As parents, our world is constantly go, go, go! I am perpetually on the move sorting out the kids, running my business, keeping up with friends and family, and generally trying not to drown in a sea of admin and expectations. I have always operated at a high level of stress but things are going a bit extreme and my family is feeling it.
Usually when this happens, I talk to my girlfriends (who are always in the same boat) and we dive into one of our 30 day challenges of exercise and red hot yoga. But sometimes, this is just not feasible. More importantly, it also doesn’t scratch the mental/emotional itch which is at a deeper level of dissatisfaction.
My children also seem to have this itch. For better or worse, children are complete sponges. They mimic what we say (and never forget it), copy our eating habits, attempt to be independent and do “grown up things”, and simply learn to experience the world through our filters. Sometimes this is amazing and amusing; other times, it’s not so great. At the moment, I can see all three of my boys mirroring my stress levels on top of their own.
According to KidsHealth.org: “Stress is a function of the demands placed on us and our ability to meet them. These demands often come from outside sources, such as family, jobs, friends, or school. But it also can come from within, often related to what we think we should be doing versus what we’re actually able to do”.
To be fair, the academic and social pressures on my tween and teen are stressful enough (let’s just ignore the trauma of world news and social media). But even my toddler feels the strain of family tension as well as his own daily challenges, e.g. separation anxiety is a natural but scary transition if you are three years old.
I won’t go into the depressing statistics about teen and adolescent depression and the like. If you are interested, feel free to learn more here, here and here.
The Good News
Onto the good news! Recently, I have started to experiment with mindfulness and meditation. Ironically, my journey began based on research I read about the success of mindfulness in schools to better manage stress, behaviour, health and school performance. The mostly widely used mindfulness-based secondary school curriculum in the UK is Mindfulness in Schools’ .b (“Stop, Breathe and Be”) which helps teach students mindfulness as a life tool; the basic act of becoming mindful simply by stopping and breathing becomes the crux of a nine lesson course for schools.
The term mindfulness refers to the ability to direct the attention to experience as it unfolds, moment by moment, with open-minded curiosity and acceptance (Kabat-Zinn, 1996). It enables those who have learned it go on to practice it to be more able to be with their present experience, and respond more skilfully to whatever is actually happening. Mindfulness contrasts with the state of mindlessness which is the one in which much of life is lived for many people, moving through experience rarely noticing the present moment, ruminating on the past or worrying about the future and making premature and unhelpful judgments coloured by ingrained preconceptions and mental patterns. Living mindlessly is often accompanied by a sense of stress as one’s experiences constantly fall short of one’s expectations, and joys and pleasures are ephemeral (Williams and Penman, 2011).
- Source: Katherine Weare, (2013) “Developing mindfulness with children and young people: a review of the evidence and policy context”, Journal of Children’s Services
The impact of mindfulness in schools is staggering!
Secondary school students who follow an in-class mindfulness program report reduced indications of depression, anxiety and stress up to six months later. Moreover, these students were less likely to develop pronounced depression-like symptoms.
- Source: KU Leven, Mindfulness at school reduces (likelihood of) depression-related symptoms in adolescents
Finally, I love this article! “Is Mindfulness the Secret Behind Better Health and Making Kids Behave?”
Mindfulness vs Meditation, Really?
I am only at the beginning of my mindfulness and meditation journey. I am currently using two tools.
- Mindfulness: Headspace
- Meditation: Oprah and Deepak 21 Day Meditation Experience
Frankly, I feel they are highly complementary practices. I listen to meditation with Oprah & Deepak in the morning to fill my thoughts with calm. I also listen to Headspace throughout the day for a 10 minute mindfulness break. For me, the complementary nature of mindfulness and meditation is best summed up by Clare Josa’s post: ‘Meditation’ vs ‘Mindfulness’: A Rose By Any Other Name Would Smell As Sweet?
Mindfulness could be described as becoming fully aware of the present moment, including the stream of consciousness of your mind, without judging it or changing it. This naturally quietens the mind and can offer insights into the auto-pilot reactions we have been running in life. It helps us to connect with the true nature of what we are experiencing – and to accept it. This can lead to a reduction in stress levels and a strong sense of inner peace and happiness.
Meditation involves concentration techniques, to focus on a particular exercise to quieten the mind. It can help us to connect with our deeper wisdom, so that we see those same auto-pilot reactions and make changes. It can help the mind to focus more clearly, slowing it down and preparing us for deep-acting techniques.
– Source: http://www.clarejosa.com/
OK? ‘Nuf said!
Mindfulness vs Meditation Tips for Kids
So how can you help your children try mindfulness and meditation at home? It’s not as complicated as you may think. Always start simple…
- Walks – on walks you can not only be healthy by enjoying the fresh air, but you can encourage your child to be mindful by observing their surroundings. Try taking them for a walk, finding new things each time you go, and spending part of that walk sitting in silence and just observing the world around.
- Breathing exercises – while this exercise blends into the realm of meditation, breathing exercises also help with mindfulness for children. Simply have a child be silent and pay attention to their breath. Sometimes the aid of a stuffed animal on their belly to see the rise and fall can help.
- Headspace – perfect for teens and older tweens. Simple, straightforward, even hip (is that still a usable word?)
Meditation can be perfect for those “before bed time” tantrums and help with anxiety pre/post school time. The idea that meditation is sitting in the cross legged position on a mat is accurate, but archaic because there are many ways to meditate. Teaching children to “let go” verbally is difficult, however encouraging them to participate in an activity that allows them to do so will help. Below are some great ways to ease your child into meditation.
- Cloud watching – simply laying on the ground watching the clouds is a great way to have children find peace. Have them imagine that they are a bird flying above the clouds.
- Painting – painting and drawing is another way to relax a child and free them from worries that may plague them during the day. Don’t have them concentrate or worry about lines, instead have them draw whatever comes to mind and enjoy the free flowing nature of the paint or materials being used.
- Building a place of peace – have your child sit, close their eyes, and imagine they’re standing at a door. Tell them that on the other side of the door is a place where they’re safe and can relax. Have them think about what’s on the other side and imagine themselves walking through to their own peaceful haven in their mind. Have them observe all the details in that place.
Now, I’d love to hear from you. Do you practice mindfulness or meditation or have an interest in doing so? Do your kids practice mindfulness at school? Which one of these tips most resonates with you, and why?
Remember that many parents are looking for inspiration and support so share as much detail as you can below. Your share may be the one that truly helps another person.
Important: please share your thoughts and ideas directly in the comments.
photo credit: pixabay cc
My wife and I used some mindfulness techniques to assist our daughter overcome her anxiety about school. We made a quiet time for reflection just before we dropped her at school and focused on our breath and did it together. I worked, over time, and now breath is part of her anti-anxiety toolkit.