Over the past few years Mindfulness for Children has become a well-established practice known to improve their wellbeing. There have been many studies showing its positive effects on physical health, mental health and behaviours (Brown and Ryan, 2003) and it’s tripled in its use in the US between 2012 and 2017 (National health interview survey).
With this compelling evidence it’s still surprising that not all schools have introduced mindfulness for children into their programmes of teaching. We still believe at life on time that not enough children know how to use mindfulness as a tool to help them in times of stress and anxiety. Our aim is to make this practice more available to more children in all areas of the UK.
So what is mindfulness?
Mindfulness can be defined as simply:
‘non-judgemental awareness of the present moment’ Brown & Ryan 2003
We particularly like this definition as it shows how easily Mindfulness as a practice can be self-administered – perfect for teenagers and students. When looking at mindfulness for children we know that asking most teenagers to sit still and focus on their breathing will get a typical shrug of the shoulders and a roll of the eyes. However, as we found out in our Mindfulness podcast with Dr Bear and Christiane Kerr Mindfulness can be performed in many other ways, anywhere and at anytime.
Can Mindfulness for children specifically help with the anxiety brought on by the current pandemic?
The actual effect of mindfulness on people who are quarantined during the coronavirus outbreak has already been studied by some researchers in Wuhan, China early in 2020. Zheng and Nayanan found that Mindfulness not only reduced daily anxiety in the subjects they studied but it also helped improve their sleep. Although there are many cultural differences between China and the UK we still believe this study shows that Mindfulness for Children is a must to get them through the stresses of the corona virus pandemic.
So what are the best techniques when looking at Mindfulness for children? We spoke to kids mindfulness expert Christiane Kerr and she gave us some great tips
Christiane Kerr is a mindfulness trainer and practitioner with over 20 year experience. She specialises in teaching children both Mindfulness and Yoga and launched calm for kids in 1998 which runs courses specially for children of school age.
1.) Get mindful yourself!
Christiane’s most poignant advice was if you want to encourage Mindfulness for children in your school or home you need to practice mindfulness yourself. She claims that there is research suggesting that teachers who practice mindfulness have calmer and better-behaved classrooms.
In the current lockdown when the whole family are at home she also recommends parents start the practice of mindfulness first, which will then encourage other members of the family to become involved
2.) Get physical
Although mindfulness practices are predominantly about focusing on the breath, it can be practiced using movement such as simple movements with your hands. The simple act of moving your finger and thumb together and pressing them together while focusing on deeper breathing can help moments of anxiety.
3.) Get Mindful with your food
Another great way to get children being mindful during lockdown is using food. While eating as a family spend a period of time in silence and get everyone to notice the tastes and sensations when eating – this could only be for 30 seconds. Then discuss with each other how it felt. Seems so simple – so give it a try!
4.) Last but by no means least – focus on your breath
Our breath is our easiest tool to get us back to the present and away from ruminating about the past or projecting thoughts into the future. A simple technique of 3 – 5 breathing is an easy way to relive moment so stress and anxiety. Take a moment now to focus on your breathing for 1 minute – breath in for 3 seconds and breath out for 5 seconds ….
Our very own Dr Alistair Bailie added one key point which should be allowed for through all mindfulness practice. He notes;
‘Its important that we acknowledge that your mind will naturally wander, that you will notice it, acknowledging any frustration and then return our attention to the task.’ Dr Alistair Bailie
Without knowing this it could be very easy for you and your children to feel as if ‘its not working’ or even that ‘you aren’t doing it very well’. The mind wandering is part of mindfulness and indeed will be part of all mindfulness for children.
Written by Jon Ford
Edited by Dr Alistair Bailie