Teaching Kids Mindfulness

by: Dan Florell, Ph.D.

The girl’s mother could see that her daughter was starting to get anxious. Her daughter’s eyes were beginning to widen and her face was starting to flush. Then the questions began with her daughter seeking reassurance from her that everything would be ok.

The mother looked at her daughter calmly and told her, “I think it would be a good time to start quieting your mind.”

Her daughter looked at her for a minute and then closed her eyes and started breathing deeply. After a few minutes, her daughter opened her eyes and said, “Thanks mom, I really needed that. I was really starting blow things out of proportion.”

The girl in this situation was able to calm herself down using a practice called mindfulness. The practice of mindfulness for children and adolescents has been gaining in popularity. Mindfulness is a meditation practice that starts with paying attention to breathing.

The focus on breathing goes beyond the old parenting advice of taking deep breathes to calm down though it retains some of that age old wisdom. Children need to focus on how it feels when they start to breathe in and then notice the stillness that occurs before they begin to breathe out. Mindfulness focuses on that sense of stillness and quiet. Children learn that stillness can always be accessed whether they are sad, angry, or anxious.

By focusing on breathing, children have to focus on the here and now. Having to focus intently on one aspect of their immediate environment helps children to focus their attention and block out everything else. This includes what has happened in the past or what will happen in the future.

In general, focusing on the here and now provides a quiet place that allows distance from disturbing thoughts and emotions. This distance allows children to observe those thoughts without immediately needing to react to them. The distance can also provide children time for their bodies to calm down.

The focus on breathing is just one part of mindfulness. Children can also focus on how different parts of their bodies feel or how their bodies are relating to the rest of their environment like their feet to the floor or their seat to the chair. All of these methods work particularly well with children as they are very concrete and rooted in the present moment.

Children who practice mindfulness make significant gains in their abilities to control their emotions and focus their attention. Research is indicating that children with anxiety and ADHD particularly benefit from mindfulness. There are several books on the topic that give step by step instructions on how to practice mindfulness with children.

The practice of mindfulness is not limited to children as parents are also likely to reap its’ benefits. The ability to take a moment and be in the present can help parents to calm down and adjust their perspectives. This is particularly handy when children are starting to act up or the family is running late for an appointment.

The next time you are starting to feel overwhelmed or your children are having difficulty in dealing with an issue, remember to focus on your breathing and try practicing mindfulness.

This article was published in the Richmond Register daily Sunday on February 1, 2015

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