Mindfulness is as beneficial to children as it is to adults. In fact, schools in the Netherlands, Great Britain and the United States are already incorporating this practice into the curriculum. It is no coincidence, childhood is an ideal stage to master mindfulness, so that it not only becomes a habit, but also an attitude with which to face life.
One of the objectives of teaching mindfulness to children is to give them skills to develop awareness of their internal and external experiences, to learn to recognize their thoughts and emotions, as well as their impact on the body, so that they can better control their impulses, develop their emotional intelligence and achieve greater well-being.
Mindfulness is a shield against childhood vulnerability
Childhood is a particularly sensitive stage in which traumas can be generated that will then be very difficult to overcome. A study conducted at the University of Florida revealed that stressful events immediately impact the health of children.
The researchers analyzed the data of almost 96,000 children and the stressful situations they had experienced, from parents’ divorce to family violence and health problems. They appreciated that children exposed to three or more stressful events are six times more likely to suffer from physical problems and psychological or learning disorders.
It becomes a kind of protective shield, not only at a psychological level but also at a cerebral level, containing the negative effects of adverse situations.
Mindfulness enhances emotional self-control and cognitive processes
Mindfulness is a technique used in very effective therapy to reduce the symptoms of depression, stress and anxiety. It is also an excellent tool to enhance attention, even in children suffering from ADHD. A study conducted at the University of Leuven revealed that a mindfulness training of only 8 weeks considerably improves attention and reduces impulsive behaviors. In fact, it has been proven that mindfulness causes significant changes in self-regulation, improving the executive functions of children.
Other research carried out at the University of Louisville found that the systematic practice of mindfulness improves children’s academic performance. These psychologists explain that mindfulness meditation helps children better manage test anxiety, freeing cognitive resources from memory and reasoning, which leads to improved performance.
Mindfulness exercises for children
In the long term, the practice of mindfulness can even trigger lasting changes at the brain level. The amygdala of people who practice mindfulness meditation is less reactive, which means that emotions are less likely to take over and experience intense reactions of fear, frustration or anger. In turn, the hippocampus, the critical zone for learning and memory, shows a greater neuronal density, while the prefrontal cortex, involved in decision making, reasoning and self-control, is more active.
The 3 golden rules to teach mindfulness to children
- Be clear about mindfulness. Mindfulness implies being present, paying attention to what happens inside or around us without issuing any value judgment. That means that there is no “right” way to practice mindfulness, children must find their own balance and choose those exercises with which they feel most comfortable.
- Make it fun. The practice of mindfulness should be a fun time for children to enjoy while exploring new sensations. If it becomes an extra burden or an imposition, it will lose all its meaning. It is also important that it becomes an exercise in your routine, like playing or watching cartoons, it is not convenient to resort to mindfulness only as an antidote for irritating situations.
- Adjust expectations. Young children can not spend half an hour practicing mindfulness meditation, during the first years of life this practice must have an eminently playful approach, adapting to children’s abilities. This means that you should not expect your child to become a “little Buddha”, that is not the goal, but only include mindfulness in your family routine, dedicating only 5 or 10 minutes a day at the beginning.
5 mindfulness exercises for children
Exercise with grinder
This exercise is very simple and fun, so it can be used after 2 years, to teach your child to breathe and focus on the present.
- Take two grinders, one for your son and one for you. Sit with your back straight and your body relaxed, side by side.
- Explain to your child that he should blow the grinder with long, deep breaths. While doing so, you can observe how you feel. You can ask him questions like: Do you feel calm and relaxed? Do you find it easy or difficult to remain seated?
- Explain that you should blow the grinder with short, quick breaths while watching how it feels. You can help him in that introspective exercise by asking him: How does your body feel now? Do you feel the same breathing quickly as when you breathe slowly?
- Then ask him to blow the grinder normally and notice his sensations. Ask him if he noticed any difference between the different ways of breathing.
Exercise of clear view
This exercise is particularly interesting for children to understand how the mind works and the role played by thoughts and emotions. All you need is a sphere filled with some material like glitter, which moves freely.
- Ask the child to shake the sphere and notice how the water turns cloudy. Make him notice that he can no longer see through it.
- Then you should stop shaking the sphere and wait for the glitter to settle. At that time you must place your hand on your belly to feel your breathing.
- When the glitter has gone to the bottom, encourage him to reflect on what happened. You can explain that, although these small particles have not disappeared, the water is limpid and can be seen through it.
- Explain that your mind works likewise. When your thoughts are accelerated or emotions take over, you can not think clearly because the mind is clouded. Therefore, to make decisions it is necessary to get those feelings or thoughts “settle”.
- You can repeat the exercise asking him to focus on the changes that occur in his breathing. Later, you can encourage him to use that same sphere when he feels agitated, irritable or stressed, since the simple act of focusing his attention on the movement of the particles allows him to eliminate from his mind the situation that has bothered him, angry or stressed .
Exercise imitating a frog
The objective of this technique is to teach children to breathe deeply, and can be used after 4 years. In fact, it is a basic technique, since breathing is essential to practice other mindfulness exercises.
- Explain that the exercise is to imitate a frog, an animal that usually makes big leaps moving quickly but also is able to stay very quiet, watching carefully everything that happens around him.
- Sit facing each other and ask him to breathe like a frog. You will have to take the air through your nose, while you inflate your abdomen, then release it gently through your mouth. You can add details that stimulate your fantasy, such as telling you that you are both sitting on a lotus leaf in the calm waters of a pond.
- Ideally, spend 5 to 10 minutes practicing this technique, until you learn to breathe deeply. Consider that breathing causes a state of generalized calm and synchronizes the heart rate approximately after 8 minutes.
Exercise listening to the bell
It is a classic mindfulness exercise for children, as it promotes concentration in the here and now, paying attention without judging. You will only need a bell, a metal bowl or a telephone application that emits harmonious sounds.
- Your child should sit down, relaxed, while you stand behind him, at a distance of at least 10 steps.
- Explain that you will hear a sound, you must pay attention and make a gesture when you begin to hear it and another gesture when you no longer hear it.
- Ideally, the sound starts very low, while the volume goes up slowly for 30 seconds, then fade.
- As the child grows and gets used to the exercise, you can lengthen it until it lasts 5 or 10 minutes, introducing different sounds, so you do not get bored.
Magnetic hands exercise
This exercise, designed for children to learn the basics of muscle relaxation, also stimulates their fantasy, so it can be applied from 3 years.
- Place yourself in front of your child and ask him to take a deep breath.
- While still breathing, you should stretch your arms forward, with your palms in front, imagining that you have a magnet in your hands, whose strength forces you to join them.
- Ask him to bring his hands up slowly, until they practically touch each other.
- Then you must reopen them, but you must remember that you have magnetic hands, so it will take a lot of effort.
- Once you have understood the dynamics, you can ask him to focus on the bodily sensations he experiences, first of relaxation and then of muscular tension. Ideally, repeat the exercise about seven times.
Teach mindfulness to children
What are you waiting for to start teaching mindfulness to your children? You will spend a good time with your family and you will help them to learn to self-regulate emotionally and to find calm within them.