5 Ways to Empower your Child with Mindfulness by Suzy Reading
Suzy is a mother of two, a Chartered Psychologist, Yoga Teacher, and Health Coach. She specialises in self-care, helping people manage their stress, emotions, and energetic bank balance.It was her life experience of motherhood colliding with the terminal illness of her father that sparked her passion for self-care which she now teaches to her clients, young and old, to cope during periods of stress, loss and change and to boost their resilience in the face of future challenges.
Suzy is a contributing editor for Psychologies Magazine, the Psychology Expert for wellbeing brand Neom Organics and is a founding member of the ‘Nourish’ app. She figure-skated her way through her childhood, growing up on the Northern Beaches of Sydney, and now makes her home in hills of Hertfordshire, UK.
If we want to live with a sense of peace and ease, mindfulness is an essential concept to embrace. It is a core coping skill in itself, helping us manage our thoughts and emotions, but also forms the foundation for many other self-care practices, like savouring and gratitude. So let’s dive into mindfulness– what it means as a concept and practices that will help you and your family cultivate the ability to be mindful. A family who is skilled in mindfulness will collectively cope better with stress, be able to respond to challenges with greater harmony and purpose and are able to truly enjoy the peak moments.
When you watch a child absorbed in play you will see that they are already naturally skilled in aspects of mindfulness and we can learn a lot from this observation! As parents we can highlight this natural ability, showing them how to use this skill in other moments, talking them through the steps of how the same attention they give their play can help them nut out a problem, or move through a difficult emotion. Putting into words for them what mindfulness is and how they can do it will help them apply this skill throughout their day.
What is mindfulness as a concept?
We recently made our first return visit back to Australia after being away for four years – it’s not only negative events that can throw us, even much desired events can trigger a cascading of big emotions to navigate! Without the skill of mindfulness I could have spent the entire two weeks lost in comparison between UK and Sydney life, and grieving the future loss of my mother when she was sitting across the table from me! Mindfulness allowed me to notice and accept the maelstrom of feelings swirling about and to return my focus to the potential joy waiting to be experienced right in front of me. For my excited seven year old, the beginning of the trip was punctuated by queries of when we were going to do a myriad of things she remembered from her early childhood and mindfulness allowed her to be anchored in this one activity, safe in the knowledge that there would be time for other exciting things later. Towards the end of the trip, when collectively thoughts were turning to our departure, mindfulness helped us all stay in the moment, rather than squandering that time feeling sad that it was drawing to a close.
Mindfulness as a concept is being in touch with the present moment – what is happening in the environment around us and what is unfolding within us. Rather than being caught up in worry about the past or the future, mindfulness anchors us in the ‘now’. It is noticing without judgement or resistance, our feelings, thoughts, sensations and memories, and the events happening around us. I think of mindfulness as a way of developing fresh eyes, allowing us to connect with life as it unfolds, giving us space to choose how we respond rather than reacting blindly. Simply put, whatever you are doing right now, do that thing with your full attention. At the same time, this focus needs to be coupled with a feeling of acceptance, allowing things to be as they are – the things we like, the things we’re impartial to and the things we don’t like. It is observing that this is the way things are right now. When we get lost in inner dialogue, judgement of our experience, or worry, we have lost that connection to what is happening in the moment. That’s not to say that we have to be mindful in every moment. There is a time for getting lost in a day dream, for problem solving, there is even a time for worry! Mindfulness puts us back in the driver’s seat, allowing us to choose how we harness our minds.
Often it is our evaluation of what’s happening right now that adds to our discomfort – thinking we mustn’t feel like this, this shouldn’t be happening, or it can’t be like this… mindfulness is seeing things the way they truly are, not resisting it or willing it away, because after all, it IS happening, whether we like it or not. This is not to say we just sit back and let life wash over us. We still need to take action, but mindfulness creates the space to feel what we feel, to see a situation for what it is – the things we control and the things we can’t control, and then empowers us with the opportunity to reflect on the best course of action. Mindfulness opens you up to truly experiencing life in its full glory – sucking the life out of precious moments, rather than frittering them away with divided attention, and helping you to weather the tougher times with less of a struggle.
How do we develop the practice of mindfulness?
