There is a busyness that too often consumes our lives. We are always getting ready for something. As parents we have fast-paced mornings getting our children up, out the door, and to school on time. After a day of school, we scramble all over town to pick them up from practices, lessons, and rehearsals. We pester them to get their homework done and when they ask us for help we hope we won’t feel clueless.
We count ourselves as lucky if we manage to spend a few minutes at dinner, talking about our fast-paced days. Weekends are filled with soccer matches, cello lessons, birthday parties, and chores that will help us be ready for the next hectic week when we do it all over again.
And all of this busyness makes the days and weeks and months and years zip by at lightning speed. But it doesn’t have to be this way. We can slow life’s freight train down by paying attention to each moment.
By being mindful.
We can teach our children to be mindful and in the process, grow mindfulness in ourselves.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, a noted mindfulness author says, “Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention on purpose in the present moment, non-judgmentally. It’s about knowing what’s on your mind.”
Amy Saltzman M.D., director for Mindfulness in Education, describes the impact of teaching children to be mindful. “Mindfulness is a tool that supports children in calming themselves, focusing their attention, and interacting effectively with others, all critical skills for functioning well in school and in life. Incorporating mindfulness into education has been linked to improving academic and social and emotional learning. Also, mindfulness strengthens some underlying development processes-such as focus, resilience, and self-soothing-that will help kids in the long run.”
Here are 3 ways to foster mindfulness in children:
- Respect their emotions Children’s emotions are often stormy which is just the way it is developmentally. Children feel things strongly and have not had the life experience that grown-ups have to offer them perspective. Recently my 12-year-old daughter stewed for an hour after she came in last place in family game of Boggle. It would not have helped at all to tell her “Lighten up. It’s just a game. You’re not really mad. You’re being ridiculous” Instead, she needed to hear “Wow, sweetie you are really frustrated. That’s okay. Is there any way we can help?” When we let children know that we respect their emotions, help them identify how they are feeling and offer support, we are teaching them how to better cope the next time a storm begins to swell.
2. Breathe Being mindful means paying attention and one of the most fundamental things we can pay attention to is the thing we need to be alive-our breath. And like breathing itself, the techniques need not be complicated. One simple idea used effectively at Educare of Seattle is “Smell the Flower, Blow Out the Candle.” Teachers invite children to hold an imaginary flower to their nose and an imaginary candle by their mouth. The children take a deep inhaling-breath as they smell the flower, and then blow the candle’s flame out with an exhaling breath. It is remarkable to witness a rowdy group of preschoolers quickly calm themselves simply by paying attention to the in and out of their breath.
3. Try yoga and stretching You don’t need to be a Yogi to practice yoga with your child. Easy to learn poses like Cat, Cow, Cobra, Downward-Facing Dog, and Child-Pose, are fun and help children to relax and feel connected to their own body and breath. Simple stretches like toe-touches, neck-rolls, outstretched arms, and butterfly, build strength and help children breathe as they focus on specific parts of their body.
And the best part of fostering mindfulness with your child is that you will build a deeper, stronger relationship with them. And you and your child will better notice that life, while sometimes busy, is often sweet.