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 skilfully.
The benefits of mindfulness have been 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.
Try this simple five minute mindfulness activity with your children at home:
‘WHAT CAN YOU HEAR?’
Try focusing your attention on what you can hear.
Can you hear your breathing, or your clothes rustling?
What else can you hear?
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.
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