by Dr. Lisa Lenhart, Ph.D.; Child Psychologist
Mindfulness is one of the new concepts that is being used in a variety of contexts, including in schools with children. Many people recognize mindfulness as originating with meditation, creating a calm and balanced inner world, and focusing on the creation of greater awareness of what we are doing in the moment. Helping children develop the capacity for mindfulness has begun to be recognized as very helpful in terms of children being able to manage stressors in their lives, make better decisions, and demonstrate greater respect and tolerance for other people. In general, when working with children on developing greater mindfulness, this begins with teaching them to experience brief moments of awareness- of breathing, of body sensations, of themselves in the moment. The younger the child, the briefer these moments of awareness will be. Parents can engage their children in exercises that will promote the development of greater awareness of themselves and the world in the moment:
- play a note on the piano or a guitar and have children listen for when they can no longer hear the sound
- place an object on their belly while they are lying prone on the floor and watch the object move as they breathe
- take a bite of food and focus on how this food tastes and feels in their mouth so they can describe it to others
- go for a walk with your child, look around and be aware of all the sights, sounds, and smells you encounter while walking together and share these observations with each other
- review the positive events of the day just before bedtime, followed by slow and purposeful breathing as a way to calm the body and mind in order to settle down for sleep
There are many benefits of mindfulness, including improved attention, improved self-esteem, greater compassion for others, greater ability to engage in thoughtful actions when upset or angry, and greater capacity to avoid responding impulsively. Developing these skills during childhood helps children better navigate the stormy seas of middle school and adolescence, and emerge as stronger and healthier young adults.