4 Ways You Can Practice Mindfulness with Your Toddler on the Daily
4 Ways You Can Practice Mindfulness with your Toddler
Mindfulness is a growing topic for adults, and parents are curious to know how this extends to the way we raise our children. Like languages, it's much easier to learn a new skill when young.
Why is it important for our kids to live mindfully?
When babies become toddlers, they start to walk, talk, run, and begin showing their personalities. Toddlers already live in the present - they are curious, take their time to savour experiences and notice everything around them. While younger children may not be able to verbalise their needs and wants, they have big emotions and express them through actions many of you will be all too familiar with - tantrums, biting, whining, hitting, refusing to focus or comply. These in turn cause much frustration for parents as the bridge of rational communication seems momentarily broken - or is it?
There are ways we can address big emotions without letting them turn us upside down, and the good news is we can practice these with our toddlers so they can begin to manage their own emotions as they grow. When they feel there are other ways to communicate or manage their emotions, they will feel less need to go the chaotic route.
Where a parent ultimately helps in cultivating mindfulness is providing the space to keep a toddler's keen sense of awareness alive, and to help them learn to express and regulate their emotions mindfully. This is done best by role modelling and practice, which helps form a closer bond between the two of you, as they continue to share their inner worlds with you beyond childhood.
1. Mindful Breathing
When parents and toddlers learn how to breathe into their bellies, they can use breathing as a tool to manage how they feel. Why? Belly breathing and long exhales activate the parasympathetic brain (our calm and rational part of the brain), switching off our fight or flight mode, which clear our mind to regain calm.
Practice this: Breathe into your belly, feeling the belly rise and fall with each breath. Feel the warm breath go out through your nose or mouth. Now begin to count - inhale for 4, hold for 4, exhale for 4, hold for 4. Repeat this until you feel calm. You can do this by incorporate hand movements and facial expressions so your toddler understands it's time to do mindful breathing, and with practice they will begin to associate belly breathing with feeling calm. Most importantly, you are your toddler's first and most important role model. When you are calmer, it's easier for them to calm down. Practice deep breathing when you or your toddler is overwhelmed.
2. Validate Their Emotions and Help Them Respond
The key to managing emotions in the midst of uncertainty and overwhelm is to take a step back from the feeling, in order to regain control over how we respond to a situation. Once we regain control over how we feel, give feedback and give acceptable choices to how they respond. For example, if your toddler hits his friend for not sharing his toys with him, you can say 'I know you are upset because Tom won't share his toys with you, but it's not okay to hit others.' Then suggest, 'You can ask again nicely or play with someone else.' Helping your toddler understand that big feelings are okay but there is better ways to respond is so essential to moving through any challenge, and there is no better time to practice than during this pandemic. If we can get through this, we can get through any challenge!
Practice this: When you or your toddler feel that strong wave of emotions come crashing in, close your eyes and just pause. Feel into where your emotions are in your body and place a hand over the area. Now label that emotion and say out loud, 'This is anger' or 'I am feeling sad.' You may say to your toddler, 'It's okay to be upset because we couldn't go to Ocean Park as planned today.' Then decide what you will do to help you or your toddler feel better, perhaps say 'My heart is pounding. I will go for a walk or take a few deep breaths...' Then do exactly that or practice with your toddler and see how you feel after. When your toddler is calmer, he is more likely to be able to choose to respond in a more acceptable way to whatever he was upset about.
3. Make Time for Outdoor Playtime
Nature is healing, and it stimulates our toddlers' 5 senses to help them stay grounded and keep their curiosity alive. Play the observer role and let them lead the exploration, appreciating things they notice and admire, whether it's a bug or flower. Here's where our toddlers can teach us a thing or two about mindfulness! Both you and your toddler can benefit from slowing down and taking a break from our fast paced world, screens, and endless activities. It is in these moments that we realise how often we rush more than we need, and perhaps reassess where we can take ourselves out of certain commitments to allow more mindful enjoyment into our lives.
Practice this: When outdoors, use the 5 senses awareness practice to tune into your surroundings. Together, point out 5 things you can see, 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can touch, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste. Slowing down and engaging our senses helps bring us back into our present to really enjoy ourselves, not to mention quality bonding time where you are really with each other and not thinking about the dozens of tasks you have yet to finish.
4. Acknowledge Their Efforts vs Results
Left to their own, children naturally enjoy the journey, and not driven by achieving results. Later, through interaction with others, they learn to achieve and compete. In a results and ranking obsessed world, we want to help them understand that while being best or winning feels good, it's just as important to experience and learn. We grow by discovering our strengths are and learn to do better when we make mistakes. We can encourage a growth mindset by making a point to praise effort rather than just the results. This shows them that they are lovable no matter the results, and what matters is they have given their best. This will encourage them to keep practicing and get better at what they do instead of giving up because they are not 'good enough'.
Practice this: When observing your toddler play or interact, acknowledge their efforts and say, 'Wow, I can see you put lots of thought into building this lego house.' Rather than 'Good girl! You drew such a beautiful picture!', you can say 'I love the colours you used in your drawing.' When playing together with other kids, you can say, 'It's generous of you to share your cookie!'