“The little things? The little moments? They aren’t little.” -Jon Kabat-Zinn
If you are someone who is just starting to prioritize self-care into your life, you may find yourself thinking, “Wow, I wish I started sooner!” If this is you then you’re not alone.
Only recently has the importance of mental health started to become normalized in our day-to-day lives. Mental Health Awareness month wasn’t established until 1949, and many people still feel like the topic of therapy is taboo. In the workplace, employees struggle to find work-life balance and have to fight for mental health days. Meanwhile, kids in school are too often labeled as disruptive and are quickly put on medication to help regulate their emotions instead of being taught how to self-regulate and speak constructively about their feelings.
Mindfulness is a useful tool to have in your self-care arsenal as it can help reduce anxiety and boost happiness, and the good news is that it is an easy way to introduce self-care into your child’s life.
The Importance of Teaching Mindfulness to Children
Mindfulness emphasizes being present and accepting each moment and your feelings in that moment without judgment. This technique is a form of emotional regulation that can help us navigate through stressful situations.
It’s a good idea to teach mindfulness at a young age so that children are equipped to face the inevitable stressors that life throws at us. However, it is particularly effective for children to learn mindfulness because of the way the human brain develops. The prefrontal cortex develops most rapidly during childhood and mindfulness teaches skills that are controlled by this part of the brain such as self-regulation, patience and judgment.
1. Face Time Without the Phone
Teaching mindfulness can start as early as infancy and be as simple as maintaining eye contact with your baby while nursing or feeding. Even babies can sense if their caretaker is distracted. So, instead of picking up your phone and trying to multitask, be in the moment and give eye contact and smiles to your little one. This type of reflective mirroring behavior is a good first step in teaching your child mindfulness.
This practice is just as important as children get older. It’s easy to not realize how many times we pick up our phones or have our backs turned while we are on the computer. Setting the example of being present in the moment will help children do the same.
2. Teach Them to S.T.O.P
A popular breathing exercise to practice with children if they are on the verge of a tantrum - or maybe they are already throwing one - is the S.T.O.P exercise.
Stop - The first step is to have your child stop whatever they are doing.
Take a breath - Next, have them take a few deep breaths and focus on the sensation.
Observe - Have your child acknowledge their feelings, good or bad without judgement.
Proceed - Have the child continue with their current activity, now that they have paused and can process the emotions they moments ago felt overwhelmed by.
3. Bring Creativity to Gratitude
Practicing gratitude is one of the best ways to cultivate mindfulness by allowing us to focus more on the good and place less importance on negative events or emotions. Traditional gratitude journals are a great way to practice this important habit but may not be age-appropriate for little ones who are just getting a handle on reading and writing.
A good alternative to writing these things down in words is to have your child draw a picture of what made them happy that day. This frames the concept of gratitude in a more fun and creative way. If you introduce this practice as part of your child’s evening routine, it can also help them get a quality night of sleep by putting them in an appreciative state of mind.
Let us know in the comments below if you have tried these techniques or others you want to share with others!
Looking for More? Check out our How to Plan a Morning Routine for Personal Success blog for more self-care tips and tricks.