If you ask my son about his favorite activities, he'll chatter about LEGOs, sports, reading and video games. What doesn't make the list? Sitting calmly without a book or device in hand.
So I was skeptical that Marshall, 7, would respond positively to the idea of mindfulness exercises. Would he stay put long enough to do them, or would he dismiss them as boring? Much to my amazement, he happily followed my guidance and afterward gave a terse but satisfactory assessment. "It was good," he said, and then scurried back to his LEGOs.
Well, it's a start.
Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention to what's going on inside you ― your body and your feelings ― and around you. Over time, the practice can help you regulate your emotions and respond to the world in healthier ways. Research shows that children in particular reap a host of benefits from the practice, leading to better behavior and higher grades.
In my son's case, I'm hopeful that mindfulness will teach him to self-soothe after losing a game or having a tiff with a friend ― or keep him from getting overly upset in the first place. As he grows older and is exposed to more technology, perhaps mindfulness could help him avoid being overwhelmed by it all. For more about the benefits of mindfulness for youngsters, read Part 1 of our series.
Cheryl Jones, the director of mindfulness at Aetna, says that the practice can indeed make it easier for children to navigate today's tech-centric, rapidly moving world. “It's incredibly valuable for helping young people connect with their inner resources and stay grounded,” she says. “Mindfulness is a gift that enables them to manage the stressors of a very fast-paced life.”
Elementary schools across the U.S. increasingly recognize that gift. More and more are including mindfulness “games” in their curriculum, including those provided by Inner Explorer, an audio-based program founded by psychologist Laura Bakosh, PhD.
Bakosh notes that what works for grownups is not necessarily effective with kids. For instance, adults often use visualization exercises ― picturing themselves flying above the clouds ― to relax.
“We aren't trying to get kids to go off to an imaginary place. We want to help them inhabit the here and now," she says. But it's also important to make exercises engaging and memorable for children, Bakosh says, by infusing some playful elements. That can include unusual hand movements or references to animals.
Here are three exercises that parents and kids can try at home, courtesy of Inner Explorer. For each exercise, it's important to find a place where you can sit or lie quietly, without distraction. Marshall and I enjoyed doing these. I hope you do, too!
Parents who are interested in bringing mindfulness into their homes can find other child-friendly exercises online and in mobile apps:
Alice Gomstyn is a veteran parenting blogger and business reporter. She is an admitted sugar addict but plans to cut back on the sweet stuff and load up on veggies like never before. Bring on the broccoli!
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