Mindfulness is one of the most powerful tools we have available to us. It has also become an increasingly treasured practice. The idea behind mindfulness is simple: it is “awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally”, according to mindfulness scholar Jon Kabat-Zinn.
The beauty of mindfulness lies in its accessibility. We can practice it at any time, in any moment. Mindfulness practices help children foster a sense of curiosity, self-compassion, and a crucial awareness of their psychological and physical experience of the world.
Here are five simple ways to turn a habitual routine into an opportunity for your child to practice mindfulness:
Mindful eating is a wonderful way to introduce the idea of mindfulness to children. Before your child begins a meal, invite them to connect with the experience of eating by first observing what their food looks like, smells like, and sounds like.
Inspire your child to explore all the sensations of the food they are eating: How does it feel to have the food in your mouth? Is the texture of one food the same as the texture of another? What about the food tastes sweet or salty? Does the taste of the food change as you chew?
This is a great opportunity for your child to notice their body's finely tuned senses. Encourage them to identify some of the signals their body and mind send to them when they are feeling hungry and full.
Research shows that meditation is hugely beneficial for children. Walking meditation is an engaging practice for children, especially if they are new to meditative practices. As you walk with your child down the street, ask them to bring their focus to their feet: What does it feel like to have your foot suspended in air versus touching the ground? Is your entire foot ever touching the ground all at once?
You can also invite your child to explore their five senses when moving from one place to another: What do they see, hear, touch, and smell in one environment compared to another? What kinds of feelings do those elements of the physical environment bring to mind?
A beautiful way to foster positive thinking in children (and adults!) is through positive affirmations. Introduce the idea of affirmations by explaining that sometimes when we feel sad, mad, or frustrated, we are likely to have negative thoughts. In those moments, detaching from the negative thoughts and instead focusing on positive ones can help make us feel better.
Invite your child to create an “affirmation of the week.” Write their affirmation down (or even better, have them write it down, and turn it into a full-blown art project!) and send it along with them in their lunch box as a sweet, midday reminder.
Go beyond the predictable “how was your day?” inquiry at dinner, and invite your child to tell you how their day was through colors. Colors tend to be strongly associated with emotions and are a fun and visual descriptor that children can use to reflect on their experiences.
By asking your child to think about their day differently, you are creating an exploratory space to unpack the experiences that emulate that particular color. This question can also lead to a conversation on emotional states and the various events that may yield different emotions.
Visualizing emotions as different colors can also help children conceptualize emotional states as being transitory, which Dr. Dan Siegel says is a fundamental lesson for children in his book The Whole Brain Child.
Relaxation breathing is a powerful tool for calming the sympathetic nervous system and igniting the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps us feel relax and restored. Teaching our children how to breathe is one of the greatest gifts we can share with them.
To practice the relaxation breathing technique, have your child inhale through their nose for four counts and exhale from their nose for eight counts. The key here is that their exhale is longer than their inhale.
You can also try having your child find a “breathing buddy,” which could be any object they find comforting, from a stuffed animal to an eye pillow. They can put their breathing buddy on their tummy and watch it rise and drop as they practice the relaxation breath. The breathing buddy acts as a visual for the breath and empowers children to feel in control of their own breathing.