Mindfulness is a meditative practice that involves learning to pay attention to the present moment with an attitude of openness and kindness.
If there was a way to potentially help kids pay better attention, exercise more generosity and kindness with their peers, perform better in school, and be more aware of themselves and others, would you try it?
There is increasing recognition of how social, emotional and cognitive functioning are intermingled; that kids may have difficulty in school when emotional challenges arise which in turn impacts learning.
Can you imagine how it could shift the climate of our schools, our community, our world if cultivating these qualities was at the forefront of education?
The question, of course, is how?
Mindfulness is a method to reliably enhance the wellbeing of young people. It is a meditative practice that involves learning to pay attention to the present moment with an attitude of openness and kindness.
These days kids’ attention is often fragmented and dispersed. Television and video games, phones and tablets pull their minds in countless directions. Kids, as well as adults, are often lost in thought, rehashing the past or ruminating about the future.
Practising mindfulness enables us to dwell more fully in the present moment and attend to anything that arises with greater balance and ease. As such, it is about how we relate to experiences from moment to moment and how we relate to each other.
Through mindfulness, kids learn to pay attention, and are given tools to manage their emotions and calm their minds when they are stressed or upset. They are taught about gratitude, generosity, appreciating happy experiences, replacing negative self-talk and other practices that research has shown enhances kids’ kindness and well-being.
Mindful awareness for kids is an emerging – and rapidly growing – area. Many of the world’s leading child development experts view this training as a key tool for enhancing kids’ mental and emotional well-being. Research clearly shows that mindfulness practice actually rewires the brain in ways that lead to greater personal effectiveness, kindness and happiness.
Research demonstrates that mindfulness training for children and teens:
- Enhanced personal well being
- Increases attention and focus – resulting in higher academic achievement
- Reduces stress – allowing kids to learn more and perform better
- Improves impulse control
- Develops emotional regulation – teaching children to “respond” rather than “react”
- Builds empathy and compassion – cultivating greater tolerance of cultural, religious and sexual diversity as well as reducing cruelty, bullying and violence
- Increased kindness – both to oneself and to others
- Decreased anxiety and depression
Mindful awareness works by enabling you to pay closer attention to what is happening within you – your thoughts, feelings and emotions. Past studies show the ability to self-regulate in early childhood predicts better results later in life with health, academic achievement and financial stability. Early childhood is an opportune time to equip children with these skills since their brains are rapidly developing and can be a great asset in helping them cope with future life stress.
Tips for practicing more kindness and mindfulness with children:
- Create a quiet space.
Find a spot where you and your children can pause for a few moments and develop a sense of familiarity with quiet. Notice how we may become aware of things around us and in us in a new and different way.
- Pay attention with purpose and curiosity
Take a walk outside and try to notice sounds of all types. Or, try a mindful eating exercise and slowly, with quiet attention, explore a food item with all of the senses before eating it — noticing the smells, colours, textures and any sensations of pleasure or displeasure.
- Pause and notice your breath
With children, explore the breath by having them lie on their back and notice the movement of the chest or belly as the breath moves in and out of the body.
- Offer caring wishes
Practice caring and compassion for ourselves and others by offering wishes such as, “May we be happy, may we be safe, may we be filled with love.” Caring wishes can be used when kids experience discomfort before taking a test, when they are angry, or simply to send kindness to another person, knowing that we all wish to be happy.
- Practice gratitude
We can cultivate gratitude in simple ways; for example, we can take a few minutes to reflect on the good things that happened during the day, keep a list of people and things for which we are grateful and/or create a gratitude journal using words and pictures.
A Loving-Kindness Practice for Young Children
Kindness practices are a key component of mindfulness training for children. These practices increase compassion and empathy in children both for themselves and others; lead to an increased understanding of differences as well as a sense of connection with themselves, others, and the world around them.
The expansive open-heartedness of loving-kindness and compassion practices is one of the greatest gifts we can offer our children. The foundation of loving kindness is being a gentle friend to yourself, no matter what kind of experience you happen to be having in the moment.
In Loving Kindness Meditation, we train in opening our hearts through the repetition of four heartfelt wishes that we send first to ourselves and then outward to an ever-expanding community, until we are able to hold the entire world in the loving-kindness of our attention. Even if we’ve never practiced a Loving Kindness Meditation ourselves, we can teach our children loving-kindness by sending the four wishes (or any loving thoughts – don’t be afraid to make up your own) to a pet, or a favourite toy or stuffed animal.
The four heartfelt wishes of Loving Kindness practice:
“May you be safe
May you be healthy
May you be happy
May you be peaceful and at ease.”
I believe these simple practices of learning to be truly present and relating to ourselves and others with more awareness and compassion can transform lives and communities.
Placing wellbeing at the heart of education is an important step towards a healthier, happier, more compassionate society.
Author: Brigitte Najjar of Awakening Mindfulness
Brigitte is a Mindfulness Coach, MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction) Teacher, ACT (Acceptance Commitment Therapy) Therapist & Holistic Wellness Coach. She offers training & coaching to individuals & corporations to help them increase wellbeing & reduce stress for more fulfilling lives & greater happiness. She is passionate about teaching children & teenagers mindfulness skills for greater emotional regulation, resilience & mental wellbeing.