A mindfulness practice is a constant process of bringing the mind back to ‘now’, because the mind will wander and it will always be full of thoughts. Mindfulness is not about emptying the mind. The mind is designed to think just as the eyes are designed to see, so don’t worry about trying to stop thoughts from coming. There are many different mindfulness practices to experiment with and each will anchor the mind on different things such as the breath, thoughts, feelings, sensation, movement, eating, a phrase, or sound. Try these 5 exercises to build mindfulness:
‘Blue Sky Mind’. Find a comfortable place to sit or lie down, this can be inside or outside, wherever you feel completely at ease. Close your eyes and just become aware. Feel your body, feel your breathing and notice your mind. Let all these thoughts, emotions, sensations and memories arise as they will. Don’t resist them, don’t engage with them, just notice them. Imagine in your mind’s eye a big blue sky and every time a thought, emotion, sensation or memory arises, let it become a cloud in the sky, floating away until the next comes along. You are not your thoughts, emotions or sensations, you are the wide blue sky. Relax into that knowing, staying here for a few minutes, peacefully watching the clouds as they come and go.
Mindfulness Jar. Seek out a clean, empty jar. Pop a tablespoon of glitter and/or stars in it, fill it two thirds with water, add a drop or two of food colouring if you like and screw the lid on firmly. Explain to your child that they can use this jar whenever they feel jumbled up inside or when their minds are really busy. Give it a shake for a moment then hold the jar still and watch as the sparkling contents whirl about and slowly settle. The glitter is just like our thoughts, sometimes jumbled and busy, sometimes calm and still. It is all ok. When we sit still, relax into our breathing, and watch our thoughts, the mind slows and settles down too, just like the glitter in the jar. When we feel shaken up it can be hard to know what to do. When the mind is calm it is easier to work out the solutions to our problems or talk about what is upsetting us. Use the mindfulness jar whenever you’d like to feel calm.
Yoga for mindfulness – every yoga pose presents an opportunity for cultivating mindfulness and this is the essential element that turns yoga from just a stretching exercise into a mindbody wellbeing practice.
Try ‘Stand Tall Like A Mountain’ to energise, uplift and boost confidence and courage:
Stand upright with your feet hip width apart. Place your arms down by your sides and gaze forwards. As you breathe in, raise your arms out to your sides and reach them overhead. Gaze up and press your palms together. As you breathe out, lower your arms down by your sides, reaching through the crown of your head and look forwards. Focus all your attention on how it feels to be moving, keeping your mind anchored on this present moment. Repeat this arm movement with your breath six times, noticing how it helps you breathe deeply and how you feel when you breathe better. On the last repetition, hold the pose with your arms overhead for a few breaths, feeling the length of your spine, the strength of your legs and tummy. Notice the sense of power, energy and focus you feel when you reach up and stand tall like a mountain.
Balloon Belly Breath: Lie on your back and rest your hands on your tummy. Relax your body and allow your breath to be smooth. Imagine there is a balloon in your tummy. The balloon inflates with each breath in and gently deflates with each breath out,your hands going along for the ride. There is no hurry to fill or empty your balloon. See if you can take longer to empty it than fill it back up. If you like, you could pop a treasured cuddly toy on your tummy and watch them ride the breath up and down. Once you’ve enjoyed several relaxed deep breaths, give your toy a cuddle and feel how much you love them. Then wrap your arms around yourself, give yourself a tight squeeze and extend that same feeling of love towards you.
A Mindful Nature Walk:Go out together with the express intention of noticing the environment around you. Make sure there are no distractions, this is just time to be absorbed by Nature’s beauty. Only bring out your mobile phone to take photos. It is not time for worry, thoughts about the ‘to do’ list, or squabbles. Appreciate and give voice to the things you see, hear and smell, so you can all enjoy them. Notice how your environment changes with the seasons, giving you fresh inspiration throughout the year. One of my favourite mindfulness moments with my kids was engaging in an impromptu sound meditation while walking through snow, honing in on the crunch underfoot. You might be surprised by what reels you all in.
I hope you and your children enjoy building your mindfulness muscles together and make some bonding memories in the process. Enjoy sharing these practices and I hope you’ll see that these skills serve you equally well in navigating times of challenge and savouring precious times of ease.
We’re in it together,
Her second book ‘Stand Tall Like a Mountain: Mindfulness & Self-Care for Children and Parents’ will be out on April 4, 2019, shortly followed by ‘The Little Book of Self-Care’on July 2nd.