It’s an unprecedented time for everyone given the ongoing COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic and its widespread impact. And one of the biggest topics for many has been maintaining mindfulness in the face of adversity.
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Much of that topic has surrounded adults, though, with not as much focus on kids. From fears about the virus to simpler things, like missing school friends and playmates, the pandemic has been a very disruptive time for kids, making it a good time to consider talking to them about mindfulness.
While the ongoing pandemic creates an opportunity to discuss these important topics with your kids, they’re topics that apply to our lives even outside the pandemic, too. So we spoke with child psychologist Ethan Benore, Ph. D, about the best ways to approach these conversations with your children.
How to introduce mindfulness to kids
An important first step to introducing kids to mindfulness, Dr. Benore says, is to demystify the process. “It’s important to explain what mindfulness is not,” he says. “It’s not just certain yoga poses, chants or mantras. There doesn’t have to be special music or candles. Separate the magical pieces from the truly experiencial pieces of mindfulness.”
Another way to introduce kids to mindfulness is to point out how there are times when kids are already practicing it even if they don’t know it. “At its core, mindfulness is being aware of what’s happening right now, using all of your senses,” Dr. Benore explains.
He adds that it’s paying attention to the signals your body and brain are sending you. It’s about focusing on what you feel right now in the present moment and not judging it but accepting it. This creates a calming state within the nervous system that can benefit kids during later times of uncertainty or stress.
“Maybe mention times they’ve been mindful like when they’re just laying on the grass, watching the wind blow through the trees or clouds pass across the sky,” he says.
Prepare them and be honest
Dr. Benore also thinks it’s best to be honest and open with kids about what to expect from mindfulness and prepare them for certain obstacles in approaching it. “It can be hard. There’s so much activity, constant stimulation and demand for kids’ attention that just sitting still on the front porch step and allowing the day to pass can be tough.” But with patience, practice and a little gratitude it can become a welcome part on your day.
He also stresses parental involvement, saying, “I think it’s unfair to set an expectation for a child to practice mindfulness if the parent isn’t invested as well.”
Mindfulness is a healthy habit, Dr. Benore says, and he considers it as important as other habits like exercise and healthy eating. “If your child sees you do it, then that’s the message that will help your child engage in those healthy habits as well.”
Parents should also feel comfortable sharing their own experiences of mindfulness with their kids. “The more you talk about it, the better the chance that they will do it.”
Picking the right time
While kids certainly get better at certain activities as they get older, Dr. Benefore believes young kids can really benefit from practicing mindfulness. “We actually grow out of mindfulness as we get older,” he says. “Younger kids are actually really good at it. You could probably sit a child at the side of a stream and he or she could just exist there for quite some time, not really caring about any future concerns.”
On the flip side, he adds, as kids get older, they feel more pressing demands for the future as well as things that have already happened that still affect them which can make it a struggle for them to stay in the present moment.
Older kids, too, can be over-scheduled with varying activities and studies that can make finding time challenging.
“It’s not so much that there’s a preferred age,” he notes. “It’s more about the language you use to talk about it. With really young kids, it could be something simple like blowing and watching bubbles for no other purpose than to be present.”
In fact, as many older kids have more time due to the suspension of activities as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, it might be a good time for them to use that extra time to be mindful. Besides filling that time, it may also help bring some peacefulness to stressed young minds.
Some easy examples
Nature is a great way to help kids practice mindfulness, whether it’s being outside by a stream or watching the wind through the trees. Spring and summer are particularly good times to be outside because so much is going on in nature to focus on.
As kids get more into school age, Dr. Benore encourages them to try just sitting. “It might be just sitting with some sounds in the background or with some quiet music,” he says.
The goal with mindfulness is increasing the length of time you’re experiencing it. The more you can reduce distraction or frustration, the longer you can go. That certainly applies to kids, as well. “Older kids can be really good at just sitting or lying down for 5 to 10 minutes, able to sit comfortably with their thoughts,” he adds.
The big thing is to make sure the experience doesn’t feel like a chore to the kids. “This should be an experience and an exploration,” Dr. Benore explains. “The more it’s a chore, the less they’re going to want to do it. And the more they’re just going to have some intrusive, upsetting thoughts while they’re sitting there.”
It’s also important for kids to be able to process their experience afterward, to see how they feel after they do it. “Hopefully, they feel calm and in control and notice they are thinking clearer,” Dr. Benore says. “It’s nice to let kids know that it isn’t just sitting, that there is both some immediate, as well as long term, benefits of it.”