Why should I teach my child mindfulness? If you’re a parent who currently practices mindfulness, you already know the answer to this question. If you’re new to the practice, it might surprise you to learn there are many positive aspects of mindfulness.
A daily mindfulness practice is shown to improve the brain’s ability to plan, solve problems, reason effectively, retrieve memories and regulate emotions. It can help with decision-making, socializing, decreasing stress, increasing compassion toward ourselves and others and can help manage pain. Studies show similar benefits for children.
This higher cognitive functioning can help us change our thoughts from “I’m angry” to “I’m someone who is having an angry thought.” It allows us to separate ourselves from the emotion and respond with calm.
Research shows adults who have practiced mindfulness for many years have less inflammation in their bodies, and their brains do not age as rapidly.
One of the best reasons to teach mindfulness to children—especially those who are five and under—is that their brains are still developing. They can make neural connections that help them develop self-control, regulate their emotions, improve social skills and increase compassion toward themselves and others.
One study showed fourth and fifth-grade students who received mindfulness training as opposed to social responsibility programming excelled in the areas of attention, memory, emotional regulation, optimism and empathy (Schonert-Reichl & Roeser, 2015)). There are indications that mindfulness in schools helps children and teenagers become more compassionate toward themselves and others, and calmer and more focused on their schoolwork. Learning these valuable skills early could make a significant difference in these children’s futures.
The origins of mindfulness lie primarily in ancient Eastern spiritual practices, and in 1979, Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn adapted the practice as he developed the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program initially focusing on pain management for adults. He describes mindfulness as “an awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, nonjudgmentally.”
Anyone can practice mindfulness. You don’t need to be religious to experience the benefits. It typically involves focusing on the present and being aware of the environment as well as your thoughts, feelings and body sensations and accepting all of these things without judgment.
You can practice for brief periods—five or 10 minutes occasionally—or for longer periods of time more regularly. Even brief practice is shown to be helpful, but a more regular practice leads to more significant benefits.
Young children benefit tremendously from seeing adults practice mindfulness on a regular basis, so the first step for adults teaching it to children is to practice it themselves. After all, they are children’s first role models! Here are eight activities to get you started: