Why is Mindfulness Important? What the research says:
Some of the information was obtained from New York Times Well article “Mindfulness for Children” and Greater Good Magazine, “Seven Ways to Foster Gratitude in Kids”.
According to David Gelles, reporter for The New York Times and author of "Mindful Work: How Meditation Is Changing Business From the Inside Out", children are uniquely suited to benefit from mindfulness practice. Habits formed early in life will inform behaviors in adulthood, and with mindfulness, we have the opportunity to give our children the habit of being peaceful, kind and accepting.”
“For children, mindfulness can offer relief from whatever difficulties they might be encountering in life,” said Annaka Harris, an author who teaches mindfulness to children. “It also gives them the beauty of being in the present moment.” Harris goes on to explain that mindfulness is important because of the way the brain develops. Our brain is constantly developing, and connections are being formed, but this occurs at the fastest rate during childhood. “Mindfulness, which promotes skills that are controlled in the prefrontal cortex, like focus and cognitive control, can therefore have a particular impact on the development of skills including self-regulation, judgment and patience during childhood.” This was the selling point for me! When we teach our kids to slow down, notice their surroundings, notice their breath and how they feel; especially the subtleties of what is happening in their body, before reacting, we are building self-control skills. Starting with self-awareness can lead to self-control which can lead to positive coping skills.
David Gelles reports, “To instill these habits in children, practice is key. Don’t make mindfulness something that is turned to only in times of stress. Instead, make mindfulness exercises a regular part of the daily routine, an activity in and of itself, just like reading, playing outside or making art. And rather than making mindfulness seem as if it is only as an antidote to irritating situations, present it as a tool that can help children explore new sensations, including those that are pleasant, neutral and unfamiliar.” This will help with separation anxiety, starting a new school or program, meeting new people, and forming positive relationships which will open many doors for their future.
Now let’s talk about gratitude. Gratitude is a form of mindful appreciation. According to Jeffery Froh and his March 15th 2014 article in Greater Good Magazine, “Seven Ways to Foster Gratitude in Kids”, gratitude not only helps people form, maintain, and strengthen supportive relationships, but it also helps people feel connected to a caring community. Evidence from his research suggests that “grateful young adolescents (ages 11-13), compared to their less grateful counterparts, are happier and more optimistic, have better social support, are more satisfied with their school, family, community, friends, and themselves, and give more emotional support to others.” He goes on to say, “We’ve also found that grateful teens (ages 14-19) are more satisfied with their lives, use their strengths to better their community, are more engaged in their schoolwork and hobbies, have higher grades, and are less envious, depressed, and materialistic.” This is powerful stuff! What you reflect is what you are open to receive.
Some key points to take away and put into practice are: meditate in front of your children, have them practice writing down or discussing gratitude daily, and participate in activities that promote mindfulness like reading inspirational passages daily, doing yoga, journaling, and exploring the world around you. Below are some of my mindful practices I’ve found helpful for my students, my own family, and the families I work with.
Here are some books that are both inspirational and promote mindfulness.
-Choose the Life you Want By: Tal Ben-Shahar- This book contains uplifting passages for adults to read before you begin your day. There have been many times that I’ve read these passages in the midst of parenting struggles, and it has put things in perspective for me and brought me back to the present moment. It has also helped me be a better collaborator, partner, and family member.
-Mindful Moments at Bedtime- calming exercises to do with your child at bed time
-Yoga Friends- Partner yoga moves for kids and families
-I am Yoga Takes you on a yoga journey using a calming sequence
-Good Night Yoga- restorative calming yoga moves to do before bed time
-Good Morning Yoga- yoga moves to energize you for the day ahead
-What to do When you Worry too Much- a kid’s guide to overcoming anxiety
-Coping Skills for Kids Workbook- Over 75 coping strategies to help kids deal with stress, anxiety, and anger.
-Cosmic Kids Yoga on YouTube
-Kids Yoga Series at Live True Yoga in St. Michael
-Kids Yoga at Hot Yoga Pressed Juice in Blaine
-Mindful Moments cards- Centers around five principals: Grounding, Listening, Community, Strength, and Stillness. Kids are asked to engage in guided imagery and reflection (I love these as an ice breaker for social/behavior skills groups)
-Mindful Kids- 50 mindfulness and movement activities for kindness, focus, and calm
-Gratitude Journal (Michaels)
-Five Minute Journal
-App "Unplugged" (guided meditation for the whole family; I especially love doing these at bedtime)
Going on field trips to different places that promote mindful walking and mindful exploration are great ways to work in nature. Some of my favorite places to do this are outdoor sculpture gardens; Franconia Sculpture Garden and the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden at the Walker Arts Center. I also like having the kids do scavenger hunts at places like Minnehaha Falls and Mill City Museum (the outdoor ruins are great places to be still, quiet, and look around; that is where we eat lunch when we go). Walking around places like the Rum River in Anoka (they have neat murals under the bridge that were painted by kids in the Anoka-Hennepin district) and taking in the art, as well as the Eastman Nature Center Elm Creek Park Reserve, Lake Rebecca Park, and the Coon Rapids Dam are neat places for kids to explore and use all five senses. I like to keep journals with the kids when we go to places like this or have them journal about their experience afterwards. Whenever we go on vacation, my daughter loves to draw pictures of the sights we are seeing. Journaling promotes reflection and how different places make you feel.
I like to diffuse the following oils on lava bead bracelets and/or in a diffuser. My favorite place to buy kids and adult size diffuser bracelets are vitalityextracts.com.
-Chill Pill (Target)
-Mental Clarity (Cub, Coborn’s, and veriditas.com)
-Lavender (Vitality Extracts)
-Sweet Dreams (Vitality Extracts) I love using this one in the kids’ diffusers at night, especially if they are feeling scared or anxious. Lavender on cotton balls under the pillow also do the trick.
-Balance (Vitality Extracts)
-Zen (Yoga Studio)
-Happiness (Amazon, Cub)