We hear the term ‘mindfulness’ a lot these days and much has been said about the positive effects of consciously focusing attention on the present moment and noticing what’s happening at that particular point in time.
Mindfulness isn’t only acknowledged by those who practise it as being a tool for supporting overall wellbeing and mental health, there’s plenty of research to back up the proponents’ claims. By training yourself to purposefully concentrate on what’s happening around you at the present moment, and by calmly acknowledging and accepting feelings, thoughts and sensations - without judgement - stress levels can be reduced and life can be experienced more fully.
We know mindfulness is good for adults, what about mindfulness for children?
There are two ways where mindfulness can be of benefit to children.
In the first instance, children prefer to interact with mindful adults* and so any parent who desires a healthier relationship with their children should consider mindfulness training. And as every parent knows, raising a family is often challenging and there can be testing times, so it is truly worthwhile developing constructive techniques which have long-term positive outcomes.
Secondly, children themselves benefit from learning and practising mindfulness. In fact, studies have shown that mindfulness programmes are effective in improving cognitive outcomes, improving social-emotional skills and wellbeing**. Mindfulness helps children to develop their concentration skills and self-awareness, helps them focus and manage their emotions better, builds their resilience, boosts their mood and self-esteem, encourages positive behaviour and helps with conflict resolution and making better decisions.
With so many positive spinoffs, why wouldn’t you help your child to learn mindfulness?
Whether you’re a parent or an educator, there are plenty of ways to teach mindfulness to the children in your life. A great starting point to learn more about the subject is to read best-selling author David Michie’s book ‘Why Mindfulness is Better than Chocolate’. It’s really easy to read, full of humour and warmth and offers fascinating insights into the journey of self-discovery.
On a practical level, there are many things that parents can help children to become more mindful.
It’s obviously important to explain to children what mindfulness is and help them understand what they should try to achieve during mindful exercises. Mindfulness is noticing what’s happening to them right at that moment, so parents should encourage children to pay attention to all of their senses - how their bodies feel and what they smell, taste and hear and see. Mindfulness is also paying attention to emotions, so it’s important for children to acknowledge how they feel at that particular point in time.
Two examples of mindful exercises that parents, educators and caregivers can do with children are mindful breathing (sitting still with eyes closed, being conscious of the sensation of inhaling and exhaling) and mindful eating (sitting in silence for a few moments, paying attention to how the food tastes, the smell of the food, the textures of the food and the feel of the eating utensils in their hand, chewing and swallowing). It may not sound like much, but the facts are there. When you notice what’s happening around you, you will focus more deeply - and that translates into higher levels of achievement, improved academic performance, higher levels of self-confidence and self-esteem and better social relationships.
Interestingly, the Reggio Emilia approach to early learning which has become the hallmark around the world for best practice in early childhood education, has mindfulness as an integral part of its curriculum.
Reggio Emilia-inspired schools such as Nido Early Schools in Perth are centres where young minds and a love of learning are cultivated by creating a solid foundation of experiences in the critical first five years of life that supports every child to reach their true potential. Creativity, exploration and curiosity are inspired in young children and educators, alongside parents and the community encourage children to develop skills in problem solving, hypothesising, critical reflection and collaboration.
If you’d like to learn more about the Reggio Emilia approach, mindfulness and high quality early childhood education, please visit the website, nidoearlyschool.com.au.
* Langer, Cohen & Djikic, 2010)
Jones, D.E. Greenberg, M & Crowley M (2015) Early Social-Emotional Functioning and Public Health: The Relationship Between Kindergarten Social Competence and Future Wellness. American Journal of Public Health, 105(11), 2283-2290.