I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “Kids are like sponges: they absorb everything.” When uttered, this phrase is typically used as a warning to parents or their guests: “Whatever you do, don’t mess up...the kids are watching!” One errant bad word and you’ve got an adorable 3 year old walking around saying something she shouldn’t to your in-laws!
Something that is often forgotten about the “Kids are like sponges” sentiment, though, is that they also absorb good things. As an adult, kids look up to you and watch to see how you react and interact with the world around you. In a time where kids and adults alike seem unable to separate from their screens, practicing mindfulness in your life, and showing your children how to be mindful, can have immeasurable benefits.
I often see kids in my practice who are anxious or who struggle with other cognitive hurdles like ADHD. I have found that introducing kids to mindfulness exercises and games can help them immensely when they’re feeling overwhelmed or out of control. Below, I review some of the common advice I give children and their parents on how they can be more mindful every day.
Start With Yourself
Do you already practice mindfulness in your everyday life? If you do, that’s great: you’re one step closer to having a mindful child. Remember: Kids are like sponges, and they look to you for how to behave. So, if you don’t have your own mindfulness routine yet, start one. It can just be a few minutes a day, but getting into this habit will help you as you guide your child on their own path. There are tons of resources available online if you need a little boost to see how to start practicing mindfulness in your daily routine.
Mindfulness is FUN!
People frequently come up to me and say that they’d love to teach their kids to be more mindful, but they have trouble getting them to stay still for 30 seconds...it's something I’ve heard a million times and my answer is always the same: Make a game out of it! Kids love games, and games are a great way to introduce them to the concept of mindfulness.
Tip: Make sure the game is age-appropriate, and don’t worry about calling it a mindfulness game or not...it's just a game that incorporates mindfulness. Consider taking a walk around the neighborhood, and devote 30-60 seconds to a Listening Game. What do they hear? Birds? Cars? The wind through the trees? A simple exercise like this can plant the seed in your kids to be more aware of the world around them.
Mindfulness is Calming
Right before bedtime is a great time to practice mindfulness with your kids. While they’re laying down, and after you’ve read them their story, guide them through an exercise that brings an awareness to their body. “Gently scrunch up your toes. Okay, now un-scrunch them. Feel the muscles in your legs. Feel them get heavier. Picture your belly and take a deep breath in. Now, breathe out.” There are lots of body-awareness scripts available online, too, to help you get the hang of this one. The quiet of the house and your soothing voice make this a great time of day to pass along mindfulness to your kids.
Remember: mindfulness doesn’t happen overnight, and it is not a “cure” for an unruly or rebellious child. However, mindfulness is a tool that you can equip your child with that can serve her well for years to come. Simply being aware of our surroundings and how we fit into our environment is a step in the right direction.