Helping kids feel calm is a powerful skill and tool for the adults in a child’s life to have. The practice of mindfulness has been scientifically proven to change the brains of adults in positive ways. The Center for Mindfulness at University of Massachusetts Medical School has ongoing ample scientific research data to prove how mindfulness supports many healthy, positive changes to human beings.
While we don’t yet have a lot of scientific proof about how mindfulness can help children, it’s a safe assumption that mindfulness for children is just as effective (if not more!) in helping kids to find calm more readily, regulate behavior and emotion, improve focus and get along more harmoniously with peers, family and adults.
Children’s brains are still forming at a rapid rate. A recent study showed after 8 weeks of regular mindfulness practice a group of adults’ brains showed on MRIs to have grown gray matter in the parts of the brain responsible for rationalizing and regulating and shrunk the parts of the brain that react with fear. Can you imagine how mindfulness practice can affect the formation of the child’s brain?
It is important for parents, teachers and play therapists to understand better what mindfulness is and how it can help children.
By definition of Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, mindfulness is the practice of paying attention on purpose in a very particular way without judgment. It’s the practice of slowing down our fast moving brains and noticing with great attention where we are in time and space in this present moment without jumping to conclusions or analysis right away.
Now, pause just a moment and just imagine if children with hyperactive behavior or anxiety could learn to do that?
After 16 years of working with children in play therapy and a pre-school-based emotion education program I developed, I have documented profound improvement in children’s mood and behavior after being introduced to mindfulness practices. I have been training therapists in mindfulness within play therapy for over the past 6 years and I have reports from therapists all over the country who are seeing profound results with their child clients and their families who embark upon this practice.
Mindfulness is something that must be learned and practiced by the adults in the child’s life as before the process of helping children feel calm.
I strongly recommend that every parent, teacher and therapist who wants to use mindfulness techniques with helping children feel calm should study and practice first. With the latest brain research showing that mindfulness meditation changes your brain for the better many adults are choosing to practice meditation on a daily basis. But you can also practice mindfulness through many practical practices – read more here.
Here are a few tips on how you can begin helping children feel calm by teaching and observing mindfulness in daily life.
- Provide enough time before and after transitions from one place or activity to the next.
- Practice slow breathing. As a matter of regular ongoing practice, breathe in fully filling the lungs and slowly release the breath to a count of 7 on the exhale. Practice this with your children regularly, not just when someone gets upset – by then it may be too late!
- Practice walking more slowly, softly and with great attention instead of rushing about.
- Stop over-scheduling yourself and your children. Too many commitments and activities does not necessarily make a happy, fulfilling life. Create white space in the schedule – time to breathe, be spontaneous and creative with your kids.
- Practice sitting and just being. Notice the feelings of antsy-ness and boredom and just keep sitting and breathing and being. It trains your brain to go beyond the urgency of impulsivity and to be in the present moment.
Mindfulness at Mealtime
- Mealtime is the perfect time and place to practice and teach your children to be mindful. Take your meals at the table together as a family.
- Light a candle. Play some soft music. Ban electronics. Create an atmosphere that will cue your nervous system to relax and be present.
- Take time to taste your food. Sit and savor your food, tasting and chewing thoroughly before swallowing.
- Enjoy the togetherness of family. As you eat, look at your family members and really listen to what your children choose to share with you. Let go of the urge to correct or discipline at this time.
- Include clean up as a chance for mindfulness with everyone pitching in and helping get the dishes rinsed and loaded. Teach your children to move through this process slowly and with awareness.
Mindfulness at Bedtime
- Bedtime is another ideal time to practice and demonstrate mindfulness for children. Again, set the atmosphere to be conducive to quieting the mind and relaxing the body observing soft lighting, soft music and scents such as lavender or vanilla.
- As you tuck your child in, invite her to notice 5 things she sees and hears in the present moment helping her mind to be fully present.
- Practice mindful breathing to settle the mind and body, preparing for sleep. You might introduce a counting cycle of breath such as one I teach my child clients called square-breathing. Inhale slowly to the count of 4. Hold the breath in for 4. Exhale slowly to the count of 4 and then hold the breath out for the count of 4. Repeat 4 times completing the square breath and closing the eyes.
Mindfulness for children is a learned experience and one that undoubtedly will assist in cultivating a more peaceful life experience while also training the brain to be able to more readily overcome anxiety, inability to focus and daily stress. Take the time to implement daily practices for yourself and for your child and you will both find your way to calm more readily whenever needed.