As schools and extracurricular groups increasingly begin adopting it, you may be hearing more and more about mindfulness. What is it? By no means is it a new concept – mindfulness is the process of becoming aware moment-to-moment of what you are experiencing, especially by focusing on information gained from your five senses. Mindfulness training has been found to improve focus, memory, problem-solving, attention, compassion, and academic performance and reduce problems like impulsivity, aggression, anxiety, and depression. It’s not a “cure all” but it helps across the board and can give your child more control over his/her feelings and reaction. We don’t live in a mindful society – not by a long shot. We are busy, busy, busy and when we finally get a chance to sit down, it’s to play on our phones/tablets/laptops/computers. Here are some easy ways to incorporate mindfulness into your child’s (and, BONUS, your family’s) day:
Take a “Brain Break.” Brain Breaks are a chance to sit quietly and take a break from what we’re “supposed” to be doing and just BE. Brain Breaks are particularly helpful when your child is getting up or going to bed, transitioning between activities (e.g., school to homework; playtime to bedtime), or at times when he is becoming frustrated. Show your kids how to take a “brain break” by having them sit with you and close their eyes. Encourage them to take a few slow, deep breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth. Make the breathing more amusing by having your child blow bubbles or a pinwheel. For extra silliness, have your child lie down and place a toy (boats are particularly fun) on his tummy. Encourage him to make the toy rise up when he breathes in and dip down when he breathes out. He will have to breathe slowly so he doesn’t knock the toy off! As thoughts pop into your child’s head, encourage him to let them fall right out of his mind and breathe them away. If your child has trouble letting go of thoughts, it may help him to open his eyes and look around the room or focus on something in particular while breathing. After a few minutes, consider making a few brief positive statements about your child like, “You are loved” or “You can do this.” End the brain break in a special way – with a hug or high five or by ringing a quiet bell.
Take a mindful walk – A great way to spend time as a family while getting exercise and practicing mindfulness is to take a Mindful Walk together. You can take a Mindful Walk anywhere – in your neighborhood, through a park, at the zoo (oh, but the smells!!) – even in your house. Before the walk, ask your kids to focus on what they see, hear, smell, and feel on the walk. You can encourage them to mention things as they notice them or just to observe them silently. As you walk, point things out that you notice – “I hear a bird singing,” “I see fluffy, white clouds,” “I feel the leaves crunch under my feet.” Try leading the kids onto different textures (e.g., grass, leaves, acorns, sidewalk, hardwood floors, carpeting, etc.) so they can feel the differences and hear the sounds their feet are making. If going barefoot without injury is an option – do that! To vary the routine, each of you can collect three items on the walk and hide them until you’re home. Then, take turns presenting your items to the others one-at-a-time. Have the others try to guess what your items are without looking by using senses like touch, smell, and hearing.
My favorite mindfulness activity for kids is Mindful Eating. Pick a food that you don’t have to convince your child to eat (when in doubt – go with a cookie!). Have her sit at the table with the food in front of her and ask her not to touch it yet. First, just have her observe the food item. Notice the variations in color, the smoothness versus roughness, and the shapes. Are there imperfections? She can pick the food up to see all sides of it. Second, have her brush a finger across the food and see if there’s a sound. Does she hear crumbling? A “shushing” sound? Third, as she’s touching the food, what texture is she noticing? Is it bumpy or smooth? Soft or hard? Cool or warm? Fourth, have her smell the food. What does it remind her of? Is it a sweet smell or a salty smell? Finally, have her take one, small bite. Listen to the sound as she takes a bite. Encourage her to notice how the food feels on her tongue and in her mouth as she is chewing. She can also focus on the movement of her jaw. What does the food taste like? Does she like the taste a little or a lot? What ingredients does she taste? What does this taste remind her of? Have her notice how it feels to swallow the food. Continue to remind her of these questions as she finishes the food. Try this activity yourself! You’ll notice that eating mindfully is a very different experience from how we sometimes eat – scarfing down lunch while we check out social media! For guided practice with mindful eating, read together the children’s book No Ordinary Apple: A Story About Eating Mindfully by Sara Marlowe.
The best time to use your mindfulness tricks? In the car when your children are repeatedly assaulting each other. Distract them with questions like, “Who can find something purple?,” “Look for something very loud,” and “Find something that smells good” outside of the car window. You’ll be surprised by how quickly they shift into observation mode and stop the threats of bodily harm. At least, this works in our car – your kids may be more determined than mine.
Born and raised here in Birmingham, Angie Cleland is a proud Mom to 3 daughters and the founder of the local parenting website, BirminghamMommy.com a trusted resource for parents in Birmingham since 2008. She is fueled by her love of lattes, and a passion for her hometown. You can find her most days at her favorite coffee shop researching local events and new attractions. She enjoys helping families learn the in’s and out’s of the city and all that Birmingham has to offer.