Even before the COVID-19 pandemic and protests for racial justice swept the globe, we accepted stress as an unpleasant and unavoidable fact of life. Recent events have exacerbated stressful feelings for all – even the youngest members of our families, who are indirectly processing a lot of information and change.
Establishing a family mindfulness practice is one way to counteract at least some of that stress and anxiety. Think your toddler is too young to understand, let alone embrace mindfulness? Simplify your approach and you may be pleasantly surprised. The sooner they learn how to be mindful, the better. And if they’re taught to view it as a superpower (Spidey senses, anyone?), they’ll be more inclined to turn everyday moments into mindful ones.
Before our collective lives took a sharp turn, many of us were living on autopilot – the exact opposite of mindfulness. We spoke with Fimi Haddadian, co-founder of Bluejack Kids, a center for social emotional learning in the Los Angeles area, about how to help kids tap into their mindful superpowers during these extraordinary times.
What is Mindfulness?
Merriam-Webster defines mindfulness as “the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis.” In simpler terms, it’s a conscious return to the present state.
Mindfulness is about paying attention. It’s a powerful practice that can help regulate emotions, teach patience and empathy, and guide kids well into adulthood. Mindfulness essentially puts awareness into action and teaches us to notice, acknowledge and accept our current state of mind through a kind and gentle lens. It’s an effort to regain control on the moment — which can be empowering for little ones, on the verge of a tantrum or not. Think of it like a self-soothing tool that can benefit both kids and adults.
“Mindfulness can be done anywhere and anytime,” Haddadian says. “We are often functioning on autopilot mode, but if we can train our minds to slow down, pause and really take in each moment, it is very powerful.”
She adds that modeling mindful behavior is the best way to teach it to our impressionable kids. After all, they’re always watching. So, where do we start?
Mindful Breathing Techniques for Kids
Deep breathing is probably the easiest mindfulness trick for kids, once they get the hang of it. Not only is it a fast track to calm, it can help ground them with much-needed focus and balance.
When it comes to breathwork, visualization techniques are more effective than simply asking kids to take a deep breath. Often, they don’t know exactly what that means, so they end up drawing their breath in sharply and puffing out their chests in an overly exaggerated – and far from relaxing – way. As they inhale, ask them to picture themselves smelling a flower, with their mouths closed. Then have them imagine blowing out birthday candles to release that breath mindfully.
Haddadian recommends using props to make breathing exercises a little more engaging and fun. “Props can be helpful in teaching younger kids how to do breathing exercises properly,” she says. “After they take a deep breath in, have them blow bubbles, spin a pinwheel, or blow on the side of a feather.” A dandelion would work well, too.
“The key to doing breathwork is setting realistic goals,” she continues. “I’ve committed to doing a few minutes of deep breathing exercises every night before going to bed. Because my goal is only a few minutes, it’s realistic, attainable and achievable, so I’m able to follow through.” Start with a small commitment – maybe just one minute of mindful breathing with your kids as you tuck them into bed. And build your practice from there.
Mindfulness Activities in Nature
The Japanese have an ancient practice known as shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, which is the idea of completely immersing oneself in nature to relax both the body and mind. No, there’s no actual bath involved, but forest bathing is therapeutic because it focuses on experiencing the forest through all five senses at once. It’s the ultimate form of mindfulness — and a powerful way to connect with both nature and the inner self.
We can apply this same unplugged perspective to mindfulness activities for kids at home. Try a mindful scavenger hunt the next time you go outside. Make a list of things to look and listen for – the sound of a lawn mower or a child’s laugh, a fragrant flower, a smooth rock, a chirping bird. If a scavenger hunt feels complicated, simplify. “When you’re out for a family walk, pause and take a few deep breaths,” says Haddadian. “Feel the warmth of the sun on your body, the light breeze in your hair; hear the sounds of the birds, observe the beauty of the flowers and trees, or look at the patterns in the clouds.” As long as you consciously seek it, a path to mindfulness is always there.
Mindful Eating Tips
We’ve all had bouts with mindless eating, especially while watching TV – which gives a whole new meaning to binge watching. If you’re distracted with another activity while having a snack, chances are you won’t notice how much you’re consuming or how it even tastes. Sometimes you’ll have no recollection of eating at all! This is true of kids as well. Mindful eating is not necessarily about eating slowly, but paying close attention and savoring every bite.
“It’s as simple as pausing when you are eating, and really taking in that moment,” says Haddadian. “Touching, feeling and smelling the food you’re about to eat, and savoring the flavors and textures with each bite.”
For example, if they’re having ice cream, have them focus on how cold it feels on the tongue and how it changes as it melts, in both temperature and form. When eating strawberries, help them zero in on the deep red hues, the tiny outer seeds, the juiciness and the smell. There are details that delight in everything we eat, and that’s the point! When focusing perspectives this way, we enhance the experience of food and elevate its enjoyment at the same time.
Digital Mindfulness with Yoga and Apps
Need a little help finding your focus? There are plenty of guided meditation apps at your disposal, including Headspace and Calm, plus sleep meditations to help relax little minds as they drift off to sleep. We particularly like the family meditations on the Peloton app and Cosmic Kids Yoga for engaging, doable yoga videos for kids. Does your little one learn better through play? Check out the Mindful Powers app, which combines story telling with the power of digital play. Sesame Street, in collaboration with Headspace, recently launched a wonderful series of Monster Meditation videos to encourage mindfulness as well.
We can all agree that 2020 has been the harbinger of change, delivering a clear message that we need to shift, rethink, reset and evolve in profound new ways. The status quo is no longer acceptable – and that includes living in a state of constant stress. Thanks to Bluejack Kids for sharing these insightful, stress-busting tips!