I am a mother of two young children and an occupational therapist who works in both an adult mental health setting and a pediatric occupational therapy clinic. The importance of mental wellness is key to promoting, learning, thinking and social engagement.
There are a variety of tools that can be used to help promote mental wellness in children. Mindfulness is a tool that may help children improve self-regulation, impulse control, attention span, and improve social relationships.
Essentially, mindfulness is about being present in the moment. We, as adults can do this by taking one or several breaks during the day, to tune into how our bodies’ are feeling, both physically and emotionally. Practicing mindfulness can help us refocus, calm down and engage in problem solving strategies; helping us avoid feelings of losing control and meltdowns. Mindfulness can be equally beneficial for children.
You can practice mindfulness by paying attention to one or all of your senses, by focusing on: your breathing, what your ears are hearing, what your eyes are seeing, what your mouth is saying, what emotions your mind is feeling or what sensations your body is experiencing. Practicing mindfulness is a great way for children to learn how to just be, and it can help us as parents, be more present with our children.
Learning mindfulness takes time and practice just like learning any new activity. Everyone in the family will benefit from practicing mindfulness. A great way to start is to learn and practice together. Here are a few exercises that I practice. Please relax, be mindful, have fun, and enjoy!
1. The Bell Listening Exercise
You can either ring a bell or play a bell ringing app on your phone. The bell or sound should last about 30 seconds. Ask your child to be quiet and listen to the bell until it has stopped. You can choose to ring the bell or set the app 2-3 times a day, as a reminder to stop what you are doing, and take a minute to be present with yourself. This exercise often has a calming effect. It can help a child stop in their tracks and refocus their energy and attention.
2. Use a Breathing Buddy
As a family, everyone can pick a favorite stuffed animal or preferred object. Now lie down on your back and place the stuffed animal on your tummy. Lie quietly for one minute, watching the stuffed animal rise up and down on your tummy as you breathe in and out. Count to three as you breathe in through your nose and count to three as you breathe out through your mouth. This activity can help children calm down, regain their breath and develop greater awareness of their bodies.
A fun breathing activity from childhood101.com can be done anywhere at anytime, using your two hands. You can print a poster illustrating each step at http://childhood101.com/2015/04/take-5-breathing-exercise/
- Spread one hand out like a star.
- Get your pointer finger, of your other hand, ready to trace your fingers up and down.
- Trace up your finger slowly, pause, and trace down the other side of your finger.
- Now, breathe in through your nose as you trace up your finger and breathe out through your mouth as you trace down your finger.
4. Take a Family Walk
A great way to have fun with your family, while getting exercise and fresh air, is going on a mindful walk. You can either choose to all take a minute to focus on one of our senses, saying that you will take one minute during your walk to be as quiet as possible and listen to all the sounds around. You can then discuss what you heard.
Another example could be taking one minute to name or count all the animals or insects that you see. Another example could be taking one minute to touch as many different trees or bushes, feeling the different textures and discuss the different textures you explored.
5. The Heartbeat Exercise
Another fun exercise to encourage children to have a greater awareness of their bodies is the heartbeat exercise as seen on mindbodygreen http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-18136/7-fun-ways-to-teach-your-kids-mindfulness.html You and your child start by jumping up and down in place for one minute. Then sit or stand still, close your eyes and place your hand over your heart. Ask your child to feel their heartbeat and listen to their breathing. You can do this until your child’s breathing seems to be slowing down. Now share with each other what you learned about your bodies’.
6. Glitter Jars
If you are feeling crafty, another fun idea is to make a glitter jar with your child. You can see some examples here http://mindwisetherapypdx.com/blog/2014/8/16/mindfulness-jars
The glitter jar is supposed to represent our head. The water represents our minds’ and the glitter floating around represents our thoughts’ and emotions’. When our thoughts and feelings are racing around, it is harder for us to see (through the bottle) and think or respond clearly. Ask your child to shake the bottle and sit quietly and watch as the glitter settles to the bottom. This tool can be used to help a child down and refocus.
Now go have fun, relax, breathe and enjoy the moment! Find out which of these activities work best for you and your family and see if you are able to integrate one mindful practice into your daily routine.