Mindfulness is an incredibly important life skill making its way into homes, schools, and therapy offices across the world—and for good reason! It is a crucial skill to learn in order to develop inner peace, joy, gratitude, and social-emotional skills, like self-regulation, decision-making, and impulse control. But what is mindfulness?
A widely accepted definition of mindfulness is offered by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, which is the “awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.”
This definition simplifies and makes mindfulness more accessible to adults, but how do you introduce such an important, yet abstract, concept to young children? And how do you help them develop a foundational understanding of mindfulness and self-awareness from which to grow and develop over their lifetime? Here are 8 tips adults can use to support children in developing mindfulness across their lives:
- Create your own mindfulness practice: There is quite a bit of evidence to suggest that learning happens subconsciously through the reinforcement we receive in our social environment. Many experts suggest that mindfulness is best taught when mindfulness teachers regularly practice it themselves. Attempt to make it a priority to cultivate your own mindfulness practice, as this will naturally support the creation of a “mindful” social environment in which your child can absorb this skill more readily.
- Let go of expectations: While pictures in magazines or on the internet of children sitting quietly in lotus pose are appealing, the reality of practicing mindfulness, especially with young children, involves going with the flow. Children are naturally wired to be mindful and to fully immerse themselves in their experience, but they sometimes need more creative exercises to engage their active minds and bodies. If sitting meditations aren’t working one moment, try mindful movement. (Walking or balance meditations are great for kids!) Attempt to meet your child wherever they are in the moment.
- Simplify: Especially with younger children, start small. This includes simplifying the overall definition of mindfulness, as well as the amount of time you practice and the exercises you choose. (This one is true for your child and for yourself!)
- Use mindfulness language: Create an environment where it becomes common to use language that supports a mindful headspace. Ideas for incorporating mindful language into your daily life include referencing any of the phrases used in your favorite children’s books about mindfulness, reinforcing the use of “feeling” statements or “I see, hear, smell, etc.” statements, or simply describing your own experience to your child in any given moment.
- Interpret: Cultivating mindfulness within children often requires an adult to help bring clarity to the moment. Phrases like “You are feeling frustrated because you wish you could stay up later” or “You’re feeling so mad that you hit your sister” can help bring awareness to internal and external experiences your child is having. Over time, your child will start to connect the dots on their own.
- Be curious: Children are naturally good at being curious, but adults have often lost this quality. Though it is easy to get caught up in routine, it can be helpful to gently remind ourselves that this very moment is unlike any other we have experienced in our lives. Being present and curious about whatever moment we are in allows us to fully enter the moment and to let go of being on autopilot.
- Practice makes “permanent”: Mindfulness is a lifelong practice. The more we practice, the more it becomes ingrained into who we are. Don’t strive for perfection, but work instead for consistency and acceptance.
- Model: Besides cultivating your own mindfulness practice, mindful parenting requires intentionally being in the moment without judgment. When difficult or stressful situations arise in parenting or elsewhere, practice being gentle with yourself and with your child. Model taking slow, deep breaths; taking a short break; and reminding yourself that this is a process that may take some time. Though it may not always seem like it, kids will benefit and learn from your ability to model how to calm your own body and regulate your emotions.
Ready to introduce your child to the concept of mindfulness? Have them try the coloring sheet below! Click here
to download your free copy. For a concrete way to introduce children to mindfulness, a description of these tips, and more, check out Calm and Peaceful Mindful Me: A Mindfulness How-To Guide for Toddlers and Kids.