It may be the buzz word of the decade, but what is it all about? JEN SIEVERS explores the beautiful and holistic benefits of mindfulness, both for our children and the wider world.
Before children learn to read, write or count to twenty, they need to learn tools to help them navigate the ups and downs of daily life. It’s vital that as teachers, parents and caregivers, we provide opportunities for children to develop skills that help them to grow into resilient, positive, curious, happy children.
One tool that many parents and teachers use for this is mindfulness. “Introducing mindfulness at an early age is a fantastic way to incorporate it into a child’s daily life,” says Valerie Fletcher, Centre Director of New Shoots Westgate. “If young children are taught mindfulness practices, this sets them up to cope better with anxiety and big emotions, and gives them tools to use with ease as they grow up.”
What is mindfulness, and why is it so good?
Mindfulness is no longer reserved for those on a spiritual path, it’s now been researched and widely proven to decrease stress, improve concentration, build on resilience, improve social skills and reduce bullying (among countless other benefits).
Mindfulness is not only meditation. It’s the act of being fully present for whatever we are doing at the time, without being caught up or overwhelmed by our feelings or surroundings. It isn’t limited to sitting down; it can be done standing, walking, or even integrated into focussed activities such as games, yoga or sports.
- When you engage in mindfulness, your brain switches from using the amygdala to the prefrontal cortex. The amygdala is the fear centre of your brain (the watchdog). When it is engaged, we feel afraid and anxious. Our brains block information from travelling to the hippocampus (where we store our memories). The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that makes balanced decisions (the wise owl). During mindful activity, it is instantly accessed – making us feel calm and helping our memory to function more successfully.
- Regular mindful practice trains our brains not to react. In time, regular mindful activities train us to find a pause between thinking and reacting to our thoughts. This pause is a crucial element of resilience and can gently moves us from a negative to a positive mindset.
- It heals our nervous system. All of the negative thoughts we’ve been holding onto are stored in our nervous systems. With regular practice, eventually, our nervous systems calm down, letting go of stored emotions, resulting in happier, healthier bodies and minds.
Here are a few ways that you can embrace mindfulness with your children
- Discover and attend a mindfulness workshop near you. Mindfulness workshops such as the ones provided by The Food Tree, teach parents how to help themselves and their children with mindfulness and gratitude practice.
- Exploring the outdoors: take timeto explore and touch plants, flowers and the earth. Try walking and exploring in silence so you can tune in to all the wonderful surrounding birds and insects.
- Create a mindful bedtime ritual by doing a short body-scan meditation with your child before bed – begin by telling them to bring their attention to their toes, feet, legs etc. It’s a calming way to return to the body at the end of each day.