with them, I have found it is much easier to put little ones to bed. *Results not guaranteed and can easily be sabotaged by an over-tired toddler*
My girls love bubbles. In fact, it was close to being my second’s first word. As I have mentioned in previous posts, it is impossible to be present 100% of the time. Minds wander; it’s what they do. Before you know it, you’ll be thinking about all the work that has to be done and how you have a deadline for everything. The great thing about bubbles is that you can imagine these automatic thoughts being put in the bubbles and blown away.
There’s so much laundry yet to be done. Bubble. I am never going to get that project done on time. Bubble. How are we going to make ends meet? Bubble. You get the idea.
My girls love yoga. It all started with Mommy and Me Yoga when the oldest was still an infant and has continued on now for many years. Mindfulness is an intrinsic part of yoga; it’s hard to pull off those poses if you aren’t paying attention to your body and your balance.
Two books that I have personally come to enjoy are Good Night Yoga and Good Morning Yoga. The instructions and illustrations are easy to follow, even for my 2 year old. You can also find instructional videos on YouTube or by simply searching on the internet.
No matter how you go about starting, yoga is a great way to learn and cultivate mindfulness- for the young and the not-as-young.
4. Breathing Buddies
The breath is often used an anchor in mindfulness, but instructing a child to pay attention to their breath can be difficult to explain. In this exercise, the child picks out a stuffy and lies flat on their back. They then place the stuffy on their belly and are instructed to breathe in silence for one minute.
As they lie there quietly, ask them to notice how their breathing buddy goes up and down with their breath. For older children, they can be instructed to imagine their thoughts floating away like bubbles then bring their attention back to the breathing buddy.
I’ll leave you with this thought:
“If every 8 year old in the world is taught meditation, we will eliminate violence from the world within one generation.”