Mindful Kids in the Making: 5 Tips for Planting Daily Seeds of Mindfulness in Your Children
By Alissa Rodgers with contributions from Brenda Wilken
As members of today’s fast-paced, technology driven world, children face pressures and high expectations at school, at home, with peers, parents and society. Stress builds and takes a toll on mental, emotional, social and physical well-being. This coupled with the increased screen time and decreased physical and social activity for many children due to the Coronavirus, has led to a recent increase in reported mental health issues in children. Although it’s still too early to know the total impact of COVID-19 on our younger generation, The Psychiatric Times has shared some preliminary studies that show increases in the number of children reporting feelings of anxiety and depression.
Now more than ever, planting the seeds of mindful habits in our children’s lives is important. Learning these habits helps them better manage life as a child in our current world. They also gain tools they can use to live happier and healthier lives into adulthood. I often say to the middle and high school clients that come to our yoga studios, “I wish I would’ve had yoga in my life at your age!” I can’t imagine, though, the additional pressures teenagers experience now with social media and the digital age that I didn’t have when I was growing up.
While getting kids into age-appropriate yoga classes is one way to introduce mindfulness-based practices, there are also things you can be doing at home. Just implementing one of these ideas can equate to significant shifts over time in the overall well-being of your children!
5 Mindfulness Tips You Can Implement at Home:
1. Designated device free / screen free time
This can be done in a number of ways and is best when the whole family commits to the screen free time.
-Some families pick an hour or two a day where everyone goes completely device free. Yes, that means we adults also put our cell phones away! A great time for this is around dinner. Starting at the dinner table, everyone puts away devices and keeps them away until a designated time. You can stretch this time out until after dinner – making it a family affair to clean up and then engaging in an activity together such as playing a board or card game. I started this with my own children awhile back and now they ask for family game nights!
-I’ve also known families who abstain from screen time during a full day such as Sunday. Yes, screen-free Sundays! While at first this might seem like quite the challenge, these screen breaks are some of the most important things we can implement for the health of our family units. We are not only lessening the potential for the dependency on and even addiction many people have for their devices, more importantly, we are making space for true connection between us and our children.
2. Gratitude practices
Gratitude is a documented helpful antidote for stress, anxiety and depression. It’s estimated that we are shown anywhere from 4,000-10,000 marketing messages every single day. Many of these messages are conveying to us we don’t have enough, we aren’t enough, etc. Taking time to flip this script and appreciate all that we do have and all that we already are is essential for mental and emotional wellness. You can introduce gratitude practices in a variety of ways:
-My favorite is at the dinner table – before we start eating, everyone has to share 1 thing they are grateful for.
-You can also do this as part of morning or bedtime rituals.
-I’ve used gratitude in lieu of punishments. I have 3 boys who love to go at each other and ridicule one another. When one has gone too far and upset another, I’ll have them write down 10 things they are grateful for about their brother and they have to complete this before they can get privileges (like screen time!) back.
3. Deep breathing exercises
If you’ve been doing yoga for some time, you may already be familiar with the power and benefits of deep breathing. Introducing children to using their breath as a tool to calm down and focus is a wonderful gift they can carry with them for a lifetime. Quite simply, when we take deeper diaphragmatic (or belly) breaths, we shift our state of being from flight or fight (stress) to rest and digest (relaxation).
-Do daily breathing practices with your children such as counting 10 deep breaths or doing 3-part breaths (breathe into and out of your belly, lungs and chest) – these are great at bedtime to help them relax and prepare to sleep well.
-Utilize deep breathing in those moments where your children are getting agitated, frustrated and emotional as a way to calm them down and help them better connect to what they are feeling in the moment. I usually tell my children we are going to take a pause, close our eyes and take 5 really deep breaths together. After that little re-set, we typically are able to have a calmer conversation about what is going on.
4. Movement breaks
With children spending more and more time in front of screens to do their school work, movement breaks are necessary to help them maintain focus and optimal mental states. Childhood development experts estimate that a reasonable attention span of a child is 2-3 minutes per year of their age. Therefore if you have a 10 year old, after about 20-30 minutes of focusing on a task, they are likely to become distracted. Mindful movement is a healthy way to break from one activity before transitioning to another. This gets increased oxygen into blood cells, stimulates good hormones, interrupts negative patterns that might have arisen and gives the brain a chance to re-set and re-focus.
-If you are familiar with Sun Salutations, doing a few rounds of these with your child is an effective way for them to move and stretch.
-You can also do a quick sequence of poses such as cat/cow, downward dog, tree and rest (savasana).
-If you’ve got a little more time on your hands, we’ve got a full length family yoga class on our Facebook page here.
5. Calm corners
This last tip is one of my favorites. I think everyone (including us adults) deserve to have a little space we “own” as our place where we go to take a break, rest or have a moment of peace. Rather than the typical “time out” approach, the calm corner is a place a child goes for “time in”. That is, time to quiet down and reflect. This place – where ever it might be – is best when it’s agreed by all in the household as a space where someone will not be disturbed. When we can shift this perspective on time outs, we begin to instill in our children the importance of introspection. Taking time to look within and re-set gives us a chance to switch gears back to our best selves. And hey, let’s admit – us adults need this time out/in sometimes too!
If you are local to Columbus, we will graciously help share the gifts of mindfulness with your children. We host Kids Yoga Classes & Workshops throughout the year. These are focused on age-appropriate and fun activities to introduce yoga poses, breathwork exercises and meditation tools to kids anywhere from 3 to 13. Each session has a different focus and is geared toward a certain age range. Be sure to check the description for the age ranges for each class/workshop. You can check out current offerings here.
Alissa Rodgers, eRYT500, is the founder and owner of GoYoga, but more importantly a mom of 3 beautifully rambunctious, messy and kind boys. She started her own yoga practice after the birth of her first son as a way to reconnect to her body and to relieve anxiety and stress from her mind. She found so much more through yoga, including a community of other like-minded people who aspired to be healthy, compassionate and productive members of society. Discovering the tools of mindfulness proved powerful in her own life and over time, she’s tested and tried various ways to plant mindful seeds in her children’s lives. She’s passionate about providing kids yoga services at her 8 yoga studios across Columbus, Ohio, as a fun and easy way for parents to introduce their kids to yoga and meditation from an early age.