A first time guide for educators and parents/carers
Mindfulness has been in the limelight for a few years now with many schools incorporating some kind of reflection into their school day. A child's life can be very busy, constantly moving from one place to the next - school, after school clubs and then class parties at the weekend. Having time to stop and be still for a few minutes is vital for their physical and mental wellbeing.
Having your own parent/teacher practice can really help to model this daily or regular practice to little ones in your home or school. You can find out more about mindfulness training for adults at the Oxford Mindfulness Foundation or download an app such as Headspace or Waking Up which will help get you started.
Below are 5 simple mindfulness techniques that you can practise with your child/children at home or school:
It can be useful to begin all practices by asking your child to draw an imaginary bubble around themselves with their magic finger. This ensures your child understands the physical boundaries during their breath work. You can then use a chime to signify the beginning of the practice, an obvious sign for them to quieten and focus.
Avoid asking your child to be completely still and quiet during their mindfulness practice. Wriggling or making noise is part of their individual experience and can reveal what is going on internally for them. Modelling your practice (which is likely to appear more focussed) may help them to see other ways in which mindfulness can be experienced. Try to remember that attempting to control their experience will probably have the opposite effect so be realistic and go with it.
Five Finger Breathing
Hold out one hand in front of you and with the other hand allow the index finger to trace around the fingers of the opposite hand, breathing in as you go up a finger and out when you go down. To extend, repeat on the other hand. Invite your child to follow their own breath and notice if their breath is fast or slow? Can they slow it down? How has this made them feel?
At meal times invite your child to stop and look at what they are about to put into their mouth. Which shapes and colours do they notice? Do they smell anything? Ask them to slowly bring their fork or spoon to their top lip. What do they feel? Invite them to take the spoonful into their mouth but to pause before chewing it. What do they notice is happening inside their mouth? What can they feel, smell, taste? Invite them to take just one bite and stop. How does this make them feel? What do they want to do? Can they feel a different texture now that they have bitten into it? Has the bite released any new flavours? Eventually asking them to chew and swallow. It can be really interesting to reflect on the experience afterwards.
Sit comfortably with both hands in fists. Breathe in and stop at the top of the breath. As you breathe out release your hands, opening up and stretching the fingers like petals on a flower. Following the breath, clenching your fists when breathing in and allowing them to spread out as you breath out. Try this for around 5-10 breaths. Experiment with slowing the breath down, inviting them to slow their hands alongside the breath - attempting to match the pace.
This breath is often practised in Yoga and is great for settling anxiety and can help to bring your child into the present moment. Make a fist with one hand and then allow the thumb and little finger to stand again. Place the thumb gently over one nostril, take a breath in through the open nostril. Stop at the top of your breath, release your thumb and place the little finger over the other nostril allowing the held breath out of the free nostril. Repeat, switching the thumb and little finger for around 5 breaths. Encourage your child to take this breath slowly.
A great one for calming before bedtime! Place a favourite small soft toy on your child’s tummy and ask your child to breathe while watching what happens to the soft toy. As they breathe in and out the toy will move around. Your child may need to support the toy by holding onto the sides. Allow your child to explore this and have fun with it, perhaps pretending that the soft toy is on a roller coaster or boat. Can they change the speed of the breath? Can they can make their breath quieter for a tired soft toy or a louder breath for a bear that is ready to play?
The main thing to remember when practising mindfulness with children is to have fun with it! It is an important part of their mental health and wellbeing toolbox that won't necessarily be used every day or on every occasion but a tool that they will know is always there.
Contact us if you would like some further information and support with this.
Check out the following websites for mindfulness for children, parents/carers and educators: