Thursday, 23 November 2017
Sometimes, when I talk to people about mindfulness and meditation, they believe it to be mostly about sitting still, clearing the mind and breathing. Whilst there is a fair amount of this type of activity involved, there is a greater, far more rewarding experience to be had by learning a range of mindful and meditative techniques.
Teaching kids mindfulness is great fun and incredibly rewarding, especially with younger children: they tend to be naturally brilliant at living in the present, as many a parent will tell you when they're in a hurry and their 6 year old is walking painfully slowly, taking their time and whole happy selves to experience the teeny, tiny baby snail making its way along the wall, leaving its thin slimy silvery trail as it goes; or the twenty zillion cracks in the pavement that they absolutely must NOT step on otherwise they'll marry a rat; the spectacularly beautiful stone (that, which looks to the grown-up like it might be a piece of cement that's crumbled out of a brick wall) that they must take home with them as it is so precious and magical - does this sound familiar to you? How much time do you indulge in your child to experience this, even if you're in a hurry? How often do you tell your child to walk sensibly - instead of allowing them to tip-toe along the pavement, to prevent their prophesy of impending marital doom? Think of it another way - by doing so, it could be that they're saving you the heartache of waving them off to the wedded-stress of marrying someone with rodent behavioural tendencies...
I've been teaching mindfulness to children for 4 or 5 years now, and have found many different activities which promote the important neuroplasticity and cognitive changes over a period of time. Young children often benefit from physical activities as a way of burning off excess energy, to release stress and anxieties, and can often make some space in their present moment for focusing on their thoughts, feelings and physical sensations, using a range of child-friendly techniques. One of my preferred ways of helping my own children is through cooking, because it is great for mindfully considering food provenance, how the food is metabolised by their body, marvelling at the wonder of how their body does this without them even noticing; it also fosters the all-important connection with my children, as we have fun together, learn together, help each other, and give space for them to share their feelings, worries, concerns. It's also really good for developing collaborative working, sharing responsibility, growth mindset, and more. Making pasta, as shown in the photo above, was experimental, funny, annoying and tasty, but more than this they fully experienced their senses, mindfully working through the process. A very mindful process, we even synched our breath with the turning of the handle to press the pasta through to see if we could make our breath as long as our pasta - which got longer each time! Of course it was almost impossible to do, but it was a way of allowing the children to be aware of their breath and how they could change the length of the breath in and out.
So if you're keen to teach your child meditation, try different ways in which you can experiment with the activities you choose. Remember to practise meditation yourself, so that you can feel the benefits, too.
Nikki Harman is a Connected Kids™ mindfulness tutor and trainer; and also teaches adults mindfulness. Nikki is a member of the International Meditation Teacher Association (IMTA) as an approved trainer provider; and is also a registered nurse working within the NHS.