Yes, children can practice Mindfulness.
Firstly let me describe the differences between mindfulness and meditation. Mindfulness is being completely present in that moment. Often we are doing something but not actually focusing on the task or action. How many times has your child asked you something and you have answered yes without really listening to the question? Then realising you agreed to them watching tv with the biscuit tin at their disposal.
In today’s world we’re so busy multi-tasking and getting things done that we’ve often not stopped to take time to be engaged in an activity or a chore. At the start of a yoga class you will hear me asking everyone to leave their day so far at the door. And then I’ll remind the class, whilst they are practising downward dog, that they need to be in the present moment; not wondering how many more breaths I’m going to ask them to take or mentally making a shopping list for when they rush out the door to the supermarket.
Meditation in comparison is more about exploring yourself and the peace within. You can do a guided meditation or in yoga we may use a mantra. It’s setting aside a specific amount of time for a meditation, in comparison to mindfulness where you can do it in your day to day life.
In essence there are similarities and it’s a blurred line. An exercise like being aware of your breath can be considered mindfulness and meditation or a mindful meditation.
Regardless of what we call it, it’s a good thing. There’s more and more scientific research showing its positive effects on mental health and well-being. Mindfulness has been shown to improve attention and reduce stress as well as increase the ability to regulate emotions and feel compassion and empathy. In Lorraine Murray’s ‘Calm Kids’ book she writes about the benefits for children with autism spectrum disorders and I’ve seen the results in children with anxiety. It is also known to help children with ADHD, depression and stress.
In 2014 I did the Level 1 Connected Kids course with Lorraine Murray (a course on child meditation) and what has really stuck with me from the course is how Lorraine described a child building something with lego as a form of meditation. A child focused on one thing and in that present moment is a child’s way of being mindful and quiet. My five year old was vacuuming this morning and watching him so focused on the task, getting all the dog hair and changing the nozzles, was a joy to watch as he was being so mindful.
Another simple and affective way to guide a child is through visualisations. By this I mean asking a child to lie or sit quietly maybe with a blanket or at bedtime and guiding them through a meditation. You ask them to imagine they are in a safe place, or a favourite place or an imaginary place. Then ask them to look around and notice what is there, how it smells and whether they hear anything. Finishing with them holding on to that secure feeling and knowing they can always go back to that place when they want or need to.
However some children don’t like the visualisation method and can find it makes them anxious and insecure. An alternative would be to encourage them to lie down quietly with their hands on their tummy listening and feeling their breath. You can encourage to count their breath in and out and this will have the same affect.
It took time for me to develop this practice with my own children and for it to come naturally. So when I came across the book In My Heart by Gitte Winter Graugarrd recently I was eager to try it out. There are four meditations with space at the back of the book to make notes and write down anything you have observed about your child.
It’s a well thought out book with the heart of the mediations being the love for the child from the parent reading it. Gitte, in the introduction, talks about how the meditations will help you talk more about love, become more conscious about your love for your child and turn it up a notch too.
She’s used the focal point of the love between the parent and child and the parents voice as the key concept. And although it’s a guided meditation to ‘Heartland’ it’s more soothing than something you can download or listen to because it is your parental voice. She’s included questions to ask your child afterwards (if they haven’t fallen asleep!) and also ways to take it further: ‘maybe, in the time after the meditation, you will want to send love to strangers on your way. It can be the homeless, the busy…
My only criticism, is it is not the strongest translation (the author is Danish) so you may find your self rewording the meditations slightly. However this can also be seen as a positive aspect where you turn the meditations in to your own, using your chosen words.
My nine and seven year old usually read in bed for half an hour and over a few evenings I talked them through the meditations in the book. My seven year old said they made him feel sleepy and calm and my nine year old said they were relaxing. I noticed that they both seemed to fall asleep quicker. My five year old simply said ‘I liked the mountain’. It’s a lovely book to get started with if you would like some help and guidance in talking your child through a meditation.
Mindful eating is another easy way to understand mindfulness, for an adult or a child. Using either a raisin or a chocolate button, take it in your hand and look at it, feel it and smell it. When you finally put it in your mouth, use your tongue to explore the texture and taste and avoid chewing it so you are forced to take the time and be mindful of what you are actually tasting and eating. Mindfulness means engaging all the senses. I remember doing this with a mindfulness teacher and realising I hated raisins!
Any quiet focused time your child has is a form a mindfulness for them. It could be towers out of blocks; using tweezers to transfer small objects from one bowl to another; one of my boys favourites when they were younger was when I cut up paint shade cards and they had to put them in order again. I would also encourage you to try a breathing exercise or visualisation. Just start with 2-3 minutes and the more you do it the easier it becomes.