Children are more stressed out and anxious than ever before. In our fast paced, hectic, and digital world, the impact of this way of being can be detrimental to the health and welfare of our children. Wide-spread use of electronic devices exposes children to information and various forms of stimulation at rapid speeds. In addition to schoolwork and household responsibilities, children may be involved in many extracurricular activities and overscheduled with other commitments. More and more children report feeling anxious, stressed, tired, and easily frustrated. Their young bodies and minds cannot take it all. Children often lack healthy coping skills to deal with the pressures they experience and need help developing skills to navigate the challenges in their lives.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a way of being and an effective tool for coping with a stressful world. It teaches children to notice and bring their attention to what is happening in the present moment: their thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations.
Mindfulness teaches children to notice and bring their attention to what is happening in the present moment.
Mindfulness is not concerned with what happened in the past or what may happen in the future. Children are naturally more mindful than adults; they are often much more present in the here and now, so learning mindfulness practices may come more easily to them.
There are two formal practices of mindfulness that are effective tools for coping with stress: meditation and yoga. These practices are positive, portable and scientifically proven to help lower stress, build resilience, aid with concentration and focus, regulate emotions, as well as provide other mental and physical benefits. Meditation and yoga require time, patience, commitment and practice. Children can do meditation and yoga alone, with a friend, or with a parent or caregiver.
Mindfulness meditation focuses on being in the present by focusing on one’s breath. The breath serves as an anchor to wandering thoughts that may arise during meditation practice. When children focus on their breathing, they may notice their thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations and become more in tune with their minds and bodies. Bringing their attention to a sound, smell or bodily sensation can also serve as anchors instead of the breath. Meditation should be done in a quiet place, free of distractions. Children may meditate on the floor, a mat, a chair or lying down. Sitting is recommended because, if they lie down during meditation, they are more likely to fall asleep. Meditation practice is best done regularly and at a time that works for your child. It can be a great way to start or end a day. Bedtime may be a great time to meditate to help your child unwind, relax and fall asleep.
Helping your child learn to meditate can be a special experience for both of you, as your child learns from your example. When teaching your child to meditate, start with shorter periods of time and gradually increase the practice. Three to five minutes is an appropriate amount of time for children just beginning meditation. Using a timer, so that children will know when the meditation ends, can keep them focused on meditating and not worrying about how much time is left.
In the beginning of learning how to meditate, give your child lots of encouragement as they embark on this new practice. Negative feelings about meditation may come up. Listen and validate your child’s feelings. Children may be more open and continue with meditation when we listen, validate, and encourage them. It is important that your child’s experience with meditation be positive. Meditation should never be a chore or seen as another burden or responsibility in their lives. Never push children into doing meditation. This may increase resistance or stress about the experience. Share with children the benefits of meditation–“It will help you focus and calm down in school and sports!” and have fun with it.
Whereas mindfulness meditation is a physically passive practice, yoga is a more active practice of mindfulness. Similar to meditation, yoga teaches children to pause, breathe and notice themselves. Yoga is a practice to exercise children’s bodies, their breath and their minds. Yoga can be done alone or with a parent or caregiver, and is a wonderful way of connecting and exercising together.
When you introduce yoga the focus should be on fun. You and your child may be familiar with several yoga poses such as Tree, Downward Dog, Mountain or Chair. Similar to meditation, yoga requires patience, practice, and commitment. Yoga is not just an exercise for our bodies;it is more than making poses. Yoga involves balancing our bodies, our minds and attending to and focusing on our breathing. When yoga is practiced on an ongoing basis, children can develop strength and resiliency in their minds and bodies.Yoga also helps with developing flexibility and strength in children’s bodies, and creating happiness and harmony in their minds. When children’s bodies and minds are in balance, they may experience greater joy, happiness and other positive emotions.
When doing yoga with children, encourage them to hold each pose as long as they can without holding their breath. Children may feel self-conscious about getting the pose “just right.” While doing it with them, encourage them, acknowledge the difficulty of the poses and allow for the expression of negative feelings. Direct their focus on taking deep breaths. After each pose, ask your child how the pose made them feel. Share your feelings about your experiences. Some children will prefer certain poses to others.
Yoga teaches patience and perseverance. As with meditation, or learning any new skill, it is important to encourage your child and have fun with them. We all need to learn to laugh at ourselves when we lose our balance during or struggle to do a pose. Start out slow and do the poses in short periods. You and your child will gain strength and confidence in the practice.
Although meditation and yoga can be wonderful, calming, and helpful practices for children, in no way should they be a substitute for professional help if your child is struggling with depression, anxiety, or other serious clinical issues. It is always important to consult with a mental health professional to discuss your concerns if your child is having emotional or behavioral issues that affect their social, academic or other health functioning.
Related Books from Magination Press
Bee Calm: The Buzz on Yoga
In this companion book to Bee Still: An Invitation to Meditation, Bentley Bee loves to fly around and visit his friends in the garden. One day, he notices all of them in unusual poses. What could it bee?
Bentley’s friends teach him several beginning yoga poses including Mountain, Chair, Airplane, Cobra, and more. Readers will love to follow Bentley and try the poses themselves as he gets buzzing all about yoga in this kid-friendly introduction.
Includes a Note to Parents and Caregivers with suggestions for introducing children to yoga and instructions for the poses in the story.
Bee Still: An Invitation to Meditation
Bentley is a lovable, calm honeybee. He lives in a hive in a tall oak tree. One day, the queen told the bees to get busy. This sent them scrambling into a tizzy. But not Bentley. He chose to be patient and wait. He decided to look for a place to meditate. Bee Still is a child-friendly introduction to meditation. Includes a Note to Parents and Caregivers with more ideas for introducing meditation into your child’s life.