By Alyssa Abel
The practice of mindfulness offers a host of mental and physical health benefits. It can help you improve your life by identifying self-defeating and erroneous thought patterns, and it empowers you to reap greater enjoyment from the present moment.
People of all ages benefit from mindfulness practices — including children. If you want to know how to raise mindful children, you can start by incorporating the below tips into your daily routine.
Walk the walk
Kids learn more through imitation than words. One study by Michigan State University examined 120 toddlers. Half of them watched a video of an individual pulling a toy apart, while the others did not. When given the same toy, 90% of those who attended the demonstration took it apart, compared to only 20% of the kids who didn’t watch the video.
Raising mindful kids starts with modelling behaviour. If your kids see you continually rushing through one activity to get to the next, they will prioritise speed over quality. Conversely, if they see you practising patience, meditation and appreciation, they will follow suit.
Get outside more
Taking your kids outside engages them in a sensory experience, which opens the doors for mindful activities. Learn how to engage your kids in mindful activities in the natural space that you have — whether that’s a nearby park or your own backyard. Go outdoors and listen to the sounds of nature. Visualise all the colours surrounding you and feel the ground beneath your feet. Can you feel the air on your skin? Taste it? Try to incorporate as many outdoor activities and experiences as possible into your child’s life.
Bring back family meal time
When was the last time you sat down to dinner as a family? If you and your kids collapse in front of the TV each night, you’re missing a key opportunity to practise mindfulness.
Instead, let your little ones help you prepare dinner. As you blend various ingredients, observe how the flavour and texture of dishes change. When you sit down to eat, savour each mouthful, and put down your fork to chat between bites. You’ll strengthen your relationship and enjoy your meal more.
Broaden their horizons
Mark Twain once wrote, ‘Travel is fatal to prejudice’. Widening your child’s horizons can also help them grow to be more mindful. You don’t necessarily need to leave home — research shows that children with diverse friendship circles exhibit improved perspective-taking and empathy toward those of other ethnic or socioeconomic backgrounds. Encourage your child to play with those who look and behave differently from the norms to which you’re accustomed — chatting with their parents can broaden your outlook.
Start a yoga practice
Anyone can do yoga, especially kids — their flexible little bodies may maneuver with ease into poses that adults struggle with. This mind-body practice builds mindfulness by helping youth see the connection between physical movement and mental state. If yours are young, bring the exercises down to their level by having them arch, like scared kitties or stretch forward like a playful puppy.
Colouring is a soothing, mindful activity for adults and children alike. It centres you in the present moment and focuses you on the task at hand. Plus, the act of staying within the lines develops fine-motor coordination in your little one. Break out a stack of books and some crayons and have a brightly hued ‘party’ at your kitchen table.
Encourage artistic activities and creativity with your kids whenever you can.
Embrace quiet time
How often do you say, ‘go to your room’, when you need a moment of peace? Uttering these words while fed up can spur resentment. Instead, consider implementing regular quiet family time. Preferably, you should begin this routine when your little one starts to give up naps, but it’s never too late to adopt the practice. Kids can use this time to read or work on arts and crafts — over the long term, it fosters a value of being alone with their thoughts being a good thing.
Kids of nearly any age can benefit from mindfulness meditation. It’s unrealistic to expect a six-year-old to sit in Buddha-like contemplation for 30 minutes or more. However, if you want to learn how to raise mindful kids, start with their bedtime ritual. Have them spend five minutes reflecting on the past day’s experiences before reading them a story.
Alyssa Abel is an education writer with a special interest in student life, mental health and early education. Read more of her work on her blog, Syllabusy.