Chances are, if you are the parent of a primary or secondary aged child in Australia, that you have heard the term ‘mindfulness’. You might know that your child is participating in some sort of ‘Mindfulness Education Program’ and you might even know that they are learning yoga and/or meditation techniques, but do you fully understand why and do you know about some simple ways you can continue mindfulness education at home?
I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that life is busy. I know it’s extremely busy for me and it’s just getting busier and busier for my little people. Compared to when our own parents (and even we) went to school, our kids have got an incredible amount to deal with. There are school work pressures, extra-curricular activity pressures, social pressures, pressures regarding their futures and career paths, external pressures on appearance, possessions and ‘keeping up with the Joneses’, the list goes on and on.
With all these pressures and demands it’s really no wonder that depression and anxiety affect 1 in 6 young people in Australia and horrifying as it is, suicide is the leading cause of death amongst 15-24 years olds in Australia.
This is where ‘mindfulness’ comes in. Through a variety of yoga and meditation techniques, such as breathing exercises, quiet times, stillness, activities that focus on the senses and gratitude activities, mindfulness brings the mind to the here and now. It is about being fully present, without judgement.
Mindfulness education trains the mind to focus on the present and not dwell on what has happened in the past or worry about what is going to happen in the future.
Don’t I wish someone had taught me these skills when I was younger?!! Maybe then I would be able to sit and have a cup of tea without my head running through the list of chores still ahead of me for today, tomorrow, next week and next month!
Studies show that practising mindfulness has a number of both psychological and physical benefits:
- Decreased anxiety
- Decreased depression
- Increased coping skills
- Decreased irritability and moodiness
- Increased ability to quickly recover from bad moods
- Improved learning ability and memory
- Increased happiness
- greater emotional stability
- improvedability to effectively manage problems
- Improved self-esteem (that is less dependent on external factors)
- Decreased negative thoughts
- Decreased likelihood of acting impulsively
- Increased ability to focus
- Decreased stress
- Improved social and emotional well-being
- Improved academic success
- Improved breathing
- Lower heart rate
- Improved circulation
- Improved immune function
- Reduced physical stress responses
- Better sleep
- Better management of physical symptoms (such as pain)
Janis Coffey, the Associate Director of The Institute of Positive Education, here in Australia, states: “(Mindfulness is) teaching children skills that they will use tor the rest of their lives; skills that are certain to make a difference.”
How to start?
So it really seems to be a bit of a no-brainer (no pun intended!!); children obviously do benefit from mindfulness training and I have no doubt that I would benefit from it too, so what can we do, as parents, to introduce a little mindfulness at home?
The first thing to consider is this: You wouldn’t jump in and start teaching your child to ski if you, yourself didn’t have a clue how to ski, and mindfulness is no different. In order to help your child with these activities and practices, you must start a practice of your own. It can be as simple as 5-10 minutes a day of meditation. Later on I will give you a list of apps that can help you get started.
Other things to consider are:
- Don’t force it – if your child doesn’t seem interested in what you are trying to do, or doesn’t want to do it right now, don’t push, let them be and try again some other time.
- Keep it age appropriate – don’t expect a 5 year old to discuss ‘mindfulness’ with you, or sit still for a 20 minute meditation. Start small and develop the vocabulary and the skills along the way.
- Be realistic with your expectations – mindfulness will not completely eliminate tantrums or turn your noisy household into a wellness retreat (wouldn’t that be nice?!) but it will (over time) teach your child to recognise thoughts as ‘just thoughts’ and it will teach them to be present in the here and now.
Easy tips to try at home
So now that we have those basics covered, here are some easy, practical ideas for you to introduce mindfulness to your own homes:
- Make a ‘Glitter Jar’ – this is a jar filled with water and glitter. The Glitter Jar is a metaphor for your mind: when you shake and move the jar, the glitter travels quickly around, moving in all directions and filling the space. Similarly, your mind has millions and millions of thoughts and just like the glitter, they travel around your mind, darting this way and that, but when you set the jar down, or settle your mind, the glitter and your thoughts settle down too. There will still be a few thoughts (pieces of glitter) floating around, but they will not be nearly as overpowering or overwhelming.
- Use a Bell or a Singing Bowl, Wind Chimes or a Gong – ring the bell, strike the bowl etc. and ask your child to listen to the sound until they can no longer hear it.
- Utilise a Breathing Buddy – simply ask your child to choose a soft-toy or a teddy bear and have them lie down on their back with the toy on their stomach. Then tell them to watch their toy rise and fall with their breathing.
- Go for a Mindfulness Walk – go for a walk with your child and while you are out walking, dedicate one minute to noticing everything around you. During this minute no one is allowed to talk; you have to spend the time listening to and observing everything around you.
- Start a Gratitude Practice – this could be done around the dinner table each night, and it’s simply an opportunity for everyone in the family to focus on the things they are grateful for, rather than the focussing on what we want.
- Activate your Spidey Senses – ask your child to tap into their inner Spiderman, and, for a short time, focus on all that they can smell, taste and hear in the present moment.
- Check your personal Weather Report – teach your child to assign a weather report to their own mind: is it sunny, rainy, stormy, calm etc. in your mind right now? Compare this to the knowledge that we cannot change the outside weather, in the same way we cannot change our feelings or emotions, but we can change how we relate to them. For example: “It is raining right now, but I am not the downpour.” “Sometimes I feel scared, but I am not a scaredy-cat.”
- Try Mindful Eating – ask your child to focus entirely on one piece of food. It may be a sultana, or a grape, or a square of chocolate. Ask them to explain the look (size, shape, colour) of the food, ask them to smell it. Ask them to describe the sensation in their stomach. Now pick it up – what does it feel like? Ask them to slowly bring the food to their mouth and to be aware of what is happening in their mouth. Ask them to place the food on their tongue, but not to bite it. Feel the texture. What do they taste? Now bite. What do they taste? Try not to swallow straight away. Does the taste/texture change while they are chewing? Ask them to feel the food going down as they swallow. Then refocus on the mouth – the taste and the feeling. Finally ask them: What are you feeling?
- This idea is adapted from Christopher Willard’s, A Child’s Mind: Practice to Help Our Children Be More Focussed, Calm and Relaxed
The way we think and the way we handle our feelings plays a massive part in overall mental health and mindfulness teaches us to focus our thoughts and our feelings about our thoughts. It teaches us to stay in the moment and gives us a break from worry and stress.
Offering a little respite from crazy schedules and over-worked minds certainly seems like a great idea to me and I am very grateful that schools are recognising the importance of teaching these skills.
Now when my daughter tells me she ‘did yoga’ I will understand that she actually did a lot more than that!
As promised, here is a list of apps that may help you and/or your child with mindfulness and meditation:
- Stop, Breathe and Think: http://www.stopbreathethink.org/
- Calm: https://www.calm.com/
- Mindfulness Training App: https://itunes.apple.com/ca/app/the-mindfulness-training-app/id687853790?mt=8
- The Mindfulness App by MindApps: https://itunes.apple.com/au/app/mindfulness-app-guided-silent/id417071430?mt=8
- Headspace: https://www.headspace.com/headspace-meditation-app
- Insight Timer: https://insighttimer.com/
- Smiling Mind: http://smilingmind.com.au/
Do you have any mindfulness strategies, activities or ideas you implement at home? We would love to hear about them.
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