Mindful Me, Mindful Little Me
This increasingly popular life skill and mindset for adults can be cultivated through breath awareness meditation and other present moment practices, but is it possible to get little ones to sit still, pay attention and become more calm and focused too?
Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention to one subtle sensation; the breath, the sounds of the rumbling metro, your footsteps, the feeling of the hot water splashing your back in the shower. As we pay attention with intention (on purpose), we develop awareness of our thoughts and feelings. As they pass by, we can learn to observe these without attachment, or judgment. We can see them as the weather, impermanent, passing through for a while, not being swept away by the clouds, rain or gales, nor becoming attached to the sunshine, but enjoying it whilst it lasts. Every time we practise mindfulness in meditation, or in mindful lifestyle habits (washing the dishes, brushing your teeth, drinking a cup of tea), we become kinder, more patient and more resilient to the changes of our moods and our external world.
As adults we already have parts of our lives where we are perhaps practising mindfulness, maybe we just don’t call it that. As a starting point for practising mindfulness, we can identify those times in our daily lives where we just take time to notice the present moment, and allow our thoughts settle. We can also do the same with our families; being present with each other, listening attentively to one another, taking time to eat dinner together, going for a walk together. Mindfulness is about keeping it simple, and creating space and time to go back to basics. If you then feel ready to commit to the practise of mindfulness meditation, then you and your family can gain even greater benefits of peace and clarity that this formal activity can bring you which will only increase your enjoyment of your time spent together. Here are some practical tips for introducing mindfulness and meditation to your little ones…
Mindful activities for children
- Blowing bubbles: Just blow bubbles! Blow gently, one out breath at a time, watch the bubbles float through the air until they disappear. This can be challenging for younger children who want to chase and pop the bubbles, but it’s a great way to get them to slow down, notice their breath (a starting point for meditation) and to notice their urge to want to react. Instead they can simply blow, watch, wait and then blow again. With older children you can also use this activity as a metaphor for how our thoughts and emotions are temporary; like the bubbles, they float around in our mind for a while, but eventually, if we can sit still with them with patience, they will disappear on their own. Make sure you keep this light and easy, mindfulness for children is about gentle encouragement, rather than forcing the practice. If they want to run and chase the bubbles, then let them have their fun and excitement with this too, either before the activity or once the mindful part is over.
- Feely bag: This activity is an old classic. Put some objects in a bag in different shapes, sizes and materials e.g. a marble, a coin, a key, a sock, an eraser, a balloon, a soft toy, a cork. Show your child how to touch an object first, without looking, and have a go at describing it (e.g. it’s flat, smooth, cold, round etc.) Invite your child to do the same and engage with their sense of touch, allowing them some time to explore the object (without looking) and encouraging some description of what it feels like. There’s no need to make this into a descriptive literacy lesson, but rather just being with the sense of touch and examining the different feeling of the hidden objects.
- Go Noodle (www.gonoodle.com): This website, popular with educators, is a great way to engage children in mindfulness at home as well as in school. Of course it’s good to explore mindfulness without a technology, but the videos on this site are excellent at introducing children to mindfulness themes (boost confidence, build compassion, enhance focus, manage stress, practice self-control) in a fun and engaging way that’s relevant to them. It’s an easy way to do some meditation together at home with an on-screen guide. Registration is free!
Meditation for children
- Hand breathing: It can be challenging for children (and grownups!) to just focus on the breath during meditation. One way to add a little extra focus is to use your hands and fingers alongside the breath. For example, holding your hand spread out in front of you, use the forefinger of your other hand to trace the shape of your hand from thumb to little finger, up and down each finger with each in and out breath. When you reach the little finger, repeat and go back the other way. Practise together first with eyes open and then encourage your child to continue with their eyes closed, taking their time and noticing their breath and the shape of their hand. Another method is to sit with your hands palms up on your knees with your thumb and forefingers together, as you breathe in open your thumb and finger, as you breathe out close your thumb and forefinger.
- Breathing buddies: This exercise helps your child to notice where their breath is in the body, particularly in the belly. Invite your child to find their favourite soft toy and ask them to lie down on their backs. Place the teddy on their belly and invite them to take slow, deep breaths in and out, watching the soft toy rise up and down with each in and out breath. You could also try counting the breaths to 10 to provide some extra focus if necessary.
Remember the key for practising mindfulness with your children is to have a light and gentle approach, there’s no point in creating more tension if they don’t want to do it. Just keep offering the chance to try it out. In the end, the best way to help your child manage their emotions, feel more peaceful and improve their focus is to model this behaviour yourself. You can change the energy of your home by developing your own mindful habits, whether it’s slowing down to enjoy family meals together, or starting your own meditation practice.
This article was kindly shared with Shanghai Mamas by Luna Button. Luna is a mindfulness teacher with a background in primary education. She runs mindfulness after school programs and public workshops for children and teenagers helping to support their emotional life and studies as well as parent and teacher mindfulness training.
You can find Luna on WeChat at lunabutton, on online at www.lunamindfulness.smallchina.cn