Mindful Awareness for Children

October 4, 2011
by piedfam

Encourage Your Kids to Feel Their Way to Calm

By Danielle Rice

When I was delivering my first child, a long and difficult labor, my mother helped me more than any nurse or medication by stroking my arm gently, helping me focus on breathing and encouraging me to visualize calm and relaxing scenes such as a walk through the park. I didn’t know it at the time, but she was encouraging me to use mindful awareness techniques to relieve my stress and ease the physical pain.

The UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center describes mindful awareness in this way: “Mindful awareness is a practice that comes to us from a variety of contemplative traditions throughout history. It invites us to stop, breathe, observe, and connect with one’s inner experience. There are many ways to bring mindfulness into one’s life, such as meditation, yoga, art, or time in nature. Mindfulness can be trained systematically, and can be implemented in daily life, by people of any age, profession or background.”

“The practice of mindful awareness has helped millions of adults reduce stress in their lives,” explains author and educator Susan Kaiser Greenland. She explains that this step-by-step process of mental training enables you to pay closer attention to what is happening within you-your thoughts, feelings, and emotions-so you can better understand what is happening to and around you.

A tool for children and families

As a parent, I’ve seen how even simple techniques such as taking a deep breath and counting to ten can help my children calm themselves and deal with stressful situations. When my youngest daughter was experiencing a particularly stressful year in kindergarten, we started doing a yoga for kids DVD at home together. This simple routine gave us relaxing time together and encouraged her to focus on her thoughts, her breathing, and her body to help her feel more calm, empowered, and able to manage her stress.

Kaiser Greenland knows how effective mindful awareness can be for kids, too. She has played an important role in helping integrate these techniques in schools and founded Mindfulness Together (formerly known as The InnerKids Foundation), a not-for-profit organization founded in 2001, which taught Mindful Awareness in schools and community based programs in the greater Los Angeles area. “Mindful awareness helps kids and families develop a less reactive, clear, compassionate way of being in the world. It is visceral (you can feel it), non-conceptual (you don’t have to think about it) and can be learned,” explains Kaiser Greenland.

Simple but effective techniques

A consistent routine, drawing awareness back to themselves, and making small adjustments in breathing habits can help children redirect pent up energy or reduce stress, explains Kelly Munoz, owner of Creative Life Healing Energy in Warrenton, who uses mindful awareness techniques with her clients and her own children.

Simple exercises are best, notes Munoz. “For example,” she says, “a consistent evening slow-down routine of lowering noise levels, dimming lights, playing softer music, being together as a family, visualizing softer scenes, and breathing more slowly has been helpful in my house.” Yoga instructor Susan Myers from The Second Floor Studio in Culpeper explains that effective breathing increases the flow of oxygen moving to the brain and leads to improved concentration and learning. Effective breathing also encourages deep relaxation, which helps calming and awareness of self.

Focus on the positive

Practices such as deep breathing, meditation, yoga, or even a walk in the woods also awaken the senses and allow children a chance to slow down, reflect inward and practice compassion for themselves and those around them. When these practices are used in everyday life, they essentially “re-wire” the brain so children learn to respond to stressful situations or events in a measured and self-reflective manner, rather than through aggressive words or actions aimed at others or turned inwards. Mindful awareness practices can also teach children to remove or reduce the element of self criticism and judgment of others that so many of our thoughts are tied up in.

“Children are open to new concepts and so are often very good at incorporating mindful awareness techniques into their daily lives,” says Meyers.

Learning a few easy techniques or finding a yoga for kids class or DVD can help you and your children bring mindful awareness into your family life. Incorporating mindful awareness practices at an early age can help the kids – and indeed your whole family – manage the stresses of daily life.

Resources:

eMindful – www.emindful.com/course_descriptions/MindfulKids.html

The Mindful Child: How to Help Your Kid Manage Stress and Become Happier, Kinder, and More Compassionate
by Susan K Greenland

The Mindfulness Together online community – www.mindfulnesstogether.net

UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center- marc.ucla.edu/

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