The New York Times Well section just published an all-encompassing article titled Mindfulness for Children, with links and information for each specific age-group. A quick read or scroll-through and you are hit by all the benefits of mindfulness, and what a useful tool it is for "decreasing anxiety and promoting happiness." I feel like I've been a bucket for the past few years, collecting bits and pieces about mindfulness/meditation, even ordered some books at some point, but after having read this article my bucket finally spilled over, and I feel like it's time to take action.
However, for me it's never as easy as it sounds, because it order to begin anything, I need to fully understand it first. This can get annoying - or just take me years to get to the point of acting on something.
So while mindfulness is considered a "simple technique that emphasizes paying attention to the present moment in an accepting, nonjudgmental manner," it takes a little time to truly understand what it is.
But first off, the reason I'd like to instill it in our family's life is because of two things:
1. I want my daughters to be the drivers of their own lives and make conscious decisions based on being self-aware (as opposed to just reacting to things on auto-pilot.)
2. Learn to deal with big emotions in a more productive/self-reflective way.
According to Happify, meditation and mindfulness are the "next big public health revolution, and join the pantheons of no brainers like brushing teeth, eating well, and taking meds prescribed by your doctors." They also have the best definition I've found so far:
"mindfulness is the ability to know what's happening in your head at any given moment without getting carried away by it."
"The proposition is that you learn how to respond wisely to things that happen to you, rather than just reacting blindly... You are breaking a lifetime's habit of walking around in a fog of projection and rumination, and you are actually focusing on what's happening right now."
According to Mind the Bump, "the opposite of mindfulness is mindlessness or auto-pilot, kind of like taking the back-seat and letting your thoughts and emotions drive your decisions and actions. Mindfulness works because it allows us to step out of our auto-pilot mode and get into the driver seat. So instead of reacting, thinking in circles or repeating old habits, we are able to respond to the events in life with greater empowerment and choice."
"Mindfulness is able to bring this calm and clear perspectives to all of our moments. It helps to create space between us and our thoughts. It allows us to notice our thoughts, emotions and our surroundings, and choose what we attach ourselves to, and what we let pass by, like clouds on the sky floating by. Over time, this can allow us to be less stressed, less reactive, and more focused and connected."
The last thing I had to clear up that I didn't understand, is how does listening to your breathing and clearing your head, actually make you more self-aware, since usually the goal is to try and think of absolutely nothing? This took me a little while, but I finally found the answer in a new book I just ordered called Mindful Games:
"When children and teenagers focus on an experience in the present moment (the feeling of breathing, perhaps, or the sounds in a room), their minds tend to quiet, and a space opens up in their heads that allows them to see what's going on more clearly. As they become aware of what's happening in their minds and bodies, kids learn to use sense impressions (I'm feeling restless, for instance) as cues to stop and reflect before speaking or acting. Through this process they become less reactive and more conscious of what's going on within and around them. Rather than focusing on the result, they focus on responding to the situation with wisdom and compassion."
I'm finally sold. Now what?
The bad news from the NYTimes article is that “learning mindfulness isn’t like piano lessons, where you can have someone else teach it to your children, you have to learn it yourself.”
I'll take that on as a challenge, as I could definitely apply all those benefits to my own life.
So here is our intro into Mindfulness...
1. What is a thought?
Ask Courageous Girls first to explain, and then show video by Cosmic Kids Zen Den. (I started it at 1:45)
Excerpts from video:
"It's good to know what thoughts are, so we can sort them out when our heads feel really busy.
They are like bubbles, they pop up in your brain, and sometimes there can be quite a few all at once. They don't hang around for long. The funny thing about thoughts is that they join up to a feeling - some thoughts make us happy, some make us worry.
Remember, you can always choose which thoughts to believe and realize which ones aren't helping you. And the secret to helping ourselves when our brains get too busy is super easy - it's breathing!"
2. How Mindfulness empowers us
Ask Courageous Girls if anyone knows what mindfulness is. How is it related to your breathing?
Then show this video by Happify.
"Mindfulness allows us to see our thoughts and feelings as they are beginning... It's very powerful to know what we are feeling as we are feeling it or know what we are thinking, as we are thinking it. With mindfulness we can choose what will strengthen, and bring into action, and we will choose to gently let go of. We don't have to be at the mercy of old habits, or old ways of thinking or old ways of being. We are empowered. It just takes practice."
3. Kids explain mindfulness
Watch this video. Then ask - what does PBS stand for? (Pause, Breathe and Smile.) When do kids you use this strategy? Why do you think it works?
4. Why mindfulness is a superpower
Another awesome video explanation by Happify. (By the way, watch them all first and see which ones work for you.)
"The proposition is that you learn how to respond wisely to things that happen to you, rather than just reacting blindly."
5. Just breathe...
Last video to show and discuss. In what situations you think you can implement mindfulness in your own life? Can you think of some triggers at school or at home, or with your friends or family?
6. Create a Glitter Jar activity
Wonderful activity from Mindful, where the glitter jar represents the mind settling. It's a great way for children to visualize their busy minds, and what happens when they take the time to breathe, and let their thoughts settle.