Research indicates that mindfulness practice helps children increase their emotional regulation, ability to demonstrate empathy, and ability to focus on an activity. When children practice mindfulness, the part of the brain the controls executive functioning, the prefrontal cortex, is activated. You can think of the prefrontal cortex like the air traffic control center of the brain. This part of our brain helps us to see the big picture, understand cause and effect, make good decisions, and plan. All skills which are essential to leading a happy, successful life and developing meaningful relationships with others.
Introducing the practice of mindfulness to children is one of the best ways that parents can equip children to develop strong executive functioning skills. In some children with ADHD, mindfulness practice is as effective as medication in reducing symptoms. Mindfulness also has been shown to decrease symptoms of depression and anxiety in children and adolescents as well as adults.
So, what is mindfulness? Mindfulness refers to the ability to fully present and connected to one’s body in the present moment. There are many different ways to practice mindfulness and no one right way. The right way to do anything is always the way that works best for you and your family. One of my favorite ways to introduce mindfulness to children is by using a fun practice called the “Mindfulness Minute.” In the “Mindfulness Minute,” the parent or teacher sets a timer for exactly one minute. During that minute, the parent or teacher and the child take deep breaths and try to focus just on breathing and being fully present. I often use a river analogy with children before setting the timer. It goes something like this:
“Imagine that you are in a beautiful forest. You can see a river running through theforest and there are trees on both sides. Every time a thought comes into your mind, imagine placing the thought gently into the river and watch it float away. Know that you can come back to the thought later, at any time. The thoughts will still be there, in the river. For right now, just notice that the thoughts are there and just allow them to float away.”
Then set the timer. For little ones, even a minute of just breathing is going to be quite tricky at first! That is ok. This is a judgment free zone! Encourage your little one to notice how it feels to be still and quiet and then try again tomorrow. Like so many other things, mindfulness is a practice and the more a child has the opportunity to practice, the better they will get at allowing their mind to be still.
Make space to practice the “Mindfulness Minute” with your children or students on a regular basis. By intentionally practicing these skills during calm times, you can help your child strengthen their ability to access these skills during more challenging moments.
I’d love to hear from you. What’s your favorite way to incorporate mindfulness practice into your child’s routine? Leave a comment below or come on over to Facebook and share!