Mindfulness isn't just for adults. Learning and practicing mindfulness can also help our little ones manage stress, build resilience, and express their emotions better. And with the coronavirus pandemic almost behind us and opportunities to reenter school and social settings ahead, there's no better time to focus on our mental health.
We had the opportunity to get some first-hand advice from a pediatric mental health expert, Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge, founder of The Global Institute of Children's Mental Health. She shared her guidance on teaching mindfulness to our children, and why it's important, including some techniques and tips from her book, It's Gonna be OK!™.
First, what exactly is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is when you intentionally connect to the present moment and become aware of your body's sensations, thoughts, and feelings without distraction or judgment.
Why is practicing mindfulness important for young children?
In today's busy world, children are more connected to their devices than their bodies. When children learn to connect to their breath and body, they can naturally self-regulate their nervous system. This helps them tolerate stress better, be more focused, and more self-aware.
How young can children start practicing mindfulness?
Meditation starts with breathwork. And, children as young as toddlers can learn how to calm their bodies and mind through diaphragmatic breathing or belly breathing.
Can you give us an example of breathwork for kids?
You can simply have them practice by filling their belly "like a balloon" and then blowing bubbles out. The key to diaphragmatic breathing is to extend your exhale. This helps calm the autonomic nervous system.
Another easy way to teach belly breathing is to have your child lie on the floor with a stuffed animal on their belly. Tell them to fill their tummy up with air and to watch their teddy bear go up and then watch their belly go down with a long exhalation.
How can parents set good examples for their children?
Children learn more from what you do than what you say, so it is critical to show your children how you care for yourself. Meditation, mindfulness, and other brain-based activities not only regulate your central nervous system but also show your child how to calm and regulate their brain and body.
Take 10 minutes (or more) every single day to power down your mind and connect with your breathing so you can show up as a more relaxed and responsive parent. This will make a difference in how you show up while giving your child a positive example to follow.
What are some activities to practice mindfulness as a family?
My favorite way to practice mindfulness as a family is to have device-free time. When you set aside time for self-care, you are showing your child that this is important. Meditation, prayer, gratitude journaling, yoga, breathwork, or art are forms of self-care that can be done as a family.
Some great mindfulness activities for kids include:
- Doing slow-motion bubbles
- Bear belly breathing
- Going on a nature walk
- Gratitude journaling or art
- Rainbow meditation
- Progressive relaxation (toe to head tense and release)
- Doing body scans
- Playdough activities
- Legos or building activities
What tips do you have for parents who want to teach mindfulness to their children?
Be consistent! Consistency helps your children know what to expect, which keeps them calm and ready to learn. Plus, making it a routine helps it become more ingrained.
Any tips for children dealing with stress?
First, remember that your children watch and learn from you, including how you react in stressful situations. It's also important to teach kids coping skills that happen in life's little moments. Let them have enough autonomy to make mistakes and experience those uncomfortable emotions that require problem-solving instead of avoiding them or breaking down. Remember, parenting is all about teaching. We want our kids to have small hurdles to solve problems and gain coping skills, grit, and resilience.
Any other recommendations/tools that will set your children up for success?
Having good coping skills is the cornerstone of resilience and good mental health, and one of the best ways to teach kids to cope with stress is how you respond to your distressed child. If your child is upset because they lost their toy, instead of instantly picking them up and solving the problem for them, lovingly say, "Ok, what did you do the last time you lost your bear?" Here you are emphasizing that they figured it out before, and they have the answer within themselves. Use these little opportunities to build autonomy and problem-solving skills so kids can learn to cope and figure out things on their own. Without good coping skills, you're more likely to experience stress, lack self-confidence, or potentially experience clinical issues. On the flip side, resilient people are more likely to be successful and happy...precisely what we want for our children!
We love sharing resources that’ll help you and your littles. For more guidance on your mindfulness parenting journey, be sure to connect with Dr. Roseann and check out her book! And for more support on your parenting journey, check out our VIP Group on Facebook.