When teaching mindfulness to your children (or classroom) it’s important to go slowly and take one step at a time. This doesn’t need to be a New Year’s resolution that you’ll throw out by February but something easy that you’ll follow through on. To help you put mindfulness into practice, see the top ten tips for getting started:
1. Start slow. Learn about mindfulness, and carefully select the type of mindfulness practice you’d like to begin with your children. Some examples may be breathing, walking, mindful moving, listening, and seeing.
2. Pick one thing. If we pick one thing and stick to it, we’ll make progress. My one thing is meditation because it calms, centers, and helps me connect to guidance. But my one thing needn’t be yours. You can use mindful breathing or calming audios to help your child prepare for bedtime, for example.
3. Use technology to your benefit. Using mindfulness apps or audios can help our children keep calm and pay better attention. I personally use a mindfulness app, which records my daily meditation and connects me to a community of folks who are meditating at the same time.
4. Recognize that you can always begin again. Wiping the slate clean and beginning again is one of the philosophies of mindfulness. There is no need to carry the past or to fear the future with mindfulness, which is always happening in the present. Often children need do-overs, which mindfulness encourages and teaches us to embrace. Because honestly, we can always begin again, no matter what.
5. Create a nightly mindfulness practice that helps you and your child. It may be something simple like reading Goodnight Moon and saying goodnight and thank you to every person you saw that day. Or perhaps it’s Hand on Heart, in which you place your hand on your heart and connect with your breathing to relax. Or maybe every evening you sit with your child and list Three Good Things from the day. I love this one because it trains your child’s mind to begin looking for the good things life has to offer.
6. Connect with mindful schools and/or communities. Connect with communities where mindfulness is valued, taught, and lived. One place like that in my community is Yoga Soup, which offers mindfulness-based yoga for children and their parents.
7. Use mindfulness daily. Sometimes as parents and teachers we think we have to “fix it” when a child is angry. We have him take deep breaths, or we tell him to listen to his calming audios when he can’t sleep. Those aren’t bad ideas, but I want to encourage you to use mindfulness practices when your child feels good, not just at challenging times or on hard days. It’s becoming a regular habit that makes it really work and helps children remember to take deep breaths when they need them.
8. Make mindful friends. Do your best to help your son or daughter make friends who are mindful, considerate, and thoughtful. If possible, take your child to activities where other mindful children may be—for example, karate or art class. The possibilities are endless, but certainly having a peer who makes a positive impact on your child is a good thing.
9. Realize that mindfulness takes time and be in it for the long haul. No quick fixes here, or as they say, no McMindfulness. Mindfulness is about slowing down, not doing things quickly. Early in my life, a teacher told me, “Slow down to get where you want to go faster,” and that made an impression on me.
10. Get a mindfulness mentor. Mentors are people who are farther along the path of mindfulness than you are. Your mentor doesn’t even need to be someone you know—it could be His Holiness the Dalai Lama. You can watch his videos, read his books, or learn from his teachings. It doesn’t need to be a spiritual teacher, either, but someone like Jon Kabat-Zinn, who wrote Full Catastrophe Living and Wherever You Go, There You Are.
Mindfulness is a wonderful way of living in this world, but I don’t want to underestimate the power of mindlessness either. Our bodily functions (like breathing) happen automatically without any thought. The ability to be mindless, to empty our minds and just relax to restore ourselves has a healthy role, too. Learning how to go from mindless to mindful is what we want to teach our children—it’s a balance.
Healy, Maureen (2018). The Emotionally Healthy Child. Novato, CA: New World Library.
Hand on Heart: Tool Five, The Emotionally Healthy Child, p 82.