Erin Schoen Marsh
Thinking About Feelings: How mindfulness helps kids
Mindfulness and meditation can decrease stress/anxiety, increase focus, boost compassion and help kids with self-awareness.
Photo by Mary Wyar Photography.
As parents, we are very in sync with our children’s needs. We know when to interpret whining as a symptom of hunger and we know when a temper tantrum means our child simply needs a nap. If we could teach our children to be in tune with their needs, we would all be much happier—and life would be a little easier.
Mindfulness is exactly this practice, tuning your one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. In yoga and meditation classes, the teacher will often remind students to “stay present.” Focusing on the present moment is imperative when it comes to mindfulness. You need to reflect on your current state in order to calmly acknowledge and accept feelings and sensations.
Everyday Mindfulness for Kids
This is a difficult concept for adults, and it is even more challenging for children. With young children, it is often easiest to start with bodily sensations and basic emotions. If your child is lashing out when just 15 minutes ago he was happy and calm, you may know it’s because he needs to stop playing and take a nap. But he may not yet be able to see the connection between the two. This is an opportunity for you to act as a guide and teacher, reminding your child that it’s time to take a nap. When he has rested, and is once again content, it’s helpful to remind him that he feels better because he took a nap.
It’s also beneficial throughout the day to ask your child to do a self-check: Is he hungry? Does he need to use the bathroom? Is he happy or sad? These simple reminders of practicing mindfulness can help direct your child toward a path to better self-awareness.
For older children, you can delve a bit deeper into mindfulness and meditation. Older children are more adept at understanding their basic needs, but they may still have trouble quieting the mind or analyzing emotions. Many online tutorials are available to help guide children ages 6 and older through short meditation practice, such as Susan Kaiser Greenland’s Inner Kids.
Benefits of Mindfulness for Children
Mindfulness practice decreases stress and anxiety, increases attention span, improves social awareness, and boosts compassion. When students meditate, even for short periods of time, their attention span increases for all other tasks, including educational assignments. Mindfulness helps children be less reactive and better able to regulate their emotions and complete tasks when emotions are high.
Teaching mindfulness to your child may seem like a daunting task, but just remember that every little bit helps. As with all things, children absorb so much when you think they aren’t paying attention. So, practicing mindfulness yourself may help your kids use the same techniques when they are overwhelmed.
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