Following on from my previous blog, I’d like to talk more specifically about how you, as a parent, can not only be more mindful yourself, but how you can actually teach mindfulness to your child.
Unfortunately, despite growing evidence of the positive benefits it can have, mindfulness is not yet compulsory in schools. There are some fantastic programmes, such as .b (pronounced dot bee) and Goldie Hawn’s MindUP programme, which are growing in popularity. However, right now, the responsibility falls on you, the parent, to help incorporate mindfulness into your child’s routine.
How you act in certain situations has a massive impact on how your child will react in similar situations. Noticing when you’re having a heated reaction to something, gives yourself the opportunity to modify your behaviour before it’s too late. Next time you feel yourself becoming angry towards your child, try the following:
- Labelling – Attempt to label the emotion you’re experiencing by thinking of a word that best describes the sensation. Anger, Frustration, Rage etc. This interrupts the cycle of rumination, taking you out of the story you’re telling yourself about how angry you are.
- Scanning – Try pausing for a second and turning your attention inwards by scanning your body for any feelings of tension. 85% of what we communicate is through body language. So it’s important to make sure your posture isn’t aggressive as your child will mirror this and react negatively.
- Focusing – Put the spotlight of your attention on your child by listening intently. Really focus on the details of what they’re saying. By paying attention in this way, it lowers your cortisol levels and makes you calmer, which will make your child calmer. If this doesn’t work, focus on one particular feature on their face, for example their eyes, nose or mouth and investigate it with curiosity, as if it’s the first time you’ve noticed it.
Teaching Your Children About Mindfulness
.b compares a child’s untamed mind to an untrained puppy. It yelps, makes a mess, tries to jump on you and is generally out of control. If we try to scold the puppy, it will run away and hide. If we try to ignore it, it will continue to jump and yelp. But if we treat it calmly and kindly, giving it the attention it requires, it will eventually settle down.
In my previous blog, I outlined some exercises that can help with this (mindful eating, body scan and box breathing), but here are some additional ones specifically for young children:
- FOFBOC – Introduce your child to the concept of FOFBOC, (feet on floor; bum on chair). This a mental health first aid technique they can use whenever their ‘monkey mind’ has taken over, to anchor the mind back to the present. Tell them to sit on a chair and send their attention to their feet where they touch the floor. Ask them what their socks or shoes feel like? Now get them to focus on the sensation of their bum touching the chair.
- Beditation – This is a lying-down body scan which is meant to be done in bed (hence the name). Get them to lie on their backs, arms by their sides. Now ask them to pay attention to their breathing and where they feel the breath in their body. With each outbreath, encourage them to let the tension slip away. Now get them to scan their arms, legs and body. If they notice any tension in any of those areas, ask them to simply breathe into it, and then out again. The inbreath helps them to focus on the area of tension and the outbreath helps them imagine letting it go.
- Help them to understand how their brain works – Show them a drawing of what it looks like and explain all the various parts and what they are responsible for, e.g. the amygdala, which is responsible for producing adrenaline and cortisol in response to danger. Teach them that these responses are completely natural and that we all have them. If they’re aware of how the brain works, next time they’re in a stressful situation, rather than blowing up, they’ll think “oh, this is just my amygdala responding to fear” and that will shift them out of the limbic brain and into the prefrontal cortex, enabling them to make better decisions in the moment.
Incorporating Mindfulness Into Your Daily Routine
So how can we incorporate all of these techniques into our daily routine? Obviously your routine will vary, but at various junctures throughout your day, try to incorporate the following:
- Breakfast – Ask your child to describe how their toast/cereal/eggs taste. How does the sensation of chewing feel? What does the food feel like in their mouth?
- Driving to school – You could ask them to play “I Spy With My Little Eye”. Or “I Hear With My Little Ear”, where they guess what sound you are listening to. By encouraging them to focus on one of their senses, it gets them out of their head.
- After school – Plan a game for when they get home based on something that has happened throughout their day. For example, you could ask them to count how many teachers at school were wearing something blue. Each day give them something to notice and get them to describe it to you when they get home.
- Dinner – Make it a habit to let your child talk about whatever they want. Stay curious and interested, but do not pry, just listen. If you’re anxious or tired, tell them so that they know it’s not a reaction to them. The aim is to be fully present.
- Before bed – Read to them, and if there’s a situation in the book where the character becomes distressed, ask them to imagine what the character is feeling in that moment. Now ask them why they might be feeling that way, and what they could do to change the way they feel. This is to get them used to looking below the surface and understanding where certain feelings are coming from and reinforcing how to manage them.
If you would like to know more about Mindfulness, I highly recommend Ruby Wax’s book, Frazzled or the Action for Happiness podcast series on mindfulness that you can listen to here.
One way we’re encouraging mindfulness at work is by having Mindful Mondays, where each Monday we take 10 minutes out of the day to relax and listen to a guided meditation. We’re using a programme called Headspace and you can sign up for a free trial here.