The term ‘mindfulness’ may bring about certain images to the mind: a person meditating, peaceful mountains or forests, a person moving slowly. But rarely does the term mindfulness make us think of our children. When we witness a child finding difficulty in managing their body or emotions it can be easy to simply say to ourselves ‘they will learn as they grow.” That is true, however, they also need the tools and to witness examples of adults going through those same things.
There are many people who have enormous suffering, and don’t know how to handle it. For many people, it starts already at a very young age. So why don’t we teach our young people the way to manage suffering?
Mindfulness is the best way to be with our suffering without being overwhelmed by it. Mindfulness is the capacity to dwell in the present moment, to know what’s happening in the here and now.
- Thich Nhat Hanh, ‘No Mud, No Lotus’
By teaching mindfulness we are giving children access to the invaluable toolbox of how to manage their physical body within their environments but also how to manage their emotions in a healthy and constructive way. These are skills that must be taught explicitly and also witnessed in the behavior of the adults that take care of them.
If you are unsure of how to incorporate mindfulness into your daily life, I have listed below some easy activities you can do with your children. These activities will not only cultivate a stronger sense of self and body awareness, but they may also strengthen the bond between you and your child. Plus, there is the added benefit that these mindful moments will allow your child to be still and quiet, a type of peace you may be craving 😉
~ Outward to Inward Listening ~
Depending on your child’s level of activity, you may need to let them get their wiggles out by shaking the body and possibly buzzing their lips like a bee. Once they have let go of some of their excess energy, you can start by sitting comfortably, maybe even sitting on your lap. Eyes are closed while taking at least 3 big balloon belly breaths, filling up the lungs and pushing out the belly so that it looks like a balloon. Then exhaling out the mouth, fully and completely.
Eyes remain closed. Begin to listen to the room or nature that surrounds you. Encourage your child to think silently: Do you hear animals? What kinds of animals? Can you hear the wind in the trees? What noises is the house making? Do you hear the air moving in the house? Is someone moving around in another room? What other sounds do you hear?
Once the child has become a bit more calm and focused, begin asking them to silently to listen to their breath. How does it sounds coming in through the nose? Out the mouth? How does it sound when you fill up your lungs totally? How does it sound when you exhale?
Can you hear your heart beating in your chest? Is it slow? Is it fast?
Ending with a full belly breath and a complete exhale. Then, if you would like, ask your child, ‘How do you feel?’ And discuss what you both heard and how those mindful moments felt for both of you.
~ Mindful Walking ~
In a continuation of the outward to inward listening, you can take those same methods and apply them to mindful walking. While walking, ask your child if they can walk so silently that you cannot hear their footsteps. Then begin to ask them to listen outwardly, slowly taking the listening awareness to inside the body.
The mindful walking is best done outside in the grass or on a trail so that there has to be much more care put into walking silently.
~ Awareness of the Physical Body ~
Begin with letting the wiggles out if your child is energized then take at least 3 big balloon belly breaths.
Then take 1-3 bumble bee breaths, a big inhale then rather than exhaling, buzzing like a bumble bee for as long as possible. After 1-3 rounds of buzzing, ask your child to feel their jaw, cheeks, and throat. How do they feel? Are they tingly? Electric? Bubbly? How does it feel in your body? Share with each other the physical sensations that arose for each of you.
If you are outside, let your child take off their socks and touch their feet to the ground. Once again practicing silence, feel the ground beneath your toes. How does the grass feel? What does the mud feel like? Are you stepping on leaves, are they feeling brittle beneath your feet?
If you are inside, try this with your hands. Maybe use the moments in cooking; baking cookies, peeling corn husks, kneading dough, or washing grapes. How do these objects feel? Are they cold, warm? Are they squishy or firm? Dry or wet?
Silently in your head describe these physical experiences with as many details as you can. Then share your experiences with one another.
If you practice any of these exercises at home, please comment below to share your experience! Other parents would be happy to see how it worked with your family and what kinds of changes you made to the activities to make it work best for you and your family.