Mindfulness for children: Improve the lives of a generation

Mindfulness is everywhere these days it seems: colouring books, meditation apps, quotes on mugs, the list goes on… But what is mindfulness, and how do you do it?

Mindfulness is about being in the present moment: training your mind to notice what is happening right now rather than what has happened or might happen. We have all felt moments of panic or stress, worry or anger, or times when our thoughts seem to spiral out of control. Mindfulness trains you to notice your mind-states and manage them more skillfully.

The benefits of mindfulness havebeen rigorously studied scientifically, and include improving mental health, well-being and concentration, building resilience, as well as strengthening self-esteem and confidence. But how do you learn mindfulness, and how do you teach it to children?

Learning mindfulness is about training the mind: just like learning to play an instrument or trying to get physically fit, you must know what you are aiming to do, and then you must practice.

To learn mindfulness, you need to learn about the science of the mind and how your thoughts come and go. Then, you can direct your attention more selectively and practice focusing your attention on one thing at a time. This might be your breath, or sensations in your body, or the sounds you can hear, or a piece of food you are eating. This can feel difficult, as minds like to wander! You then learn how to apply these practices at times when you most need them. This is best achieved on an instructor-led course where an expert can guide you. For children, the process of learning mindfulness should be just the same.

“At MiSP we know first-hand that children really enjoy learning some of the science behind their minds, and they love learning to play with their attention and direct it more purposefully towards different things”, explains Chivonne Preston.

“Mindfulness deals with thoughts and feelings which for children can sometimes be confusing, so we recommend that young people should be taught mindfulness by trained teachers within a good pastoral care setting.”

At home, as parents, you could start with some simple mindfulness practices with your children just to see what happens when you try to focus your attention in one place. You don’t need any special equipment, and you can try these anywhere.

Established in 2009, Mindfulness in Schools Project (MiSP) is a national, not-for-profit charity for young people and schools. Their aim is to improve the lives of a generation of children and young people by making a genuine, positive difference to their mental health and wellbeing. www.mindfulnessinschools.org

Try this simple five minute mindfulness activity with your children at home: ‘WHAT CAN YOU HEAR?’
Find a comfortable sitting position. Close your eyes if you want to. Try focusing your attention on what you can hear. Start with what is closest to you. Can you hear your breathing, or your clothes rustling? Then try expanding your attention to include sounds in the room that you are in. What else can you hear? See if you can bring your attention back to the actual sound itself, listening to it as if you are hearing it for the first time. Your mind may start to wonder, but you can use the sounds to focus your attention. To end the practice, gently open your eyes, allow yourself to stretch and reengage your muscles.


Inspiring Whole Body Health

A recent BBC article stated “the overwhelming majority of adults in England are so unhealthy they put their lives at risk”. It has also been documented that children with unhealthy parents are more likely to be unhealthy themselves. You just need to look around and see that as a nation we are becoming larger, more sedentary, unhappier and are sleeping less. The NHS is spending more money on curing our ailments caused by our daily choices, but surely prevention is better than cure?

DR ME: Diet, Resilience, Mind and Exercise, has been created to inspire people to make small changes to their lives, which will instantly improve whole body health. For example, if you exercise more, you sleep better, encouraging you to make healthier food choices the following day, directly promoting a more positive mind-set.

Diet – eat the rainbow
You are what you eat is an old cliché but one that is very true. I often liken the body to a car, if you put sub-standard fuel into a car, it won’t run as efficiently as when you supply it with premium fuel. This is true also for our bodies. If we feed our body a wide variety of food cooked from scratch (then you know what exactly is in it) your body and mind will work optimally. Recent research concerning the digestive system suggests the micro-biome contain millions of microbes (bacteria, fungi and viruses) that form a complex ecosystem in your gut. They are responsible for weight regulation, enhancing the immune system and hormone creation…. all of which are vital for a healthy life. By eating a variety of colourful foods you optimise the activity of the micro-biomes, thus improving your whole body health. Therefore every day you should aim to eat a plant-based portion that that is red, yellow, orange, blue/purple, green and white.

