Roy Hintsa, a Toronto area mindfulness-based stress reduction facilitator, says mindfulness allows children to manage stress by creating a pause between the stimulus and the reaction. This gives them the opportunity to choose to respond thoughtfully rather than react impulsively. “Mindfulness promotes well-being,” he says. “Children become happier and kinder. They get in touch with their emotions and learn to regulate them.”
Get the whole family involved
Roy says parents must themselves be mindful in order to create a mindful family.
“Children will come to mindfulness at their own time and pace,” he says. “If parents are mindful, and I don’t mean just modelling mindfulness, but embodying mindfulness, they may come to it earlier.”
The key is to be fully present when interacting with your family, says Roy. Here are some ways he says you can do that:
- Just before leaving for school in the morning, before opening the front door, stand together and take three mindful breaths.
- You can also take three mindful breaths as a family before eating and try to begin the meal mindfully.
- Go for a walk with your child and pay attention to what you both notice around you, what you see, hear, smell and touch.
- Before bed, share something that you are grateful for that happened that day – something that made you happy. Have your child do the same. Then continue with some mindful breathing!
Mindfulness exercises for younger siblingsChildren can be introduced to the principles of mindfulness from a young age, says Roy Hintsa, a Toronto area stress reduction facilitator. Children of all ages can benefit from different styles of training. Younger children tend to respond more to physical activities rather than practising meditation. Here are some exercises Roy recommends for preschool children:
Mindful listening: Tell your child you are going to ring a bell or a tone bar. Ask them to listen carefully to the sound of the bell and raise their hands when they can no longer hear it.
Breath awareness: Have your child lie down on a mat on the floor, or on their bed, and place their favourite stuffed animal on their belly. Have them rock the stuffed animal to sleep with the movement of their belly as they breathe in and out. This is how they can begin to pay attention to their breathing.
Mindful eating: This is a time when playing with your food is OK. Give your child a piece of fruit and ask them to pretend they are from another planet and have never seen this piece of fruit before. Ask them to describe their experience using all five senses. What does it look like? Smell like? Feel like? Taste like? Does it make a sound when you bite it?
Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, May/June 2013.