Mindfulness is an important life skill. Not only is it a great way to cope with stress but it has also been associated with higher levels of health and wellness. Unfortunately, busy schedules can make it very difficult to stay locked in the moment.
As school starts, your children’s lives are destined to become very hectic. In this article, we take a look at how you can ingrain mindfulness skills in your kids as they enter the new school year.
What Is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is usually described as the experience of being in the moment. It is at once of the simplest and most difficult things a human can learn to do. Unlike other animals, humans are naturally equipped with the ability and inclination to look back into the past or project themselves into the future.
These are important survival adaptations, allowing us to apply personal history into current situations, or make plans that will help us achieve distant goals. However, when taken in excess a wandering mind can come at the cost of the present.
Modern technology only exacerbates the problem. Who has a chance to notice anything when their thumbs are always engaged with a screen, and their earlobes are constantly stretched with headphones?
Mindfulness is a skill that children and adults both need to relearn if they want to experience the richness and texture of life as it happens in real-time. Below, we look at a few tips that can help plant your kids (and, for that matter, you) at the moment as they progress through the school year.
Emphasize the Five Senses
Naturally, the five senses are an important element of mindfulness for the simple reason that they are the vehicle through which humans experience life. At home, teach your children to think about what they are experiencing through each of their senses.
What does this room sound like? The answer will inevitably be more nuanced than one first assumes. It’s easy to ignore background noise when you are focused on other things. When you tap into your senses, however, more things reveal themselves.
The sigh of a napping dog. The hum of the air conditioner. Old floorboards settling into their age. An insect, buzzing its way across the room. Birds singing from just beyond the window, and so on.
The closer you observe a sense, the more you realize just how much of the world is within your immediate proximity. The human body is constantly absorbing information. When you focus on your senses, you experience those details with vivid clarity.
Why is this important? Besides helping your child develop a skill that is strongly associated with happiness and well-being, it will also make them better equipped to do well at school. Observation is an important component of learning.
By teaching your kids how to observe the information being absorbed by their senses, you help make them expert learners.
Count Your Breaths
Breathing is an important component of mindfulness. Here is an easy breathing exercise you can use with your child:
- Have them lay on their backs.
- Place a stuffed animal on their belly.
- Instruct them to breathe in and out slowly.
- Ask them to observe the rise and fall of the toy, focusing on nothing else as they do so.
- Stop when they reach a predetermined number.
Mindfulness is the practice of being aware of what is happening. Breathing is an inevitable constant. By training your child to learn a foundational mindfulness skill you increase their ability to implement more advanced techniques.
Children are naturally very good at making observations. Encourage them in this as much as possible. When you are going about your day, zero in on small things as a way of demonstrating how even a simple object can produce many unique sensations.
A pinecone, for example. On your next family hike, have your child observe the texture of a pine cone. Is it soft with rain? Dry and pointy? Sticky with sap? How does it smell? How much of the color spectrum can be observed in a single pine cone? Is it all a monolithic brown, or are some spots lighter than others?
The more your child can notice, the better. Not only is this an important mindfulness technique, but it is also extremely useful in learning.
Have Them Keep a Journal
Writing naturally encourages mindfulness. The act of creating a comprehensible world out of words requires the ability to recognize the intricacies of a person, place, or concept, and render them on the page.
Give your child specific prompts as they write. What emotions did they feel today? Why, and what were they like? What was their favorite experience of the day? Can they render it in clear detail?
Spend More Time Outdoors
Outside time is an important component of learning mindfulness. For one thing, the great outdoors are filled with things that stimulate every sense. Each breeze carries a slightly different smell than the last. Every tree is the home of a slightly different configuration of animals — insects, birds, squirrels — each leaving their own impression on the ensuing soundtrack of their activity.
Teach your children how to observe and enjoy nature. Not only will this give them a good relationship with healthy activities — outdoor time is strongly associated with reduced stress and lower rates of depression and obesity — but it will also give them an almost unlimited number of things to notice and appreciate.
As your family enjoys these nature interactions, be sure to participate in mindfulness yourself. Every plant and tree is a city to a different animal. The more you pay attention, the more you will notice. Like all mindfulness activities, outdoor experiences are more than just a learning opportunity for your child. They are an important family bonding experience. Embrace the moment, and have fun!