How to Teach Mindfulness to Children
Before you attempt to teach your children the art of mindfulness, consider how they learn. By adopting the right attitude to this important and challenging endeavor, you’re more likely to avoid unnecessary frustration. Follow these tips when teaching mindfulness:
Be light-hearted. Children don’t like taking things too seriously, so bringing an element of play and fun is important. At the same time, be clear in your mind what the purpose of the mindfulness exercises are, and explain them to your children.
Keep the sessions short. Children’s attention spans just aren’t as long as those of adults. You need to adjust the length of the session as appropriate for the child.
Reduce talk and increase action. Avoid talking about how much meditation helps you and how wonderful it is. You’re better off practicing more meditation and letting your child learn from what you do rather than what you say.
Remember that some days will be better than others. Children don’t do meditation, the meditation comes to them. Some days you may feel as if nothing works – then suddenly, your child may sit quietly without distraction, for no apparent reason.
Avoid using force. If your child doesn’t want to meditate, you can’t force him. This just creates a negative idea about meditation. Meditation isn’t like learning the piano, or math. Mindfulness requires a desire to practice with a sense of curiosity, and using force can’t generate the right attitude. Instead, be creative and try something completely different.
Set a mindful example
Children learn far more from what you do than from what you say. Children love copying others, especially people they respect. If a child sees you meditating, he’s likely to be curious about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. In this way you draw your child towards meditation, rather than forcing meditation upon him.
If you practice very little mindfulness, but think that your child would benefit from the practice, you may have a hard time convincing him of the benefits. He may have seen you react to your stress in unhelpful ways, getting unnecessarily angry and becoming frustrated over small things. Your child may pick up on these reactions and unconsciously begin copying them instead.
If you practice mindfulness on a regular basis, and genuinely put in the time, effort and energy to develop it in your life, your child is going to pick up on this too. He’ll notice how you try to calm down when you become upset, how you take mini meditations when things become overwhelming for you, how you’re firm when you need to be firm, and light-hearted at other times.
If your child sees you making genuine efforts to cultivate mindfulness, he’s likely to pick up on this. Even if he doesn’t show calm and controlled behavior at the moment, the memory of his positive perceptions of mindfulness will stay with him, and is likely to flower as he gets older.
Take baby steps toward mindfulness
Don’t expect to start with a 30-minute, mindful-breathing exercise with your child the first time you teach him. You may not even be able to do the eating meditation with a raisin or any other food. If your child feels bored, he’s likely to give up immediately and do something more interesting instead.
If you have high expectations about your child practicing mindfulness, you may be disappointed. Keep your expectations reasonably low and be happy with any small progress. Ultimately, meditation is about being in the present moment, so any time at all is very valuable and better than nothing.