“To calm down” is the most mentioned reason why kids (and their parents) think mindfulness can help them. Calming down is a nice side-effect but it’s not the goal of mindfulness.
If you would start a mindfulness practice with only the goal of calming down, it might be challenging to accomplish.
Why? Because mindfulness means to be open to your experience and to notice what is happening in the moment. If you would be in a not-calm-body you would experience this and the only thing to do is to observe it. Not trying to change it or run away from it. We are present with it and are observing what’s going on with a sense of curiosity.
And kids are by nature curious! When you go for a walk with a little one you might notice that you’re better off to stop rushing. Kids see what there is to see, they want to touch, smell, listen. They are fully present in the moment because they don’t have an agenda. They can just wonder around and enjoy what’s present.
When they get older and go to school there are a lot of things they need to do. And slowly by time they forget the playfulness they had when they were younger.
Wouldn’t it be nice to give them an opportunity at school to do ‘nothing’. Just a moment to calm their bodies, focus on their body and mind, their breath and tune in to know what they need. How does this practice looks like in a classroom?
In general kids can not sit still for a very long time without doing anything. The mindfulness practice needs to be playful, gentle and not too long to keep their attention.
In the mindfulness classes the kids always start with a mindful posture, a straight back, a shoulder roll, hands on their laps, and eyes closed.
They listen to the sound of the bell and then they know they will learn a new topic about mindfulness.The topics are divided in different categories: -body, -thoughts and -emotions. The kids learn in small steps how this is all connected and experience the benefit from the exercises.
‘Mindful thinking’ is an interesting one; if you realize that we have 60.000 thoughts a day, it might be worth it to take a closer look. Kids learn that what you think is not always the truth. That they can create a distance between their thoughts and the response to the thought. For the youngest kids there are games and challenges to make this easy and fun.
The topic ‘mindfulness with the heart’ (heartfulness) is a beautiful one because it covers the connection with others in how to help each other, how to be grateful and generous. In these sessions the focus is on how this makes you feel. Even when you are not feeling happy, there are ways to think happy thoughts and in here you can easily notice the connection between our thoughts and emotions.
What do kids say about mindfulness?
Just like adults, kids have busy schedules. They have their full program at school, after school a lot of kids have their sports, music lessons or they just want to watch movies to relax. Not realizing that the screens are overstimulating instead of calming. The kids will not ask for quiet time themselves, because they are not familiar with it. They don’t know what to do when there is nothing to do. And that is exactly what they are learning in the mindfulness classes. It takes a few lessons before they get used to this new way of not-doing.
It is very interesting how the kids respond to the training. The first thing to achieve with the kids is that they all feel safe enough with their classmates to sit still and only pay attention to themselves. To not look at your friend next to you, but only be with your own experience. It can be hard to do it in a full classroom but also easier then alone at home. Most of the time they are motivated to share and the sharing is normalizing the different experiences. The kids give back so many great examples of what they feel in their body, what they think and hear.
Exercises at home
There are several exercises that only take a few minutes. The kids love it and …. It will help calm down.
- Hand-breath: hold your left hand up and spread your fingers wide, point your index finger of the other hand and place it on the left side of your pinky. When you breath in, your finger goes up, when you breath out your finger goes down. You follow all your fingers of your left hand and end at your thumb.
- Senses: Collect a box filled with little pebbles and let your kids choose just one they like the most. Now let them observe the pebble really closely: 1. What do you see? (structure, color, lines, dots, shape etc). 2. What do you feel? Rub it with your fingers and touch all the sides to explore. 3. What do you smell? 4. What do you hear? (yes, place the pebble next to your ear and listen while you rub it.
- Bodyscan: sit still or lay down. Take a few deep inhale and exhalations. Now go with your attention to your feet. What do you feel here? Warm/cold? Can you feel your socks? Now go with your attention to your hands, your belly and feel your breath here. Now follow the parts of your body and notice what you feel there. (you can make this as long as you want).
What’s the goal?
The main goal of mindfulness is to be present in this moment. It is just as simple as noticing what is happening right now. It’s just taking care of yourself by stopping.
The benefits can be:
- Self awareness
- Impuls control
- Emotion regulation
- Decrease stress and anxiety
- Improve a sense of empathy
- Improve focus ability
- Improve a sense of calmness
The more you practice, the more you will benefit. Mindfulness is not a quick fix.
It’s a way of being. Henrieke is founder of kidsfocusnow and henrieke.nu on her website you can find tips, tricks and programs about mindfulness for kids and adults. Or look at her introduction video and try yourself.