1. Why is it important for kids to practice mindfulness at a young age?
Young children are exposed to difficult things these days. They hear about polar bears dying because of climate change, witness shootings, hurricanes and wildfires on tv, and watch their families in distress over the political climate of our country, regardless of political persuasion. Bullying is prevalent. Social media is destroying our ability to pay attention. Brushing your teeth every day prevents cavities. Practicing mindfulness daily can prevent the ravages of stress from taking over. When we create habits at a young age, they often stick. If kids think it is normal to take time out every day to be quiet, that can become a habit that will continue into adulthood.
2. How does mindfulness empower kids?
Mindfulness empowers children to make wise choices. By practicing mindfulness we develop an awareness of our thoughts and emotions in any moment. If a child is aware he or she is mad because a sibling takes a toy away, that child can make a choice of whether to tell an adult or approach the offending sibling with I statements. Without awareness of the anger felt inside, the child may be stirred up with stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol coursing through their bodies. The result may hurting their sibling rather than resolving the issue without fighting. Mindful awareness creates space between what we feel and what we do and the result is better decision making.
3. What are some easy mindfulness tricks my child can use at school if they get overwhelmed or things aren’t going their way?
The Sharkfin is a tool that kids love. Doing it gets kids out of their heads and into the present moment. It’s helpful when a child is angry, disappointed, or overwhelmed. It is also very useful when a child is distracted. Sharkfin symbolizes five ‘S’. Sit straight, shut eyes, sit still, sit silently and soft breathing. To do the Sharkfin, you put the side of your hand on your forehead with your thumb touching your forehead. Then move your hand down your face, in front of your nose. Say shhhhh and close your eyes as your hand moves down. Now a child is in the “5 s” posture and ready to focus on each in breath and each out breath. To practice the Sharkfin you might want to set a timer so the child can practicing focusing on their breath for 30 seconds and eventually build to two minutes or more.. Eventually children recognize when they need to chill out and take a breath and the Sharkfin will get them there.
4. My child has a hard time settling down for bed, what is a good activity to do at bedtime?
Encourage them to do the Sharkfin and practice their breathing. A body scan can also be a useful activity to get a child (or any of us) out of our heads and into the present moment and ready to sleep. A body scan enables the child to focus on individual parts of the body from toe to head. The idea is for them to simply focus on a body part without moving it, rather simply paying attention to it. Instructions include, now pay attention to your feet, notice if they feel cold or warm, if they are cozy or they hurt, now move to the knees. Do they feel the same or do they feel different? Now move the attention to the legs above the knees. Notice where the legs meet the bed. Do the backs of the legs feel just like the fronts? Continue moving up through the body till you get to the head. Often a child will fall asleep after focusing on just a few body parts.
5. How do I help incorporate mindfulness activities into my child’s everyday life?
Talk to your child’s teacher. The best way to bring mindfulness into children’s lives may be through their schools. Check out Inner Explorer on the web. IE offers a 5 – 10 minute daily mindfulness practice for K-12 students during the school day. Using IE improves grades and test scores, reduces discipline issues and lessens teacher and student stress. When a school uses the program, parents have access to it as well.
It would be useful to practice mindfulness the same time every day in order to turn mindfulness into a habit. Practicing a minute of breathing and gradually adding 30 seconds at a time will help you build to a 5 – 10 minute practice a day. Practicing first thing in the morning is a great way to set a positive, calm tone for the day. Taking a few mindful bites of food at the beginning of a meal each day is a great way to appreciate and savor the bounty of what we consume every day and makes taking food for granted less likely. Ask children to look at the food, to smell the food, and then to chew a piece of food 10 – 15 times before swallowing it. Practicing mindful eating is a great way to add gratitude into your lives. Doing a body scan with your child before bed every day may create good sleep habits.
About the author: With the help of three others, Laurie created Mindful Schools, a vibrant organization that has trained over 300,000 teachers and students in the last 10 years. In 2014, she joined the team at Inner Explorer to spread mindfulness to schools. In 2016, New Harbinger published a book she wrote with fifth-graders in East Oakland called Master of Mindfulness: How to Be Your Own Superhero in Times of Stress.
Need some more ways to practice mindfulness with your child? Our January crate, “I Can Quiet My Mind” is full of fun activities and ideas for practicing mindfulness with your child. Make practicing mindfulness a part of your child’s daily routine (and wardrobe) with this soft and adorable tee available in our shop.