When I talk to children about what is going on in their heads when they say that they are very busy, the things that occupy their minds most of the time ranges from:
- worry about school work or homework
- thinking about the next thing that needs to be done
Very rarely do the children say that they have time to be at one with themselves, their thoughts– to be present. This is a skill, calming the mind and focusing is not something that comes easily – try it, very soon other thoughts will crowd in.
“In today’s rush, we all think too much—seek too much—want too much—and forget about the joy of just being.” – Eckhart Tolle
So how do we practise being present (mindfulness) in our everyday, and why bother?
The best way for children to learn mindfulness is to have good role models – parents and other family members and teachers. Being present is not too difficult to do, but it is a skill and as with every skill, it needs regular practice. Perhaps initially this could be built into a bedtime routine.
Things you could try with your child:
Pay attention to yourself, your sensations, your temperature, think about when you are relaxed and how your tummy moves up and down in that steady rhythm when you breathe. At first your thoughts will jump about lbut keep trying to bring back the focus on yourself and your breathing. This will get your child ready to sleep, calming them down ready to rest and process.
Sometimes eating a meal can be a rushed affair, how often do we ask our children, and ourselves to actually taste and savour the food. A simple piece of bread and butter can be the most delicious thing ever, if we stop to consider the flavours. Then think about the grain that was grown to make the bread and the cows that grazed to produce the milk to make the butter. It becomes more than fuel, it becomes a consideration of a much broader picture.
Be joyful, celebrate the little things – the smell of freshly fallen rain – petrichor, the birds chattering in the trees, the sunrise or sun set, the soft glow of the moon or the different colours on an autumn leaf. How often do we stop to notice and wonder. We rush from place to place, activity to task, and we become blinkered to the amazing things that surround us on a daily basis. See them, appreciate them and be thankful. Perhaps you could try creating affirming phrases upon which to focus.
- May I be happy.
- May I be healthy and strong.
- May I sleep well.
- May I have compassion towards others.
- May I have courage
Forgiveness is hard and a lack of it can hold us back from our quest to be mindful and present. Grudges and hurts pull us back, away from the present and weigh us down. Being able to forgive is massive, it’s not easy. Talking with your child, and really listening when they talk about what has hurt and then not dwelling on it but helping them to learn how to acknowledge, accept, forgive and move on.
A simple exercise to help with mindfulness is to be a STAR
S – Stop. Take a moment to pause
T – Take a breath and focus on that sensation, it will bring you back to the moment, there here and now
A – Acknowledge what is happening. Accept calmly.
R – Reset and carry on.
So, why bother?
Studies have shown that mindfulness can be especially helpful to children to reduce anxiety and stress – the paradox is that the more stressed they feel, the less likely they are to perform at their best. Mindful children experience less stress, anxiety and sadness and develop better sleep habits, they show greater contentment. Mindful children also develop a greater awareness of others and feel more connected to the people around them.
Mindful children are more resilient, they develop greater confidence in themselves and their decisions, they are also better able to deal with change.
Mindfulness practice can help children in school. There have been studies to suggest that it can lead to improvements in cognitive control and working memory. Mindful children are better able to focus and concentrate and so tend to perform better academically.
Mindful children are more compassionate and they also understand, feel and express gratitude more freely.
Our aim is to help our children to grow into adults who will have the not just the academics but also the emotional skills and resilience to face their world, if we start now, then inner calm and mindfulness will be embedded within them, helping them to deal with the stresses that their future selves may meet.
This is worth listening to if you have time, Richard Burnett has some very interesting things to say and explains mindfulness better than I do.
‘Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.’
Thich Nhat Hahn