Using Mindfulness with Young Children: Tools for Parents
Most people are under some sort of stress these days, and young children are no different. Whether it be a child in preschool separating from their parent for the first time, a second grade student having learning difficulties, or a ten year old fighting with a sibling at home, all of us experience stress, no matter our phase of life. Young children are likely to express that they are stressed out or experiencing anxiety in a number of ways that differ from just telling us, “Ugh, I’m stressed!” like a teenager or adult might say. Symptoms of stress may include changes in mood or sleep pattern, bed-wetting, fidgeting or thumb sucking, becoming defiant or having trouble following directions, clinginess, or changes in academic performance.
Most of us have heard the term “mindfulness” floating around the last few years, but how can it apply to young children? Mindfulness is a helpful practice to promote overall happiness and peace within, which includes decreasing anxiety and better regulation of emotions. Mindfulness can be incredibly helpful for young children to cope with large emotions they are experiencing, on top of additional struggles like stress, defiance, attention difficulties or impulse control. Using mindfulness with your child can be a tool for developing self-awareness of their emotions and their physical body in space. Children who are able to check in with themselves have more control over how they react in high stress or over-stimulating situations and are better able to understand their emotions. How to use mindfulness with your children:
Be proactive versus reactive: Which is better – brushing your teeth every day to prevent cavities, or getting cavities filled due to not taking care of your teeth? Much like dental health or physical health, mental health is better taken care of if proactive measures are put into place. With mindfulness, this means helping your children learn techniques they use every day to help prevent how often they become dis-regulated or overwhelmed.
Develop a routine: Incorporate mindfulness into the everyday routine. Make the bed, check. Brush your teeth, check. Practice mindfulness, check. If it is something your children are expecting as part of their routine, it will become a normal part of their day as well as something they will get better at with practice.
Switch it up: Using mindfulness is not always easy, and it is important to try different strategies to see what works for your child. Mindfulness practices can look a number of different ways.
Mindful eating: encourage your child to chew a bite of food slowly and notice different variables. How does it feel in their mouth? What do they taste? What does it sound like as they chew? The goal is to become more aware of the action as we are doing it, and that is a step into becoming more mindful.
Guided meditation: this can look a number of ways as well. Your child might like watching a short mindfulness video for kids on YouTube that they can watch and listen to. They might enjoy listening to an audio clip of a voice creating a scene for them in their mind. Or, they may enjoy you reading a short paragraph to them as they listen to the familiarity of your voice.
Body-scan: Encourage your child to take notice of what their body feels like. Have them clench each part of their body, then relax it, moving slowly from bottom to top, or vice versa (ex: clench toes, relax, clench fists, relax). Over time, your child will gain more control and awareness of their body in space, and will learn to listen to their body if something is off.
Mindful coloring: Encourage your child to work on a coloring page for 3-5 minutes. After the time is up, talk about their experience. Was it challenging to be focused for that long? Were they frustrated, or calm? This exercise increases attention and will help your child be able to focus better long-term.
Mindfulness can be a helpful practice for adults and children alike. Young children are impressionable and can soak up new information better than we may expect. Using mindfulness with them initially may be a challenge, however with practice it will become a mastered skill that will benefit them no matter what they face in their lifetime. Develop a routine, get creative with it, and even adopt those new skills into your life so you can reap the benefits too.