Mindfulness: is it just me or have you started hearing this term ever so often too? Apparently, it is everywhere; in the form of meditation sessions at work, yoga exercises at home or even coloring activities in school.
An effortless way to put it, mindfulness is about being ‘mindful’ of the present; about noticing what is happening at the moment; good or bad and not reacting to it dramatically. Easier said than done really, because the minute you try to put your ‘mind’ to something, it takes flight. Within seconds, you lose control and a series of obsessive thoughts later; you are left distracted, even anxious at times.
Mindfulness as a trait is often inbuilt; hence some (lucky ones) are born with it. For others, there are several ways to inculcate it and doing so makes great sense. For example, the next time someone criticizes or speaks negatively about you, you can choose to identify your emotions, create space and react appropriately. For that matter, an urge to binge or an oncoming panic attack can also be controlled by simple mindfulness techniques.
For children though?
In our fast-paced lives today, stress-levels are high for adults and children alike. Thus, anything that stands to help adults has clear-cut advantages for children too. A growing body of research has shown that practicing mindfulness can reduce stress, regulate feelings and create empathy; and is particularly instrumental for children and teens with anxiety, aggression, ADHD and other mental problems.
Getting down to it
For most of us, meditation is what comes to mind when we talk about mindfulness. However, to get a spirited toddler to sit still and meditate is to try to pour water in an inverted glass. If you really want to give this a shot though, here are 4 simple ways to do it at home with your children.
Mindful breathing: Make a game out of it. When transitioning from one activity to another, get your child to close his eyes and focus on his breathing for 5 seconds. Have them put their hands on their belly to experience the rise and fall. One might allege that 5 seconds is too short, however, all it takes is a moment to loosen up and feel the present.
Mindful walking: Teaching your kids to being mindful when in motion re-enforces that mindfulness does not necessarily mean stillness. The next time you are out walking together, get them to focus on the ground below their feet or the wind against their hair. Draw their attention to surrounding sights and sounds. Help them discover simple things like how their hearts beat faster with activity.
Mindful eating: To begin with, make sure that there is no medium of distraction (TV, Ipad) during mealtimes. Discuss concepts like aroma and texture around the dining table. Talk about how important it is to chew every morsel of food thoroughly while observing the difference in taste and structure from start to end.
Mindful playing: Mindful playing is about appealing to their senses: sight, sound, touch, smell and activities like painting, sand-play, board & card games and musical instruments do just that. However, kids being kids get distracted easily, hence reminding them to be conscious from time to time might be necessary.
More than just a buzzword
They say change is difficult, at the same time, the only constant. It comes as no wonder then that the world over, people are not only willing to embrace mindfulness but coming up with extraordinary ways of incorporating it in their lives.
In Baltimore, USA, Robert W. Coleman Elementary School follows a novel approach to deal with kids who misbehave. Instead of punishing them, they direct them into an exotic Mindful Moment Room instead, complete with lamps, decoration and purple pillows where children meditate, which help them calm down and re-focus.
Mindfulness in Schools Project (MiSP) is a charity in England whose aim is to encourage, support and research the teaching of secular mindfulness in schools. They offer different routes to go about this; from Free Mindfulness Tasters and Senior Leaders Course to advanced Foundation courses.
In our very own UAE, Greenfield Community School (GCS), a Taaleem school, launched the region’s first Mindfulness and Well-Being Room earlier this year. GCS’s Mindfulness Room is more than just a relaxing environment for students to escape to; it also has smart tablets with guided meditation routines, a Gratitude Tree for students to display what they are thankful for, a sensory room with a range of stimuli to engage the senses, and a positive affirmation wall.
Camali Clinic, a child and adult mental health service in Dubai run a specific program for Mindfulness in Young People. Children who struggle with anxiety, worry, anger, impulsivity, and other emotional difficulties stand to benefit from this program that spans across 8 weeks. The good news is that they are also planning a Summer Camp on the same lines; a fun-based session to enhance children’s self-esteem, confidence and resilience using mindfulness alongside other approaches. Watch this space for more information on that.
In saving the best for the last, I now present to you my favorite way of creating reminders for an inspired life: individually crafted accessories for everyday wear with little, meaningful messages on them to celebrate the ups and cope with the downs of life. Singapore-based The Mindful Company has an entire range of reminder chains, braids and cuffs in stand-out colors like burgundy, warm grey, classic gold and silver among others to make each day count. For orders above 150 SGD, international shipping in free.
As with everything else when it come to children, the earlier you start with mindfulness, the better. The pause-check-reflect-respond approach prepares them for many trials life has to offer.
Do you practice mindfulness with your kids?
How do you do it?
If not, how do you intend to start?