It’s been a difficult year for the whole family, and Christmas is on the horizon. Why not introduce your children to mindfulness and welcome this festive season?
Christmas is fast approaching, and this year we’ve all got more on our minds than just presents and roast turkey. The consequences of the coronavirus pandemic are being felt all over the world, and it will be hard for many families to truly escape reality this year. However, Christmas is a time of love and celebration, and there are still some ways you can combat stress this year. Teaching your kids mindfulness over the holidays could provide the whole family with some peace of mind.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness comes from Buddhist ideas and practice, and is all about knowing the mind, training the mind and freeing the mind. It might seem difficult at first, but everyone has the ability to be mindful. It doesn’t matter what kind of person you are – if you’re willing to learn, then you can benefit from mindfulness practices.
American psychotherapist and Buddhist teacher, Sylvia Boorstein, describes mindfulness as “opening to or receiving the present moment, pleasant or unpleasant, just as it is, without either clinging to it or rejecting it”. Essentially, if you learn to accept your thoughts and feelings without judging yourself, you will begin to open your mind in a whole new way.
How can children benefit from mindfulness?
Children can benefit from mindfulness even as an infant, but the responsibility lies with the parent at this age. However, by age 4, children are able to learn mindfulness techniques to use by themselves. A study by Wall in 2005 evaluated the effects of teaching mindfulness in a school and found that the children received the following benefits:
- Improved self-awareness
- Better ability to regulate emotions
- Improved sleep
- Increased self-care
- More of a connection to nature
Why is it a good time to teach them?
This month is the perfect time to teach your children about mindfulness, as you spend time together over the Christmas period. This year has been difficult for all of us, but children and teenagers will have found this upheaval of society particularly tough. Young children don’t understand why they have to follow so many new rules, and teenagers have had to give up their social lives and have missed out on important opportunities at school.
This Christmas might also be more difficult than other years – some older family members may be shielding, and some families will be dealing with grief and loss. These changes may affect children and their behaviour, so it is vital that families come together and support each other. Mindfulness can be a strategy to help manage emotions and keep everyone calm, while also giving families an opportunity to bond together.
Studies show that practicing mindfulness as a family can help parents feel compassion for themselves and their children, improve listening skills and increase warmth felt by children from their parents, particularly their fathers.
How to teach meditation for kids
Mindfulness and meditation are very closely linked; many of the practices related to mindfulness originate from buddhist meditation. Some particular benefits of meditation include reduced stress due to the release of endorphins and increased focus.
Kids should try meditation so that they always have a calm place they can go to if they need to relax, focus or escape. Rather than getting angry or upset, they can take a minute for themselves to calm down and release tension.
1. Begin with breathing
As you sit your child down to try meditation and get them to close their eyes, they might not know what to do. An easy way to begin is to get them to focus on their breathing. Take slow but deep breaths in and out, and encourage them to breathe evenly from their tummies.
2. Focus on the senses
While breathing, your child’s mind will begin to wonder. Get them to think about all five of their senses. What can they feel? What can they smell? After they’ve gone through all five, the best sense to focus on is hearing. Tell them to focus on every tiny sound that they hear – this is perfect if you can’t guarantee a quiet house.
3. Teach positive associations
Try not to punish your child if they get anything ‘wrong’ or lose focus. You want this to be a calming and positive activity, so encourage them if they focus, but don’t tell them off if they get distracted.
4. Tell them a story
Sometimes, your child will not be able to focus on their senses or sounds, and they need a little more help. Tell them a calming story for them to focus on while they keep their eyes closed.
5. Try lying down
Not sure when to try meditation with your kids? How about just before bed as a way to wind down. You can’t get much more comfortable and relaxed than lying in your bed.
6. Use an app or YouTube video
There are so many great meditation apps and Youtube videos out there to try if you feel a little stuck, or perhaps want some music and sounds to accompany the meditation. Kids might find videos easier to follow when starting out. Some of the best child-friendly meditation apps are listed below.
7. Join in
Make it a family activity! The best way to introduce your child to meditation is by being a role model for them. If you meditate with them and show that it’s something fun and relaxing for everyone, your child is much more likely to try it and stick with it.
The benefits of mindfulness colouring
Mindfulness colouring isn’t about creating the most beautiful coloured picture, but it’s about placing all of your focus into your colouring as a form of self-expression. There are plenty of mindfulness colouring books out there, or even free print-outs. Your child should pick a picture that they like, and really pay attention to each section that they colour in. Tell them they can pick colours to reflect their feelings if they want – they don’t have to be factually accurate. Below are some of the benefits of mindfulness colouring for kids.
- It lowers stress levels
- It’s extremely accessible or cheap to buy materials for
- It can put you into a semi-meditative state, where you are totally calm and focused
- It’s very inclusive – even kids who are not good at art can enjoy this
- It’s a great activity to do as a family
5 more fun mindfulness exercises for children
Here are some simple mindfulness exercises to try with your child to get them started. Some will appeal to them more than others – everyone is different!
1. Body scan meditation
This is a very simple but effective way to get your child in touch with their body. During this meditation, tell them to mentally scan their entire body, starting with their head and ending with their toes. As they focus on different parts of their body they will notice what feels comfortable and what doesn’t.
2. Blind taste test
This one is fun, interactive and a great way to get your child to focus on their senses. Simply place a blindfold over their eyes and get them to guess different foods based on smell and taste. Afterwards, let them swap and feed you.
3. Create a mind garden
Get your child to imagine that their mind is like a garden. They can plant seeds if they feel love, happiness, excitement or other positive emotions, and watch as flowers bloom. If they don’t nurture the garden, weeds might grow and replace some of the flowers. Asking about the mind garden can be a great way to check-in with your child or get your child to talk about their emotions.
4. Kid-friendly yoga poses
Yoga has all kinds of benefits for the mind and body, including increased flexibility, improved posture and higher energy levels. If your child is not so great at sitting completely still, this might be a fantastic way to introduce them to mindfulness. Here are some easy yoga poses to try.
5. Daily journaling
Writing in a journal can be a fun and soothing activity, with the benefit of encouraging your child to write frequently. Try writing three things you’re both grateful for each day, or write a story about your favourite memory of the day. Your child will end up with a journal full of positivity and happy memories.
Practicing mindfulness benefits you too
While the focus of this article is children, all of these exercises work best when you practice them alongside your child. Adults have just as much to benefit from mindfulness as children, and this could be an exciting new approach to life for the whole family. Spending time with your kids over Christmas doesn’t have to be a stressful experience.
Science has proven that mindfulness has a positive effect on all aspects of our lives – it reduces stress, lowers anxiety, improves physical health, increases happiness and improves our memory. Harvard researchers have even found that meditation can help depressed patients by changing brain activity. Another study showed that participants trying mindfulness meditation had reduced anxiety and stress after just one hour. We all have so much to gain from mindfulness, so why wouldn’t you want to try it?
You can try incorporating mindfulness into your daily lives or try therapy if you have more serious concerns about your physical or mental health. There are two main types of therapy you can try:
This is an eight week long program that teaches mindfulness as a way to combat anxiety, depression, stress and chronic pain.
MBCT combines mindfulness techniques with methods from cognitive behavioural therapy to help break negative thought patterns that commonly occur when you have depression.
Mindfulness has the potential to benefit your child in so many ways, and they might find that it affects their entire outlook on life. There are so many resources available online, like our courses Mindfulness: A Focus on Adolescents and De-mystifying Mindfulness, so you have plenty of opportunities to figure out which parts you like the sound of. Trying it over the Christmas holidays might just alleviate some of this year’s stress, so it’s worth a go.