3 Tips for Sharing Mindfulness with Your Kids
You’ve likely heard of the benefits of mindfulness, but you may not be sure of the best way to teach it to your children. Or you may have tried something that didn’t go as well as expected.
Here are three ‘best practices’ in sharing mindfulness with kids:
1) Lower the stakes;
2) Focus on their goals and interests; and
3) Practice what you preach.
Tip #1: Lower the Stakes
If kids believe mindfulness will take away all of their stress and anxiety, they’re bound to be disappointed. They’ll think that it doesn’t really work, or that they’re doing something wrong.
The truth is, not all moments of awareness will necessarily be happy or relaxed. Mindfulness is about present-moment experience, not just pleasant moment experience.
Another problem is that parents sometimes expect mindfulness to ‘fix’ the kids. The focus should be on awareness of their own experience, not on complying with or rebelling against adult expectations for their behavior.
Tip #2: Focus on Their Goals and Interests
(Which May Not Be the Same as Yours)
Kids have a wide range of interests, so it’s not realistic to think they’ll all want to engage in the same mindfulness practice. Fortunately, just about anything can be done with mindful awareness.
Even if they’re not interested in a specific breathing technique or type of meditation, there are plenty of other ways your kids can practice “paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally” (to quote the famous definition of mindfulness by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn).
Dr. Christopher Willard suggests “one hundred things for kids to do mindfully,” including:
[…] 48. Finger paint.
- Cook a meal and eat it.
- Balance pennies on your shoes.
[…] 74. Go swimming.
- Make and drink hot chocolate or lemonade.
- Repair something broken.
[…] 89. Pat your head while rubbing your belly.
- Make origami.
- Sit by a stream.”
(Child’s Mind, p. 54-55)
Here are a few more suggestions they might want to try:
- If they like sports, they might be interested in A Still Quiet Place for Athletes by Dr. Amy Saltzman.
- If they like science, they might be interested in seeing a 3-D model of the brain and learning about how different parts of the brain are involved in different types of awareness.
- If they like the arts, they might be interested in watching a video about:
And there are many, many more options they could explore, or you could try together. Just be sure it’s something that really engages your child. Some activities that adults enjoy doing in their time off, like reading a book or playing a musical instrument, may feel like a chore to your kids.
Tip #3: Most Importantly, Practice What You Preach
According to Dr. Willard, the most common question parents ask about mindfulness is “What is the best practice for a kid who is in the middle of a meltdown?”
“There is no magical breathing trick I can offer, no mindful off-switch for a tantrum. The best practice for a kid in meltdown mode is your practice. The nonreactive presence of an adult and the wisdom and compassion we’ve gleaned from our own formal and informal mindfulness practices—these are what a struggling kid needs most.”
(Growing Up Mindful, p. 43)
In fact, what any kid needs most is the mindful presence of a parent or caregiver.
“When you are listening to your child, just home from school and crushed by the unkind teasing of a classmate, true mindfulness means that you are aware and present, hearing closely what your child is saying (not rushing to quickly dismiss the hurt feelings, or worrying that the problem is going to be a disruption in your busy day). Moreover, you remain alert, focused, listening—not distracted by the ringing telephone, the need for dinner preparation, or your own frustration at the office.”
(Dinty W. Moore, The Mindful Writer, p. 5-6)
It isn’t fair to expect kids to be “alert, focused, listening, not distracted” when they’re surrounded by adults who aren’t paying attention themselves.
Dr. Kristen Race was approached after a lecture by a mother who said she was “at her wit’s end as a parent.”
“She expressed her complete exasperation with her inattentive teenager. ‘I don’t know what her problem is. She just won’t pay attention’ the mother complained, all the while pecking at the tiny screen she held in front of her face. […] She never once looked up from her smartphone while talking to me.”
(Mindful Parenting, p. 57)
It’s easy to laugh at the irony of this encounter; it may be harder to acknowledge your own moments of ‘Do as I say, not as I do.’ (Have you ever yelled at your kids to calm down?)
Don’t worry. There’s a reason we call it mindfulness “practice.” Or, as I like to say, “it’s a practice, not a perfect.” You can always start again, right now, in this moment.
If you want to share mindfulness with your children, it’s important to have realistic expectations, connect mindfulness to their goals and interests, and above all, focus on your own practice. Whether or not they choose to practice mindfulness themselves, your calm, compassionate presence will make a huge difference to your kids.
There are more tips on mindful parenting in the following posts:
Four Parenting Styles, and How They Affect Kids
Three Problems with Parental Invalidation (and what to say instead)