In teaching mindfulness to kids, it is sometimes necessary to teach parents as well. Some children come back each week and have to be reminded of some basic principles of mindfulness. This is because the practice at home is either non-existent, inconsistent, or very different from what we do in class. While being mindful doesn’t specifically mean to meditate, I’ve had parents tell me they cannot foster a mindfulness practice at home because their kids refuse to meditate with them.
So here comes the cliché, you have to make it fun for them! It seems obvious that kids aren’t going to meditate just because you tell them to, especially if it’s presented as a chore. To get kids doing the inner work of meditation, we first have to ask ourselves, as adults, are we doing the work too?! I cannot stress enough how important it is to have your own meditation practice. During my trainings, we were required to not only meditate daily, the minimum was one hour of sitting per day and a quiet retreat of 7 days or more. Now I will admit, I am busy, all the time, all day every day! And some days, my meditation practice is almost non-existent. But the point is to aim for it and start slow! As time goes on, a steady increase of one minute per week, better yet – per day, will eventually add up to 20 minutes per day. So yes, you have to start by treating your own mental health before or during your child’s “treatment”. It is a treatment after all… the benefits of meditation are so numerous that therapists are now infusing it with their regular treatments. Not to mention the scientific data that proves its benefits!
The next step is to decide to be gentle. Suppose you’ve been practicing mindfulness for some time or just started putting forth the effort to practice daily. And maybe you miss a day or even a week of practice. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Just get back into the groove. This is easier than working out at the gym because you can practice being mindful almost anywhere. Walking to the train station, changing a diaper, and speaking with a friend. Just focus in on what you’re doing in that moment – noticing the textures, colors, smells, sights, or sounds around you.
Remember to take care of yourself first! You cannot be available and open for your child if you’re pent-up yourself. Being overwhelmed is becoming the norm. We are seeing a ton of images and taking in a lot of information daily. Besides media over stimulation, we can get busy with work or life responsibilities. And our kids are way busier than we were at their age. Take care of you so you’re able to give to your children!
So if you’re just coming home from a hectic day at work, dinner needs to be cooked, the baby keeps crying, the older kids are fighting and a shoe comes flying across the kitchen and hits you in the face, take a deep breath in. Breathe your frustration out slowly and know that you will survive! Of course you go through the emotions but then focus on your breath. Not losing your cool in a heated situation takes a lot of practice before the situation occurs. Especially when it involves a shoe to the face! But it is possible to remain calm. In fact, children appreciate that in those moments, the adult is cool as a cucumber. It makes them feel secure.
An additional way to set a mindful example would be to use a tool in your mindfulness practice that your child can hear or see. I like the free Insight Timer app which contains 30,000 meditations and courses on mindfulness for adults and children. If you’re sitting quietly while following a breathing meditation, and your child can hear it, they are likely to want to do the same. The app also contains short and simple breathing meditations for children, posted by instructors from around the world. It’s an open social platform so it’s best that the app is used on your device – not your child’s ipad. Another tool that can be used is the sound bar or a Tibetan singing bowl. Children as young as 6 months take to the sounds of these “tools” because they are soothing. The sounds of a Tibetan bowl can induce calmness and create a sense of peace both mentally and physically.
Through meditation practice, we naturally develop a higher tolerance for things that felt difficult before. It doesn’t mean that you lay down and let life happen to you, but it means you’re open to listening to your inner peace. And while in the middle of a tough moment, because you’ve been practicing, you can make the right decision to stay calm. Think of it as exercising your brain. Children that practice meditation have reported being more cautious and aware of their surroundings and aware of the thoughts and feelings of others.