On this lovely spring day, imagine a classroom full of (usually) rambunctious 6-year-olds sitting quietly on the floor, eyes closed, breathing slowly, listening intently, counting the different sounds they hear — traffic, birds, footsteps, wind in the trees, their own breaths; the teacher then asks them to describe the sounds.
These children are taking part in a mindfulness awareness session that their teacher helps them practise every day.
Children live in our world of distraction
Being a parent can be frustrating and overwhelming at the same time. We wish our children would listen to us, do their homework on time, not be distracted by the many media devices and screens competing for their attention and (to be honest) our time. We wish we could stop them from getting upset and over-reacting when things don’t go the way they want them to.
As parents, we can begin by asking: Do my children have "time off"? Do they get to go places and make things that aren't planned and that are the result of their own interests, ideas, and creativity? The reality is that many, if not most, children's days are booked up with extra-curricular activities, before- and after-school care, organized sports, summer school and camp, and screen time — all intended to keep them "busy."
But so much "busyness" also has the unfortunate effect of preventing kids from being aware of their present-moment surroundings and emotions, which leads to stress, and stress has a direct effect on children's behaviour and cognition. (For more on this, see these studies on mindfulness-based stress reduction.)
Mindfulness changes everything
Parents often ask me how they can help their children control their own behaviour, and how to get them to listen and do what they're asked to do, how to focus, and how to stay on task. Both teachers and parents can help kids to practice mindful activities or games that teach present-moment awareness in just a few minutes each day.
Parents and teachers can learn how to train children in the mindful skills of listening, attention, control, kindness, and empathy, and all kids can be taught to become aware of their emotions, how to "do nothing," how to respond rather than react, and to stay in the present moment. (For more information, see our mindfulness workshops.)
When children learn to live in the present
Wouldn't you love to help your child to recognize opportunities and be able to solve problems and challenges creatively? Life is so much happier when our children are growing and developing their mental abilities.
When children are able to adjust to what life challenges them with, and when their mental flexibility is growing, they get along better with us and their peers, are able to recover from setbacks faster, and are generally more resilient.
Next month: the science of mindfulness
Life is better when our children recognize the "star stuff" within them that makes them unique and special. In the next blog chapter on practising mindfulness with children, you learn about the brain's executive processing skills, and how these skills increase when kids learn and apply mindfulness.