Mindfulness in Children
3 aspects of mindfulness can go a long way.
Posted Jan 27, 2020
Mindfulness shows us what is happening in our bodies, our emotions, our minds, and in the world. Through mindfulness, we avoid harming ourselves and others —Thich Nhat Hanh
Most of us have heard the word mindfulness, which we instinctually recognize as something beneficial for us and our children, but what is it, really? And how can it possibly help, especially in the midst of the daily grind of ensuring that homework is completed, devices are turned off, and drama is kept to a minimum?
One of my clients, Renee, the mother of three boys, noticed a tremendous change in her son, Luis. He began coming home from school wanting to help her and had a positive, calmer presence as compared to his normal “hyped-up and agitated” after-school self. So she asked his teacher, “What is different at school this week?” Mrs. Moon replied, “We just began using mindfulness exercises every morning in the classroom.” Renee was amazed. Although not every child has such a dramatic response, mindfulness exercises really helped Luis calm and connect better.
Mindfulness is proven to help parents and children calm their often overstressed bodies, minds, and spirits. Jon Kabat-Zinn, creator of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) programs, explains mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.” Sounds simple but not always easy, right? The three aspects of mindfulness emphasized by Kabat-Zinn are:
- paying attention
- being present
- accepting what is (without judgment)
Paying attention is at the core of mindfulness. It’s a skill that many children haven’t yet developed, especially as it relates to how they feel, what they’re thinking, and what others might be thinking of them. Accordingly, many of the strategies in my book, The Emotionally Healthy Child, help children develop the skill of paying attention, which can be applied to how they’re feeling and ultimately used to make better choices.
When your child is paying attention fully to what’s happening in the now, she cannot be caught in the past or worried about the future. She is in the present moment without getting stuck in mental loops about what just happened or what’s going to happen. Being in the present moment, where all your child’s power exists, helps her to overcome whatever emotion is happening and let it come as well as go. (Remember the first basic tenet of emotional awareness: emotions are temporary.)
Last but not least, Kabat-Zinn emphasizes accepting what is, or seeing things as they are without judging them or labeling them as good or bad. Your son may have gotten a poor grade on his progress report and may be feeling sad about it. This sadness isn’t good or bad — it just is. Being with the sadness without judgment and accepting it for what it is — a natural and healthy emotion — is mindfulness. Of course, your child can decide to do or think something different to feel better, but mindfulness allows him to see what’s happening without making a judgment about it.
Healy, M (2018). The Emotionally Healthy Child. Novato, CA: New World Library.
Kabat-Zinn, Jon (2005). Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life. New York: Hachette, 2005.