Mindfulness isn’t just for stressed-out adults; it can help children deal with their emotions in a healthier way, too.
Health writer Amy Bonifas shares 5 ways that mindfulness can help, with some inspiration from Disney · Pixar INSIDE OUT.
Mindfulness is about paying more attention to the present moment and can help to reduce stress, improve our sleep and boost happiness. Research is beginning to show the benefits for children too – from improving their resilience to helping them focus in exams.
Because mindfulness helps us better understand what’s going on inside and outside of ourselves, it can be useful for helping children deal with their emotions.
Take a look and see how Dad (John) and daughter (Izzy) relax before bedtime using mindfulness to get ready for sleep.
From happiness and sadness to fear, anger and disgust, here are 5 ways that mindfulness can help children get to know their feelings better…
1. Mindfulness can help them feel gratitude
When children feel joy and excitement, “mindfulness can help the feeling last,” says Emma Seppala, a happiness researcher at Yale University. Before bed, try practising a gratitude game. Ask your child to think of three things they feel happy about from that day. Not only will they go to bed feeling positive, it will help them look forward to these small moments of reflection and encourage them to practice more gratitude every day.
2. Mindfulness can help children deal with sadness
Mindfulness therapy can help adults with depression, according to Professor Willem Kuyken, a psychologist at Oxford University. But similar techniques can also be effective for children feeling sad or anxious. “Recognising negative thoughts as negative thoughts not facts, can help us not engage with them as much,” says Professor Kuyken.
Make time to talk about feelings of sadness or loneliness and this can help validate children’s emotions. It can also help them realise that they’re in charge of their own thoughts and feelings.
3. Mindfulness can help them overcome fear and anxiety
“Children worry about the ‘big things’ in life – will I pass this test, will I get a good job? – and mindfulness gives them the tools to fight the fear,” says Claire Kelly, director of curricula and training at the Mindfulness in Schools Project. “The more they can learn to recognise their stress responses, the more they’re able to take steps to feel more relaxed,” suggests Kelly.
When children feel overwhelmed, encourage them to pause and focus their attention on taking a single, full breath – inhaling deeply and exhaling fully. This will help bring their attention back to the present moment in the midst of everything else that’s going on.
4. Mindfulness helps children to manage anger
It can be difficult for young children to express how they’re feeling, especially when they’re angry. But mindfulness techniques such as meditation “can empower kids to manage their emotions, even when they don’t know what to do with all their feelings,” says Maggie Richards, founder of Smiley Minds.
Try Teach Starter’s Breathing Colours meditation guide and ask your child to think of a relaxing colour, then of a colour that represents their anger. Ask them to imagine breathing in the relaxing colour and visualise it filling their lungs. Then imagine breathing out the angry colour, helping them let go of the negative feeling with each breath.
5. Mindfulness increases empathy for others
Practicing mindful meditation can help to increase children’s tolerance and compassion, according to researchers at Northeastern University and Headspace. This is because teaching children to actively focus their thoughts inwardly can help them realise that their experiences and feelings can be the same as others – and that appearances or initial impressions are less important.
Try doing some guided meditation videos together or sign up to mindful activity packs from Mindful Monsters. “When they learn that everybody worries, gets angry or feels disgust, the more they realise the need to be kind to ourselves and other people,” says Kelly.