Do you want your little one to be calmer and less reactive? Learning how to slow down, how to concentrate, and how to engage the mind are not only critically important habits for adults to form, but also for young people to develop at an early age. Mindfulness has been shown to provide children with simple, practical tools to help them regulate their emotions, increase their focus, and more.
Research on mindfulness and children is not yet as extensive as with adults, but the number of studies is growing, and the results are promising. In fact, a Mindful Schools Research Study performed during the 2011-12 school year showed that mindfulness taught in Oakland schools produced statistically significant improvements. In their study of nearly 1000 elementary school students, they noted a 10% increase in paying attention, an 8% increase in calming/self-control, and a 9% increase in self-care/participation, based on scoring rubrics filled out by teachers.
If you want to bring the benefits of mindfulness to your children, here are some tips to begin a mindful practice that’s fun and effective for the whole family:
- Breathe deeply together – In the face of difficult emotions and rising frustrations, pause to acknowledge your children’s feelings and then take three deep breaths together. This simple practice of pausing and breathing will lower everyone’s stress levels and foster family harmony and healthy habits.
- Gratitude – Practice gratitude as a family. You might go around the dinner table every night and have each person share one thing they are grateful for. If your kids love to write or draw stories, you can encourage them to start a gratitude journal.
- Use mental anchors – To help your child improve their ability to focus and calm down, teach techniques such as counting breaths (inhaling for 3 counts and exhaling for 3 counts) or using a simple mantra such as, “Breathing in I calm the body; Breathing out I calm the mind.”
- Let mindfulness permeate every activity in life – Encourage kids to be curious and aware during daily activities. For example, when making their bed in the morning, invite them to feel the sheets, and enjoy the softness. Explain that mindfulness is always available to us, not just during a specified mindfulness time.
- Make the practice fun and relaxing – Avoid forcing children to sit still for a length of time that may be difficult. Adapt the practice to suit your children. If your children are high-energy, invite them to do a walking mindfulness exercise. If a child is resistant to mindfulness, practice a mindfulness relaxation together at bedtime, when they are more relaxed. Make the practices short at first. They will realize the benefits, enjoy practicing with you, and then you can lengthen the sessions gradually.
- Practice what you preach – Kids are wired to imitate the adults around them. If you want your children to be more mindful, it’s often a good idea to start with yourself.
Mindfulness techniques can help kids improve focus, regulate their emotions, and build self-control, which are critical skills for success in school, sports, peer interactions, and family life. Start integrating these simple tips today to support your child and your family with brain-healthy habits.
About the Author: Sonia Dhingra is a rising high school senior and an intern at Mastermind Meditation. She has spent the last two summers interning with the Stress Solutions team at the Brain Performance Institute (part of the UT Dallas Center for BrainHealth). In her free time, she enjoys practicing photography and piano.
Mastermind provides research-driven mindfulness and emotional intelligence learning for corporations, nonprofits and individuals across the U.S., including national brands like American Airlines, United Way, Peloton and FedEx. Mastermind’s science-based approach is designed to support mental wellbeing and build focus, awareness, compassion and connectivity that help us all build stronger, healthier lives and relationships. For more information visit MastermindMeditate.com.