Mindfulness For Young Children
Mindfulness: most people have heard about it and have some idea of what it means. Mindfulness has been linked to improved physical, mental and emotional health and wellbeing, with numerous benefits associated to each of these areas. These benefits aren’t real only for adults, but also for children. Increased focus and attention, and improved ability to self-regulate, problem-solve and make better choices are just a few.
Once we understand what mindfulness actually is, we understand that it isn’t some mystical, difficult to achieve state of mind. Mindfulness is simply being present and being aware: of yourself, others and your surroundings. This way of being is something we can easily introduce to children from the moment they are born! Here are some ideas on how to foster mindfulness in young children.
Caregiving moments such as diapering, dressing and undressing, bathing and feeding are extremely rich mindfulness opportunities for infants and toddlers. And the good news to all the busy families out there is that it doesn’t require extra time: these caregiving moments will happen anyway! Here are some tips for mindfulness during caregiving moments:
Be Present and Ask your Child to be Present with You
When you are engaged with your child in caregiving moments, give your child your full attention; be present, so that your baby can be present too. In this manner, caregiving moments won’t be something that you do to or for your child, but something you do with your child. Avoid interacting with other people and other things during those moments. Make eye contact, speak with your child and pay attention to him or her. If you notice your child’s attention wondering at another direction, pause, acknowledge, and then bring the attention back to what is happening with your child. “I see you’ve noticed the rain splashing in the windows; can you hear it? – pause – Ready to put your T-shirt on now?”
Have an Environment that Supports Mindfulness
Having the radio, TV or videos playing while you are offering caregiving moments are sure distractions and will make it almost impossible for you and your child to practice mindfulness. Using mobiles, toys and/or songs to distract children from what is happening with their own bodies right that moment are also typical strategies that hinder the development of mindfulness in young children.
Talk It Through
Speak with your child about what is happening with them and their bodies as you offer caregiving moments. For example, “I’m going to wipe your bum now… does it feel wet and cold?”. “Let’s button-up your shirt…1, 2, 3, 4, 5 buttons.” Avoid talking about something that happen before that moment or that is going to happen after: keep your child – and yourself – present in that moment.
Invite and Encourage Your Child to Be an Active Participant
Children are very competent and capable people! As much as we enjoy the feeling of being needed, it is important to empower them as much as we can for a healthy sense of autonomy and self-esteem. Invite and encourage your child to be an active participant – not a passive recipient – of their caregiving moment.
Children who are encouraged to be active participants can show signs of understanding and cooperation during caregiving moments from as early as a few months of age. The older your child is, the more they can do for themselves. An infant is able to lift their legs up for you to wipe their bottom; they are able to lift their arms up for you to help them; an older infant and a toddler, will be able to help you undo buttons and the diaper straps; a preschool-aged child is likely to be able to dress and undress independently most of the times, for example.
For them to achieve this though, they need to be given the chance. You can begin from the day your child is born by saying things like “I need to wipe you bum now. Can you please lift your legs for me?” and wait a few seconds to give them the chance to do it. If they don’t move, go ahead and say “I’ll help you lift your legs up”. If your child does it, then acknowledge: “Thank you”. These are just a couple of examples, but the principle can be applied to all caregiving moments and interaction moments you have with your child. Give them the chance to do as much as they can for themselves; then help with whatever they need.
Eating time is for eating!
A lot of us have some bad habits when it comes to eating. We know we should be sitting down, chewing our food properly, eating slowly and savouring the flavours; but we end up eating mindlessly as we look through our phones, watch TV or – even worse – while we work. As a result, we often end up overeating or eating foods with poor nutritional value. It’s up to us to help our children develop healthier habits - or not! The first step, of course, is role modelling. Guide and encourage your child to chew and taste the flavours; teach them to slow down and pay attention to what their bodies are telling them: have they had enough to eat or do they need more. A good tip to help them develop awareness of how much their bodies are asking them to eat is to serve them less and let them ask for more if they are still hungry.
Explore the Senses
Encourage your child to look, feel, smell, taste and listen! Can you see all the different colours in the garden? Can you smell the flowers? Can you taste the spices in your food? Can you hear the neighbours’ dog barking? Go a step further down the self-awareness path and ask: How does it make you feel? Do you feel calm, happy? Do you feel relaxed or anxious?
Avoid using distraction as one of the main tools in your parenting toolbox. Let them feel their feelings, and explore those with them. Let them be annoyed, bored, angry and frustrated. Encouraging their mindfulness during moments when emotions and feelings come up will exponentially decrease the chances of your child having mental illnesses and addiction issues later in life. Enhance your child’s self-awareness in these moments by exploring how the different feelings manifest in their body: Is your heart beating faster? Do you feel butterflies in your stomach? Do you feel hot?
Emotion Coaching is an amazing way to practice mindfulness while helping your child develop their emotional intelligence (EQ) so that they can become aware of their own emotions and develop the ability to self-regulate and to control the way they respond to those emotions, as well as developing the ability to notice and respond appropriately to other people’s emotions. To learn more about how to turn emotional moments into rich learning experiences, read Bambini’s Emotion Coaching article (available in our onsite Bambini Resource Library).
Disconnect, So You Can Truly Connect
Evidence about the negative impact of technology in children is all around us, and there’s a lot we could say about it. On the mindfulness note, however, let’s just be aware of the numbing and addicting effect that technology has on all people, taking us away from mindfulness in many different levels. The advice here is to disconnect, so you can connect with yourself and with your child.
Don’t live for what will happen next; live for the here and now! For that, and to be able to follow the suggestion above, you will need to slow down. Take a deep breath and (re)discover joy in your life!
If you would like to discuss any of these practices in more detail, please approach one of our Bambini Learning Group managers. We will be happy to help you and your family’s mindfulness journey.
Fabiana Gunschnigg is the Executive Director of Bambini Learning Group. She has been working in the early childhood field for over 15 years. She’s originally from Brazil and then moved to New Zealand in 2007, where she completed her Early Childhood Education and received her diploma in teaching. Fabiana has worked with various ages of children, in numerous programs, within various roles from teacher to assistant manager. She has a passion for early childhood and you can see this in her everyday contributions to Bambini.