The term “mindfulness” has been catching popularity recently. Simply stated, mindfulness means paying attention to the present moment with intention and compassion for whatever this moment contains. Scientific research has proven the benefits of having a regular mindfulness practice to alleviate a variety of ailments. Mindfulness helps reduce anxiety & depression, manages chronic pain, and increases empathy. More recent research studies have shown the benefit of teaching mindfulness to children. Mindfulness in the school setting has been shown to increase attention span and focus, reduce the suspension rates, and increase the attendance rates.
Introducing children to mindfulness can be fun and easy to do. There are countless books and recordings to help you and your keiki learn about the practice. But, most importantly, you, dear reader, have to practice it too. The most effective way to teach kids how to be present, open, and compassionate, is to model the practice for them.
And let me be clear, it takes PRACTICE. I wish it were as simple as reading a book, taking a class, or watching a video to absorb the benefits of mindfulness. It’s like brushing your teeth. Brushing your teeth regularly helps reduce cavities and helps you keep your teeth longer. You wouldn’t brush your teeth a few times a month and then expect permanently clean teeth and fresh breath. And if you were to stop brushing and flossing regularly, well, you could expect the benefits of brushing to disappear. Brushing your teeth twice a day or only twice a month will give you different results as well. The same concepts apply to a mindfulness practice. It is recommended that you adopt a daily practice of 10-30 minutes to receive the most benefit, but any amount of time practicing will still benefit you. Just like brushing your teeth once in a while is still better than not brushing at all. So, always remember that it is a practice. The more you make time to practice, the more benefits you will receive.
Keiki are naturally curious about what adults are doing, so it’s a great idea to allow them to see you practice mindfulness. For teens and pre-teens, it might be more challenging to peak their curiosity and interest, so finding a peer mindfulness group might be helpful. For younger keiki, they might automatically copy what you are doing and then incorporate it into their play later on. I show my toddler how I meditate and often find her crossing her legs on the living room floor, closing her eyes, and announcing gleefully “I’m meditating!” (Keep in mind that it doesn’t have to be cross-legged, you can practice sitting in a chair, lying on a bed, or even standing up). For older ones, it might be helpful to read a mindfulness book or watch a guided meditation together. The most important thing is to encourage both you and your children to practice regularly.
I encourage you to start your mindfulness practice by joining an online program or by joining your local meditation group. And watch for kid and teen mindfulness groups as well. Another thing you can do is get involved in the mindfulness movement by petitioning your school board to request that they bring mindfulness programs into the schools. Parents, teachers, and students will all benefit from this transformational practice.
Tanya Gabriel, MA, LMHC provides affordable counseling and mindfulness instruction. She is passionate about teaching present moment awareness to her community.