Creating the Calm: Teaching Kids MindfulnessPosted May 30, 2018
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I recently delivered a series of workshops at MM on how to help your kids deal with anxiety, stress and fear. You know…those things we all find difficult to address in our busy lives? There are tools that we all need to live healthier lives free from fear. I often use the strategy of teaching ‘mindfulness’ to parents and kids as one tool.
What is mindfulness anyways? Well, it is a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. So, it’s not denying your feelings or how your body feels but learning to stay calm in those moments. By ‘creating the calm’ we can focus on what we need and want to do without fear.
I want to share with you an amazing article by Sarah Rudell Beach called Five Strategies for Teaching Mindfulness to Children. Sarah is a writer, teacher and mom. I think she has some great tips on how to teach kids mindfulness and I often use these techniques in my clinical counselling at MM. I love her opening as I think it really hits home how we need to approach this teaching method:
“How many times do you think you have asked your children to “pay attention”?
How many times do you think you have told them to “calm down”?
It’s probably about A MILLION BILLION, right?
But, have you ever taught them HOW to pay attention? HOW to calm down?”
So at what age do we start to teach mindfulness? It is best to consider a child’s various stages of development, maturity, temperament and personality to determine the best time to introduce mindfulness activities. As the article mentions, the best place to start is to ‘practice what you preach’ meaning as a parent, becoming versed in the art and act of mindfulness and modelling it daily. This can be as simple as taking a moment to respond to something negative or triggering, using mindful breathing when feeling good or overwhelmed, noticing when our bodies respond to stress and what that feels like in the moment.
When a parent can practice mindfulness, and identify triggers before their kids trigger them, the easier it is to stay present with our children when they are themselves triggered and going through big emotions. Mindfulness in children begins with a parent’s ability to co-regulate with them while they are in a tough place. This, as many of us know, can be challenging for parents if they are being triggered too!
Using the language of mindfulness, bringing experiences to the present and being present as they happen can begin at any age. Being aware of how and where our bodies feel various emotions and sensations can be introduced at any age. Try using reflective language when a child is experiencing big emotions such as excitement, anger or sadness. To help them focus in and stay calm. For example you might say:
“I can see your body is very jumpy when you are excited”
“I can see you are really mad that you can’t have that toy right now”
“It is okay to feel sad when dad isn’t able to play with you”
You are helping your kids (an even ourselves!) label those big emotions and triggering events. The goal is to identify what they are experiencing in the moment and normalize it. We are helping them to take away the mystery of this strange feeling in their body. The more they can use this tool, the more they can normalize these feelings and sensations and learn to act instead of react.
In addition to ‘practicing what you preach’ and helping our kids ‘label their feelings’ you can engage in a physical practice as a family. Attending yoga and community recreation programs aimed at teaching mediation and breathing is a great place for both kids and parents to begin body awareness.
If you are interested in learning more about how to create mindfulness practices for your family consider booking a time to talk. I am always happy to tailor strategies to help you and your child ‘create the calm’ in your lives.
Becky, MM Clinical Counselor