3 Ways to Help Cultivate Mindfulness with Older Children on the Daily
3 Ways You Can Help Cultivate Mindfulness with Older Children
As parents we want to nurture our children to help them become happy, thoughtful, and independent beings.
Helping build any habit requires repetition and consistency which creates awareness that will eventually inform how our children deal with life's inevitable challenges as adults.
When toddlers become children, and as their lives become woven with more complexity, they begin to strengthen and assert their independence. While well behaved children often do what their parents want them to do, and become what their parents want them to become, they can lose a sense of self. A sense of self is vital for emotional growth, and mindfulness can help keep the balance between who they are and what is asked of them, by helping them manage emotions and self soothe during the more challenging moments.
Parents can help teach practices that help children build their self awareness, regulate their emotions through mindfulness and self compassion, to help them become resilient beings. As with any habit, repetition and consistency is key in building this awareness and eventually, this is the stuff that will inform how they deal with life's inevitable challenges as adults.
1. Label Emotions
It is understandable for parents to want to protect their kids from difficult emotions, but our role as nurturers is to give them the tools and equip them emotionally to experience the wider world. We can help kids identify emotions when they feel it, bring them back to the present, and step back from the emotion to create breathing space when they're upset. You can help them by naming the emotions when they're upset to show you acknowledge how they feel, before suggesting a solution. This exercise helps kids get comfortable with their natural range of emotions and respond to their emotions, rather than react. This opens up space for compassion towards themselves as it calms their minds, helps them communicate their feelings constructively and make healthier decisions. These are the stepping stones to cultivating empathy in their relationships with you and others.
Next time your kids are upset about a situation, encourage them to pinpoint and name the emotion they feel, using 'I' sentences to express their feelings. For example, 'I feel sad.' If they acted in a way that is unacceptable to you, try saying, 'It's okay to feel disappointed, but it is not okay to throw a tantrum.' Let them feel the emotion, then decide together how they can respond in a constructive way. Once they are comfortable with this, you can start discussing situations and how they might label how others are feeling to build on empathy. For example, you can say 'I heard Sam couldn't have his birthday party because he was sick. How do you think Sam feels?' Finally, acknowledge their efforts by saying, 'I know you felt angry when you lost the football game, and I'm proud that you told me how you felt instead of acting out for the rest of the day.' This is not always easy, even for adults, so recognising their effort is important.
2. Practice Self Care
Self care is just as important for kids as it is for adults. Starting self care early can help them understand who they are, what they need, and establish routines that give them a sense of stability and security that anchor them as they go through ups and downs. The journey of independence begins with discovering who they are and how they want to live. Learning to self soothe and do what works for them in difficult moments is an important skill that helps get kids - and us! - through the fog of big emotions, and reduce pent up aggression and anxiety in the long term. To start bringing awareness to the topic, start by asking what makes them happy, what makes them sad, and what they need when they feel these emotions.
An effective way is to demonstrate what self care looks like, perhaps by letting them know you are going to take 5 minutes timeout when you are upset, then follow through and come back after 5 minutes. Encourage them to do the same and help remind them to do the things that make them feel better, until it becomes a habit.
A great way to build trust and bonding is to find out what self care practices work for both of you, and practice it together. You might decide to do mindful belly breathing, yoga, drawing, getting creative or journaling. The practices that work may change through time, and that's okay. Make time to discuss your sharing and insights afterwards and keep this dialogue open between you and your child, as it lets them know that self care matters and that they always have a safe space to look after themselves.
Create a family ritual around gratitude. A simple way is to include talking about gratitude at the dinner table. At dinner each night, have everyone take turns sharing one thing they loved about their day. Perhaps you also make it a monthly family activity to volunteer and give back. This helps children feel good and experience the importance of gratitude - that even on bad days, there is always something to be grateful for. Gratitude journaling is also a great practice for older kids and parents and builds resilience over time.
3. Make Time for Gratitude
Gratitude helps give us perspective, celebrate what we have and literally makes us happier, which is especially helpful during challenging times. A grateful mind builds resilience, and those who practice are less stressed and have a more positive outlook on life. However, teaching kids gratitude isn't easy, especially in a world in the era of instant gratification and comparing the best and latest in materialistic pursuits. Creating consistent practice to cultivate a grateful mindset is important to help counterbalance this outer dynamic, by helping them focus on the good in situations instead of dwelling on the negative parts. A great way to help kids experience gratitude hands on is by giving back, whether it's connecting with those in need through volunteering or donating care packages, and let them come to understand over time that happiness goes beyond material possessions. It will take time, but it's worth it as they grow to be happier, more thoughtful people.
I hope you and your kids will find these practices helpful, and they inspire you to foster new ways of nurturing your kids into happy, thoughtful, and independent beings.
Good luck and all my love!