What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is defined as paying attention here and now, with kindness and curiosity, so that we can chose our behaviour. “Paying attention here and now” means not dwelling on the past or worrying about the future, but paying attention to what is actually happening in this moment without judging ourselves or our experience. When we bring kind, curious attention to our thoughts and feelings, to sensations in our bodies, and to people and circumstances in our lives, we decrease our impulse to react automatically and develop the capacity to make conscious choices about our reactions and behaviours.
How will mindfulness help my child?
Mindfulness practice has been found to have a positive impact on a wide range of mental and physical health conditions, social and emotional issues, and cognitive and learning difficulties. Although the research with children is not as extensive as with adults, the results gathered so far indicate children also benefit from mindfulness practice. Mindfulness interventions with children have been shown to reduce stress, anxiety, reactivity, and bad behaviour; improve sleep and self-esteem; bring about greater calmness and relaxation; build behaviour and emotion management skills; and develop self-awareness and empathy. Mindfulness interventions are also thought to contribute directly to the development of cognitive and performance skills, as well as executive functioning skills such as attention, focus, planning, problem solving, and reasoning. Adolescents who are mindful, either through training or by nature, tend to experience greater levels of well-being and more positive emotions, and they often have more friends than their peers.
There is good evidence from neuroscience and brain imaging on adults that mindfulness practice reliably and profoundly alters the structure and functioning of the brain to improve the quality of both thought and feeling. It as been shown to increase blood flow in the brain, thicken the areas of the cerebral cortex related to attention and emotional integration, increase grey-matter density in structures of the brain associate with learning, memory, self-awareness, compassion and introspection, and reduce grey-matter density in areas of the brain associated with anxiety and stress. Although benefits are enhanced with long term practice, neurological changes can be seen in as little eight weeks in those who adopt a daily practice.
How will my child learn mindfulness?
The mindfulness training program for children and adolescents, as delivered by Sarah Carr, M.Ed., C.Psych, includes eight sessions designed to teach mindfulness skills in age appropriate ways. Central to learning mindfulness is developing a daily mindfulness practice. Children are encouraged to develop formal mindfulness practices such as awareness of the breath, mindful eating, body awareness, gentle yoga, and awareness of senses. They are also encouraged to use mindfulness in informal practice, such as paying attention to mundane tasks. As a parent, you can encourage your child to engage in mindfulness practice on a daily basis.
Mindfulness in Your Morning Routine (example of an informal mindfulness practice)
Pick an activity that constitutes part of your daily morning routine, such as brushing your teeth, shaving, or having a shower. When you do it, totally focus on what you are doing: the body movements, the taste, the touch, the smell, the sight, the sound etc. For example, when you’re in the shower, notice the sounds of the water as it sprays out of the nozzle, and as it hits your body as it gurgles down the hole. Notice the temperature of the water, and the feel of it in your hair, and on your shoulders, and running down our legs. Notice the smell of the soap and shampoo, and the feel of them against your skin. Notice the sight of the water droplets on the walls or shower screen, the water dripping down your body and the steam rising upwards. Notice the movements of your arms as you wash or scrub or shampoo. When thoughts arise, acknowledge them, let them be, and bring your attention back to the shower. Again and again, your attention will wander. As soon as you realize this has happened, gently acknowledge it, note what distracted you, and bring your attention back to the shower.
The following online resources are available to enhance your child’s mindfulness practice:
http://www.soundstrue.com/store/practicemindfulness (six excellent guided practices available for free when you sign up)
Parents and families are encouraged to develop their own mindfulness practice in order to support their family member and enhance family interactions. For those looking for more intensive training, an eight week online Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction course for adults is available at an affordable cost at http://soundstrue.com/store/mbsr-course.