With their constant exposure to technology, kids can greatly benefit from learning how to live in the present. Here are some ways to establish a mindfulness routine with the kids.
We're constantly in awe of how effortlessly technology is woven into our kids' existence. Tablets and smartphones loaded with games and Netflix favourites are accessible anywhere there's a WIFI connection. Siri and Alexa are used for predicting the weather, tell us which dinosaurs were the fastest and even turning lights on and off. With all of this constant stimulation at their fingertips, kids can greatly benefit from learning to live in the present and practice mindfulness.
"With the fast-paced world we live in and the overuse of technology, it's important for children to learn to be present in the moment and take in what is going on around them in the real world," says Jennifer Tysick-Frigault, behaviour consultant and mom of two. "Reflection and meditation also offers a mental break from the stresses that children are being exposed to more and more, like being overscheduled with extra-curricular activities, play dates and homework."
Think of mindfulness as the opposite of multi-tasking. Instead of focusing on several things at once, mindfulness invites the brain to slow down and simply be in the moment. "Children who have difficulty self-regulating or are easily over-stimulated benefit greatly from mindfulness and meditation as it can help identify how one's body feels and how one reacts to situations when relaxed versus stressed," says Tysick-Frigault. "When this is identified, then actions can be learned and taken to de-stress or de-escalate from those situations."
Practicing mindfulness, meditating and implementing relaxation methods into daily life helps children be calmer and more conscious of their surroundings and who they are. "They can have better self-awareness of how certain environments or situations affect them, their thoughts and their behaviours," says Tysick-Frigault, "and they can be better at self-regulation as they can identify their triggers and how to manage or avoid them."
Teaching kids how to be mindful may seem difficult, but it can be easy—and fun. Here are three ways to help your little ones learn to stay in—and enjoy—the moment.
1. Morning Meditation
The best time to practice is first thing in the morning before anything else commands your attention. "A quiet mind and body sets the tone for the day and is a good reminder of what a calm mind and body feels like," says Tysick-Frigault. "This may be especially useful for children who have trouble with self-regulation or get over-stimulated easily." Encourage your child to share what they're grateful for, and it can have a positive impact on their thoughts throughout the day. Here's what to do:
- Invite your little ones to a cozy space to begin.
- Take a seat cross-legged, with the spine long, facing into each other with eyes softly closed.
- Lead your kids in taking five deep breaths; cue them to breathe in, breath out.
- Have everyone open their eyes and take turns sharing a short list of things they are grateful for.
As your family practice progresses over time, gradually increase from five deep breaths to ten, and invite your kids to lead the practice giving them the opportunity to count the breaths and give the instructions. "For little ones that may have difficulty with taking long, slow breaths, start with them 'smelling the flower, blowing the bubbles,'" says Tysick-Frigault. "Use either the real objects or pictures to practice smelling the flower deeply and blowing as many bubbles as they can to introduce them to breathing exercises."
2. Mindful Time-Outs
Instead of ordering a traditional time-out when a child misbehaves, bring mindfulness into the picture. Tantrums seem to occur on days when kids have been overstimulated—like at a birthday party with an abundance of cake and toys. De-escalate the situation by taking a mindful time-out. "A break from their immediate environment removes the stimulus that is creating a problem and the reflection can create a positive in what could be a negative situation," says Tysick-Frigault. "A calm environment begets calm behaviour. Behaviour, negative or positive, is a response to our environment and being overstimulated is a response to a chaotic environment."
Turn off potential distractions like TV and music, and invite your child to sit with you. Invite them to breathe, just as you would in morning meditation, and think about what made them happy that day. A mindfulness time-out can help younger minds recognize their gratitude and shows kids you're listening to them and are taking the time to be in the moment with them.
3. Mindful Walks
Practicing mindfulness with your kids IRL doesn't mean only sitting cross-legged and meditating—mindfulness practices can easily be incorporated into everyday activities and can help the whole family feel calm and connected.
Mindful walks—whether on the weekend, after dinner, or just on the way home from school—encourages kids to quite literally stop and smell the roses. Point out nature's little wonders like bumblebees pollinating the flowers or a squirrel eating an acorn. Notice the smell of cut grass, the sound of birds calling to each other or the brilliant colours of a summer sunset. Mindful walks are a great way to sync with the seasons and appreciate the changing leaves in autumn, the sparkling snowfalls in winter and the beautiful blooms in spring and summer.
Try turning your walk into a nature scavenger hunt (tell kids to find five different types of leaves, count dandelions or search for spiral-shelled snails) or play Eye Spy. It won't take long for you to notice how invigorated and connected everyone feels after spending even a few mindful moments grounded in nature.