Mindfulness is a word I’m sure you’ve heard in recent years. It’s often used in conjunction with exercises intended to achieve happiness in your life, decrease stress and anxiety and improve personal wellbeing. But what exactly is Mindfulness? And how can we use it to help our children whose emotional turmoil impacts their daily lives?
Basically, being mindful means to be “present,” or in the moment. To be mindful of the moment. This refers to a very special awareness of what is happening within you especially. Have you ever had the experience of being in the middle of doing something, perhaps with your family or friends, and you have a sudden awareness of how special the moment is? Maybe you want to try really hard to notice everything so you can always remember it or just come to a strong appreciation of how wonderful it is. You feel your elation, you note the sensations you’re experiencing, you are so aware of that moment in time and are not thinking about anything else. You are being Mindful.
When you are in this state, you have excluded your worries, are not thinking about the past or about the future, just that very single moment. And this is where the magic is. You have reduced your thoughts to just the present. Many people experience a sensation of gratefulness, an awareness of blessings in life and an overall sense of well-being. By eliminating anxiety for the moment, there is a sense of hope where there may not have been, and perhaps clarity of thought to help address issues we were struggling with earlier. There can be a sense of joy, increased energy and better focus and attention. Now imagine incorporating Mindfulness on a regular basis. What a great tool to have when stressed. To me, it is like taking a vacation in the head, putting things into perspective, like a reset button for the mind.
But what about our kids? I think everyone could use Mindfulness, especially our children. As adults, it is so easy to dismiss children’s worries as small and petty. But, if you try hard to remember what it was like when YOU were a child, you’ll be reminded that, to the child, their anxieties are just as big to them as yours are to you. And for our special needs kiddos, their worries can become stumbling blocks as great as their other challenges. A quick search online will pull up countless Mindfulness exercises for children. There are worksheets, programs, some that cost but many that are free and printable. If you keep your eyes open, you may find some community classes for kids, and some teachers are offering exercises to their students during the school day.
What would a child’s Mindfulness exercise look like? Simple breathing exercises where the child is very aware of their breath going in and out produce a mindful state. Taking a walk in nature can be mindful as you and your child learn to just let the experience wash over you. You and your child can learn to avoid judgment of feelings, instead just accepting them and not allowing them to have control over you. Doing simple yoga poses is another way to be mindful, to clear your heads, perhaps before doing homework. You can use music, meditation, crafts, coloring, all kinds of quiet soothing tasks. The key is to keep it positive and enjoyable, not to force your child to do something they don’t like. As you can see, this is not something to tell your child to go get done like a chore, but it is instead something you can do together. As you model this positive behavior for your child, teaching him or her, you are also benefitting from being mindful!
Again, check online for inspiration and to mix up your exercises. There is a lot of good stuff out there. There are also some storybooks that help children learn mindfulness. These are lessons we can all use throughout our lives as we strive to better ourselves and increase our sense of happiness and wellbeing while we lower our physical and emotional responses to stress.
**Many of my blogs are inspired by communications with other professionals and parents. So, thank you to the kind curious person who discussed this subject with me recently.
Nancy E.A. Weiss, MOT, OTR/L