Resilience – sleep to reset body and mind
Mother nature designed humans to spend one third of our lives asleep. For adults this equates to 7-9 hours per night, 10-13 hours for 3-5 year olds, 9-11 hours for 6-13 year olds, and 8-10 hours for 14-17 year olds. Sleep is a forgotten necessity…. It is responsible for so many vital processes (both physiological and psychosocial) that allow the body to function to its optimal capability. The benefits of a sound night-time routine involving calming the body and mind prior to getting into bed, will not only help you drop off to sleep but stay asleep for longer too.

Mind – focus on the positives
Mental health has been a taboo subject for many years but thankfully recent ambassadors are publicising it. Most people are affected by mental health at some stage of their lives as ¼ adults in the UK suffer every year, with numbers continually growing. It is very easy to be swept up with the busy rat-race that is modern day life, but by taking time to appreciate our environment gives us chance to be thankful and positive. Instil variety into every day; whether that be walking a different route to school, or trying a new activity helps you appreciate your surroundings more. There is also a need to recognise that life isn’t always easy, and we need to perfect our coping strategies in order to ride out negative situations. ‘A problem shared is a problem halved’ encourages people to talk, which in turn can be the start of focusing on the solution, not the problem.

Exercise- Move your body
Exercise is where my passion for health originated. We have been designed to move but unfortunately inventions in the last 150 years have made it easier for us to be sedentary. The benefits of exercise have been documented for years, although, what needs to be highlighted is that there isn’t a one size fits all strategy. Exercise needs to be enjoyed and needs to be incorporated into your daily routine, so whether that means dusting off the bike for the school run, or join thousands of people on a weekend Park Run, my advice is to move your body more, otherwise you’ll lose the capability to do so.

By educating individuals early, we can encourage children to make healthy choices, thus having a positive effect on making their lives happier and healthier.

By Claire Willsher | www.doctor-me.co.uk


Success through the struggle

We are all used to the sadly pejorative terms for modern parenting and I wonder how many of us are uneasy when we read articles about helicopter parents, tiger parents, lawnmower (or curling) parents. *

Latest educational research has thrown up a properly useful concept for us as parents and educators, which challengesnthose negative words. This concept is also enormously empowering for our children as well as us.

Did you know that “struggle” is the new buzz word in enabling independent, deep learning? Now there is a word which is loaded with challenge and which needs reclaiming. When we say struggle we think of physical efforts to conquer something, or emotional strides needed to overcome fear or pain. It is a word we associate with time and energy, with the anxiety of failure, frustration and the desire to give up and hand over to someone who can do the job more easily.

Research is showing that in educational terms, the struggle is where the learning occurs precisely because of the tussle, because it requires strength of character and develops resilience. Since reading of this I have become acutely aware as a parent just how often I intervene even before the struggle has begun. Imagine the scenario (and there are so many aren’t there?) where your child, standing on a lovely new carpet, is about to pour from an oversize carton of juice into a wobbly cup.

“I’ll do that!” you say brightly or you issue a torrent of instructions and risk assessments. Or perhaps they have moved up a reading band, and the desire to read systematically every day is not proving quite so joyful for anyone. There can be a strong temptation to help by reading some of the book for them – after all reading to your child is an excellent thing is it not? Or they are writing a story and have hit a brick wall?

The thing about brick walls, speaking metaphorically, is that they are there to be climbed and children are made for climbing. Hand over fist and step by step. Placing toes on any outcrop, finding fingerholds and stretching and pulling their way up. Until the top is reached. And then, what a view! Yes, people have walked with them, have encouraged and have taught ways which can work – have helped. But the work is done by the child, leading to a sense of accomplishment and achievement, mental muscles stretched, honed and toned.

The struggle, the striving, the fight – all has been worth it. This sense of achievement and accomplishment can be banked, can be stored up to be a stepping stone for the next brick wall that is just over the horizon.

Until many brick walls later when the world is before them, your child can look back and see their journey as a series of steps, leading to their view from the top of the world. A strong individual keen and ready to take on the opportunities afforded by the next brick wall and the next view from the top.

*Key to parenting terms:

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