Article first appeared in the Portugal Resident.
Mindfulness has become an accepted concept of everyday 21st century life, and many schools and progressive industries have publicised its inclusion in their curricula and working practices.
However, it is only now, as the world begins to open up again, that the true power of mindfulness can be explored and techniques adopted, so that our children and students have both the opportunity and the tools to deal with the ongoing anxiety and underlying stress that adopting the new norm presents, amongst other concerns such as climate change or simply coping with growing up and changes to their bodies and feelings.
Mindfulness as a modern concept associated with relieving stress is widely recognised to have been initiated by Jon Kabat-Zinn, whose studies into the workings of the brain led him to develop a therapeutic meditation practice known as Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MOBS). He regarded mindfulness simply as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally”.
As a parent and educationalist, in lay man’s terms, how can we incorporate this into our children’s everyday lives? And crucially, how can this benefit our children?
Numerous studies comment on the enormous benefit of adopting mindfulness techniques as a daily part of parenting and teaching children, owing to the fact that their brains and bodies are still growing and developing. Mindfulness techniques have been shown to both lower stress and anxiety, improve children’s behaviour, strengthen self-control, increase self-esteem, and improve social skills and communication.
The practice of mindfulness achieves the most positive results when it is integrated into everyday life practice at home and at school. There exist numerous websites and online mindfulness groups which offer examples of activities and good practice, as well as Apps such as https://apps.apple.com/us/app/breathe-think-do-with-sesame/id721853597 and Smiling Mind https://apps.apple.com/us/app/smiling-mind/id560442518.
Examples to start with at home can incorporate:
• Blowing bubbles in slow motion – emphasising the need for a big breath in to fill the bubble
• Tuning into the body – ask your child to feel your heartbeat
• Making a morning snack or meal ‘mindful’- describe the smell, texture and taste of the food
• Taking a nature walk – collect different natural objects, touch, hold and encourage your child to describe each find
• Lie down on the beach as a family – describe to each other the shapes that you can see in the clouds
• With older children, sit down and encourage them to talk about their emotions in terms of colour – ascribing a different colour to each emotion
• Teenagers can be encouraged to press the pause button in tense moments – to convey their feelings at that precise time
• Listen to music together – count the number of different instruments that you can hear.
It is important for us to be mindful ourselves, and to practice what we are preaching. The fundamental concept of mindfulness is focus and working to avoid distractions.
Turning off the television, putting down the mobile phone and adopting alternative activities such as reading, having conversations and gardening promote focus, creativity and inquiry. Being grateful for the things that we have in life, showing kindness and being fair are ways that we can, as adults, implement mindfulness into our children’s everyday lives.
Being mindful will ultimately help both our children and ourselves to develop additional tools and strategies to succeed and be happy in an ever-challenging world.