The hustle and bustle of back-to-school has parents and children alike needing to pause and take a few deep breaths. Mindfulness, an awareness of the present moment with a kind and curious attitude, is a practice that benefits everyone in the family. A growing body of research is increasingly showing that mindfulness has a number of benefits for children such as increased self-regulation of emotions, behavior, and cognitive processes, as well as improved attention and executive function . Emerging research has also explored how parent-child mindfulness programs enhance parent-youth relationships and improve children’s behaviors .
It’s easier than one thinks to share mindfulness as a family. Keeping it simple and fun are the two key aspects of a successful mindfulness activity with children. Here are three examples of ways to bring mindfulness into your and your child’s day.
1. Start with breath and body focused practices
One of the simplest and most powerful practices in mindfulness is bringing attention to the breath. It is a tangible method that has demonstrated physiological changes such as activating the parasympathetic nervous system (i.e., the relaxation response). Yoga postures also help children learn to focus on the breath since they can link movement with breath (e.g., inhale and reach your arms up to the stars!). Cuing children to observe how they feel before, during, and after a pose is also an effective way to build self-awareness. Example: Ocean breath Invite your child to lie down on her back, perhaps with a “breathing buddy” (a small stuffed animal) resting on her stomach. Cue her to feel the sensation of her chest and belly rising as she breathes in, and relaxing as she breathes out – just like waves in the ocean. Ask her to notice how she feels when she is done and discuss times when she might use that practice on her own. Check out additional breathing practices for children such as Bee Breath and Peace Breath (access the breath exercise instructions here).
2. Engage the senses in everyday activities
Children are naturally inclined to be in the moment and notice the world around them. An excellent way to encourage this awareness is through short mindful moments.
Example: A mindful walk
During a walk to school or the park, designate two minutes for each of the senses and observe the world around you through that lens. Share what each of you experienced in between each sensory observation.
- Sight: Notice if anything is different in a familiar place or what’s interesting someplace new
- Sound: Listen to the soundscape of birds, traffic, and people
- Smell: Take in the scent of flowers or plants along the path
- Touch: Feel the texture of leaves and notice the sensation of sunshine or the breeze on your face
- Taste: Catch raindrops or snowflakes on your tongue
3. Weave mindful reflections into daily routines
Several of the foundational qualities to mindfulness can promote children’s social-emotional development (e.g., non-judgment, patience, curiosity, and compassion). Encouraging children to reflect on how they demonstrate these qualities towards themselves and others is an excellent way to support them in developing healthy emotional coping skills.
Pick a time of day when you and your child can regularly take a few minutes to connect. This might be after school, at dinner, or before bed. Pick one or more mindfulness qualities to ask him about. For example:
- How were you patient today (with yourself or others)?
- How were you curious today (what new things did you learn)?
- How were you kind today (towards yourself or others)? Be sure to share how you demonstrated those qualities as well!
Interested in learning more? The Center for Child and Family Well-Being at the University of Washington hosts monthly Family Mindfulness Events. Children and their parents will explore mindfulness concepts through art and games, as well as learn simple practices they can take home. Check out details on the CCFW website or email Robyn Long, CCFW Director of Community Outreach and Dissemination, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1 Perry-Parrish C, Copeland-Linder N, Webb L, Sibinga EMS. Mindfulness-based approaches for children and youth. Current Problems in Pediatric and Adolescent Health Care 2015; 46(6): 172 – 178.
2 Coatsworth JD, Duncan LG, Nix RL, et al. Integrating mindfulness with parent training: effects of the mindfulness enhanced strengthening families program. Developmental Psychology 2015; 51(1): 26-35.
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