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Teaching Children Mindfulness

By now, there’s a good chance that you have heard of mindfulness. It seems to be everywhere these days, but what exactly is it? Mindfulness is a meditation practice that begins with paying blog-mindfulness-main-landscapeattention to breathing to focus on the here and now. It means being aware of your present moment (thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations) without judgments and without trying to change it.

Why Teach Mindfulness?

In today’s world with TV, video games, computers and busy schedules it can be hard to focus on the here and now, however, the benefits of being able to be mindful are vast. Recent scientific research has shown the positive effects it can have on positive well- being and mental health. It has been shown to improve attention, reduce stress, and increase the ability to regulate emotions and feel compassion and empathy.

3 Benefits of Being Mindful for Children:

  1. Being mindful can give you more choices and more control over behaviors. Being fully aware is important if a child is overly emotional or impulsive. It allows them the opportunity to slow down and catch themselves before they do something they might regret later.
  2. Being mindful can increase compassion and empathy for oneself and others. When kids learn to be aware while being nonjudgmental, they can turn the criticisms into observable facts.
  3. Being mindful can help with focus and make kids more productive. When kids stay focused, they can stay engaged better in activities and school work.

How to Teach Mindfulness at Home:

An excellent way to teach mindfulness at home is to model and participate in mindfulness as a parent. Setting routines to take a few moments, close your eyes, notice your breath, thoughts, emotions, physical sensations without judgment can make a great impact on the whole family. Parents can encourage their kids to take a few moments during homework time, stressful times or just any transition time to practice being mindful. Being mindful can be fun too!

Try the following exercises with your child:

  1. The seeing game can be asking your child to take a minute to notice things around the room they haven’t noticed before. Did they notice anything new or different?
  2. Going on a nature walk can be turned into a mindfulness exercise encouraging your child to use their five senses (sight, sound, smell, taste and touch) to be mindful of the world around them.
  3. The “tense and relax” exercise; in this exercise kids tense different muscles in their bodies for a few seconds and then release. This is a great way for kids to relax and be present.
  4. Breathing friends- Use a stuffed animal to help your child practice mindful breathing. Teach your child to take deep breaths and notice how their body feels as their chest and belly goes up and down. Then have the child teach the deep breathing to the stuffed animal to empower them.

References:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18365029

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17940025

Rathus, J. H., & Miller, A. L. (n.d.). DBT skills manual for adolescents.

NSPT offers services in Bucktown, Evanston, Highland Park, Lincolnwood, Glenview, Lake Bluff, Des Plaines, Hinsdale and Milwaukee! If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates!

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Relaxation Strategies for Children

How do we teach our children to relax and self-soothe in a society that is inundated with constant stimuli? How do we re-frame the evil term “boredom” into an opportunity to make peace with our inner thoughts and feelings and calm our body? Often times, even adults, need prompting to relax and take a load off.

Here are some examples of activities that both you and your children can engage in to “recharge your batteries” and face the world with a more balanced mindset:

1. Mindfulness—Easier said than done. Mindfulness is the practice of connecting the mind and body to enhance attention and focus to the task at hand.  It means living in the moment and quieting out other “noise” to focus your attention moment to moment. This is a nonjudgmental practice that incorporates all the senses to be fully present. Two of my favorite ways to practice mindfulness are when you are eating or bathing.

  • Eating. We commonly eat in transit, in front of the TV, talking with others, or while multitasking. When we don’t focus on just the act of eating we miss a lot of cues such as satiety, flavor, texture, etc. Practice mindfulness when eating. Prepare your food and sit in a quiet space. Before indulging your food notice your body cues about the food. Are you starving, craving salt, is your stomach growling. Still, before consummation, notice the color of your food, the texture of your sandwich, the way the sandwich smells. We are wanting to eat with all our senses. Take a bite. What does it taste like and smell like? How does the meat and cheese and bread feel in your mouth? How many bites does it take to swallow? What does the sandwich feel like in your stomach? You get the picture. When we focus on the experience of eating in the moment we are more attune to how we feel and our mind and body and in connection.
  • Bathing. The same can be said for bathing. Notice how the water feels on your body, the temperature, the texture. Notice the smells of the product and how it feels to massage your scalp full of shampoo. Remember, use your senses to be present in the experience and try and steer clear of other intrusive thoughts that may enter about your upcoming day.

2. Music—Music can be such a relaxing outlet but make sure that the music matches the mood that you are seeking. Kids commonly want to relax to Top 40 hits, Hip Hop, or other high energy music but this in fact does not aid in relaxation as the body will mirror the energy it is hearing. If you truly want to relax, I recommend jazz or classical in addition to natural noises provided by a sound machine (waves crashing, rain falling, rainforest, etc.). Listening to music can help kids relax in times of transition (after school before homework, after homework and before bed) or when they are emotionally triggered.

3. Deep Breathing and Muscle Relaxation—Relaxing the body and calming our breath can enhance relaxation either when someone is emotionally triggered to be upset or anxious, during transitions, or prior to upcoming stressful events. Deep breathing requires breathing in through your nose for 5 seconds, holding the breath for 5 seconds, and exhaling the breath through the mouth for 5 seconds. Repeat this 5 times. Muscle relaxation includes tightening and then releasing various muscle groups. Sit in a chair or lay down in a quiet space. Start from the bottom of the body and work your way up. Squeeze your feet and toes tightly for 10 seconds and then release. Squeeze your calves for 10 seconds and then release. Squeeze your thigh muscles for 10 seconds and then release. Continue up the body. By isolating each individual large muscle group you are calling your attention to that part of the body and scanning it to release any tension or stress. You can use these strategies when you want to relax or you can make these into habits and incorporate them into a daily routine.

Click here for 10 ways to help your child unwind before bed.