Mindfulness for children

It’s not just another way to get your kids to pay attention to you.

Children can be taught how to pay attention and pause before reacting to stress. Photo credit: Pixabay.
Children can be taught how to pay attention and pause before reacting to stress. Photo credit: Pixabay.

“Pay attention!” or “Why can’t you pay attention?”  How many times have you said this to a child? We often expect that children should pay attention to us, their surroundings and their actions yet how do they actually learn to pay attention?  According to Michigan State University Extension, paying attention isn’t easy when there are lots of things going on vying for your attention.

Research shows that when children are able to manage their own emotions and get along well with others (social emotional skills) they are more likely to be successful in school and life. Learning to pay attention is one of these skills. A framework that is laid out in the work of the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) identifies five areas of competency for social and emotional learning.

  • Self-awareness: Being able to assess feelings, interests, and strengths and maintain self-confidence
  • Self-management: Being able to handle stress, control impulses and work through obstacle
  • Social-awareness – Being able to understand another’s perspective; showing empathy, recognizing, celebrating similarities and differences, and being able to access and use available resources
  • Relationship skills – Being able to sustain a healthy relationship through cooperation, conflict resolution and asking for help when needed
  • Responsible decision making – Being able to make choices, take action and make decisions that are fair and responsible

 Mindfulness is the awareness (consciously) of the present moment.  Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn used the practice of mindfulness in developing “mindfulness-based stress reduction” (MBSR) for adults.  MBSR teaches adults how to pause before reacting to or analyzing a situation that is stressful and to rest a moment to experience more fully what is happening.  This practice allows adults to better control their reaction and emotions and respond, when ready, in a calm, thoughtful, and reasonable way. Recent research on teaching mindfulness practices to children has produced favorable results in lowering stress and overcoming challenges that can interfere with living and learning.

Children today are stressed from an early age.  The pressure to achieve is real for many, yet others suffer stress from poor economic conditions, hunger, inadequate health care, limited educational resources or little emotional support and encouragement.  Children are under more pressure than ever before and mindful awareness can play an important role in developing and strengthening the social emotional skills highlighted by CASEL, including an awareness of the present moment, non-judgment and a stillness of mind. Learning to pay attention and pause before reacting when under stress needs to be modeled by adults and can be taught to children. 

MindUP, a curriculum that uses brain focused strategies for children for “living and learning” is a collaborative effort of the Hawn Foundation and Scholastic that assists educators and parents in using mindful practices in real world situations.  Children can use mindful awareness practices to pay closer attention to thoughts, feelings and emotions to better understand what is happening within themselves.  The techniques involved include mindful breathing, listening, seeing, smelling, tasting and movement.  Results from using the practices routinely include a better focus for children in their daily activities as well as improved play skills and interaction with their peers

Through mindfulness children can change their world in a positive way through the understanding that there is more than one way to understand every behavior.  In her book, “The Mindful Child,” Susan Kaiser Greenland refers to the “new ABCs of learning; attention, balance, and compassion.”  In practicing mindfulness skills children learn to soothe and calm themselves, paying close attention to what is going on around them.  They can see the impact of their actions and words on others and are more likely to be kind to others and also to themselves during difficult times.  When we are mindful of children and what they are doing and thinking and teach them to do the same they might just start to “pay attention!”

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