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How to Coach Children in Mindfulness

Introducing mindfulness to children has many benefits: it can enhance their focus and attention, improve memory skills, deepen self-awareness and self-acceptance, and lead to a sense of inner calm.

Childhood isn’t often carefree and easy. Many children lack the luxury of playing creatively without concern for time slipping by. They may have lots of activities to attend and feel constantly rushed. If they hear their parents or relatives arguing or sharing anxieties, they may also begin worrying about the issues.

Even world news can be an anxiety for children. Disturbing or violent images or stories can lead to unrealistic fears about the world and their own safety. Pressures from school add to the stress. The constant comparisons they make with their peers, the need to impress and feel accepted, and ever-looming exams are further sources of anxiety.

High and sustained levels of stress in childhood can lead to mental-health conditions. Depression strikes children at younger ages than in the past, and, according to one U.S. study, about one in eight children suffers from an anxiety disorder. Mindfulness is a gentle yet powerful way to show children ways to find some respite from a fast-paced and stressful world.

Introducing mindfulness to children is one way to help them manage their stress and find moments of joy, calm and focus. Using mindfulness together with a range of other relaxation strategies can help you and your children lead healthier and happier lives.

Set the right example with mindful responses

The best way of teaching mindfulness to children is being mindful in your interactions with them. Children learn from what they observe, so let your relationship with them be mindful and wise, as best you can.

Following is a series of example situations. Write down how you may typically react to them and consider what you can do to make your responses more mindful in the future. A mindful response is one in which you don’t react automatically. Instead, you notice what’s happening, take a step back to see things from the wider perspective, decide whether or not to take an action and then respond in a conscious and controlled way.

You ask the children to do something and they refuse to do it.
Your typical reaction:
Mindful response:
A child is being very slow in getting dressed or going to bed.
Your typical reaction:
Mindful response:
A child receives a bad report from school.
Your typical reaction:
Mindful response:
A child throws a tantrum.
Your typical reaction:
Mindful response:
A child is complaining about something.
Your typical reaction:
Mindful response:
The children leave their room untidy.
Your typical reaction:
Mindful response:
A child wants to watch TV or play computer games all day.
Your typical reaction:
Mindful response:

Responding mindfully rather than reacting mindlessly isn’t simply a decision you take. You need to be living in a mindful way on a day-to-day basis as best you can. This approach means having mini mindfulness breaks from time to time, reserving some daily quiet time or developing your mindful awareness in a way of your choice. Then you’re more likely to respond consciously and wisely to your children.

Use enjoyable experiences to show children how mindfulness works

When introducing mindfulness exercises to children, make them fun, especially for children below the age of about 12. Here’s one way of doing so that you may find useful.

Make a list of activities that the children enjoy: for example, hide and seek, computer games or riding a bike.

Then come up with some creative ideas for making those games more mindful and focused. For example, you can go riding a bike with them occasionally and point out the feeling of air against the skin, the importance of being grateful that they have a bike (many children don’t) or how long they can feel the sensation of their breathing together with the view ahead before they get distracted.

Limit the amount of time children spend watching TV and using computer games and mobile phones. Playing with other children, getting plenty of exercise and having quality time with parents or guardians is the best way to nourish young children’s brains, making them more likely to be mindful as they grow up.

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