A number of years ago, you may not have even heard of the term ‘mindfulness’. Today, it’s a popular phenomenon and an encouraged way of managing our mental health.
What you may not realise too, is that practicing mindfulness can also be incredibly beneficial to your children. While your children’s problems may feel elf-sized to you, they can feel like Optimus-prime level threats to them. Teaching your little ones mindfulness early on can help them develop the tools to tackle whatever mental health problems they might face later on in their lives.
Humans experience adversity at every stage of life – even at birth. That’s why, this World Mental Health Day, we’re bringing you five effective ways to introduce mindfulness to both you and your children.
What is mindfulness?
Wait, wait, wait! Let’s be ‘mindful’ and not get too ahead of ourselves. Before introducing mindfulness into your household, it’s important to have a good idea of what mindfulness actually is.
Mindfulness is all about awareness and being present in the moment. It is the practice of being able to focus on one thing without your mind wandering to a stream of thoughts that may potentially cause you to feel stressed and overwhelmed. To be mindful is to notice what’s happening around you, recognise your emotions, thoughts, and bodily sensations. Sounds pretty straightforward, right?
Like with most things in life, however, being mindful is always easier said than done. As mentioned, our brains have a tendency to wander – sometimes to the point of obsession. Have you ever been caught in a never-ending marathon of irrational thoughts playing over and over again in your brain? Unfortunately, shutting these thoughts down isn’t always as easy as flicking a switch. And if it’s that hard for us to ‘disengage’, we can only imagine how hard it is for our children.
As adults, we can rationalise and work through difficult emotions. Our little ones can’t do this with such a clear head, and tend to get overloaded, overwhelmed, and confused instead… which results in tantrums and tears rather than a positive emotional learning experience.
By introducing mindfulness practice into your home, staying grounded should become a little easier for both you and your children. Not to mention, it can help regulate emotions and provide cognitive focus. So what’s stopping you? Equip yourself and your little ones with all the tools they need to navigate their thoughts and ultimately achieve stasis.
How do you introduce your family to mindfulness?
Now that you understand the ins and outs of mindfulness a little better, here’s how you can introduce mindfulness into your family’s life.
Mindfulness and meditation go hand-in-hand, like salt and pepper or ham and cheese. Meditation is a whole-body experience. Understanding the mind-body connection will help to bring you a true sense of gravity and weightlessness.
Try lying on your back somewhere comfortable such as your sofa or bed. Close your eyes and simply focus on your breathing. With every breath in, focus on your lungs filling up with air. With any breath out, focus on your lungs decompressing. Try to shut out all other thoughts for five or ten minutes.
If you need a little helping hand, there are plenty of free resources for guided meditation. Try YouTube or, if you really want to master the art of meditation, try downloading the Balance app. Balance works with you to tailor your perfect mediation techniques, finding what works best for you. You can currently get a 1-year subscription for free.
When it comes to children, lying still can be difficult at the best of times. Let alone lying still and focusing on breathing. Make it as simple as possible by grabbing their favourite toy or stuffed animal. Place it on their stomach as they lie on their back. As they breathe in and out, encourage your child to focus on the rise and fall of their new breathing pal. This will help them to not only visualise, but also gain a sense of control over their internal experiences.
Whatever the weather
An important part of mindfulness practice is recognising your thoughts and feelings, and learning how to manage and regulate them. For children, of course, this can be tricky. You could try asking your children to make links between their thoughts and feelings to the weather. Sounds odd, but hear us out!
Every morning and evening, get your kids to do a daily weather report on how they are feeling. Is it rainy, sunny, cloudy or dry? A daily weather report gives your children the chance to recognise their emotions without becoming consumed by them. Plus, if your child finds themselves in a ‘rainy’ mood, you can encourage them to do things that might help this rainy mood go away, such as watching their favourite film or doing the breathing exercises we talked about.
A weather report may be too simplistic for adults given how complex adult problems can be. Journaling might be a good alternative. The purpose of journaling is to note down your thoughts, emotions and activities each day. Such a simple exercise can help you manage your emotions, gain some clarity and also become more present. You can find plenty of mindfulness journals on the market that contain prompts to help you get your thoughts out on paper.
Walk it off
At one time during lockdown, walking was pretty much the only leisure activity we could do! But now that many of us have broken out of our pandemic bubbles, there are more people on the road and behind the wheel instead. Nevertheless, driving offers little time for deep thinking, particularly if you’ve got noisy kids in the back.
Walking, on the other hand, gives you the opportunity to be peaceful and alone with your thoughts to get away from the chaos. We all know exercise is good for us, but just the simple movement of walking will not only help you reconnect with your body, but also take in your surroundings around you.
Most parents will find that taking children out for a walk doesn’t always go down well. With no end goal in mind, you may find yourself hit with ‘are we there yet?’ every five seconds. To combat this, get the family out for a walk and ask the children to look for things that they may not have noticed before. Encourage them to pay attention to not just what they see, but also what they hear and smell. By fully engaging with their senses, they will become more engrossed with the here and now.
Getting through dinner is often a big enough chore itself, let alone cooking. By practicing mindful eating, meal times will become peaceful once more. Mindful eating involves engaging all five senses to fully appreciate and experience what you’re eating. Not only will your kids digest their meals better, but they will also learn to understand why they are eating the foods that are on their plates. This not only helps children be mindful but also helps them develop an appreciation and healthy relationship with food.
Ask your children questions about the colour, shape, size, and smell of the food. Encourage them to take a moment to gain awareness of what they are eating before they tuck in. And don’t let the dialogue stop once their plates are clean. Continue to discuss what they noticed once the exercise is over.
For an adult, mindful eating could just be about being aware of making the right food choices and eating foods that you know will nourish your body. It’s all about that mind-body connection. Did you know that the gut is often described as our ‘second brain’? That’s why we feel ‘sick with fear’ and get butterflies when we’re nervous. These two parts of our bodies are closely linked. By treating one well and giving it what it needs, the other will feel more at peace too.
Practicing gratitude is an easy exercise for both adults and children. It’s also something that you can do as a family and enjoy together. At some point during the day, perhaps at the dinner table or at bedtime, grab a few minutes and take it in turns to discuss the things that you are thankful for.
It could be anything from the sun shining that day, to the opportunity to watch your favourite TV show with a cuppa, to seeing friends in the school playground. When it comes to your children’s gratitudes, try and encourage them to think about people and experiences, rather than toys and treats. The brain is pretty bad at holding onto positive memories and will often store the bad ones instead, so making space to focus on the positive parts of every day can help your children hold onto the good stuff.
It’s important to be patient when introducing mindfulness practices into your life – and especially to your children. Everyone is different and what works for one person may not work for another.
There are plenty of stressors in modern life. Whether it’s work or school, playmates or partners, there’s always something to be worried about. 86% of Brits say that their financial situation has negatively impacted their mental wellbeing. It’s needless to say that one of the biggest stressors preventing many of us from being more mindful is money. Whilst kids have it slightly easier in that respect, if money is tight then often our little ones feel the pinch too, no matter how much we try to shield them from it.
At Fair For You, we care about your mental health. That’s why we offer flexible repayment plans so that our customers can focus on today instead of worrying about tomorrow. Get in touch with us to discover how we can help you and your family.
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