5 Ways to Incorporate Mindfulness into Your Child’s Daily Routine

 

(This article was written for Motherly)


Mindfulness is one of the most powerful tools we have available to us. It has also becomean increasingly treasured practice. The idea behind mindfulness is simple: it is “awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally”, according to mindfulness scholar Jon Kabat-Zinn

The beauty of mindfulness lies in its accessibility. We can practice it at any time, in any moment. Mindfulness practices help children foster a sense of curiosity, self-compassion, and a crucial awareness of their psychological and physical experience of the world.

Here are five simple ways to turn a habitual routine into an opportunity for your child to practice mindfulness:

Encourage mindful eating at breakfast 

Mindful eating is a wonderful way to introduce the idea of mindfulness to children.Before your child begins a meal, invite them to connect with the experience of eating by first observing what their food looks like, smells like, and sounds like.

Inspire your child to explore all the sensations of the food they are eating: How does it feel to have the food in your mouth? Is the texture of one food the same as the texture of another? What about the food tastes sweet or salty? Does the taste of the food change as you chew?

This is a great opportunity for your child to notice their body’s finely tuned senses.Encourage them to identify some of the signals their body and mind send to them when they are feeling hungry and full.

Turn the walk to school into a walking meditation

Research shows that meditation is hugely beneficial for children. Walking meditation is an engaging practice for children, especially if they are new to meditative practices. As you walk with your child down the street, ask them to bring their focus to their feet: What does it feel like to have your foot suspended in air versus touching the ground? Is your entire foot ever touching the ground all at once?

You can also invite your child to explore their five senses when moving from one place to another: What do they see, hear, touch, and smell in one environment compared to another?  What kinds of feelings do those elements of the physical environment bring to mind? 

Send along affirmations in their lunch box

A beautiful way to foster positive thinking in children (and adults!) is through positive affirmations. Introduce the idea of affirmations by explaining that sometimes when we feel sad, mad, or frustrated, we are likely to have negative thoughts. In those moments, detaching from the negative thoughts and instead focusing on positive ones can help make us feel better.

Invite your child to create an “affirmation of the week.” Write their affirmation down (or even better, have them write it down, and turn it into a full-blown art project!) and send it along with them in their lunch box as a sweet, midday reminder.

Ask a new question at dinner: what color was your day?

Go beyond the predictable “how was your day?” inquiry at dinner, and invite your child to tell you how their day was through colors. Colors tend to be strongly associated with emotions and are a fun and visual descriptor that children can use to reflect on their experiences.

By asking your child to think about their day differently, you are creating an exploratory space to unpack the experiences that emulate that particular color. This question can also lead to a conversation on emotional states and the various events that may yield different emotions.

Visualizing emotions as different colors can also help children conceptualize emotional states as being transitory, which Dr. Dan Siegel says is a fundamental lesson for children in his book The Whole Brain Child.

Connect to breath at bedtime

Relaxation breathing is a powerful tool for calming the sympathetic nervous system and igniting the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps us feel relax and restored.Teaching our children how to breathe is one of the greatest gifts we can share with them.

To practice the relaxation breathing technique, have your child inhale through their nose for four counts and exhale from their nose for eight counts. The key here is that their exhale is longer than their inhale.

You can also try having your child find a “breathing buddy,” which could be any object they find comforting, from a stuffed animal to an eye pillow. They can put their breathing buddy on their tummy and watch it rise and drop as they practice the relaxation breath.The breathing buddy acts as a visual for the breath and empowers children to feel in control of their own breathing.

Looking Through an Integrative Lens

 
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I have always felt passionate about employing a holistic lens towards health and wellbeing, recognizing that an individual exists within a large and complex system. We are each uniquely shaped by a dynamic array of cultural, physiological, social and psychological components.

My distinct, integrative approach towards supporting others in healing and growth is informed by a few core beliefs and notions, that I've outlined below. 

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There's a crucial connection between the mind and body. It benefits us to nurture this connection, and collectively support both entities. The practice of stillness, for example, serves as an assessable and powerful tool. Stillness allows us to find space: space to be kind, space to learn, and space to grow.

 

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The lunar phases offer us a reminder of the cyclic nature of the journey, and the re-occurring opportunities for healing and growth: moments for new beginnings, for hopes and wishes, for challenges, for action and adjustment, for gratitude and grounding, for letting go, and for rest. Each phase serves a purpose, and is related to another. Rather than mastery, it's the process that serves as most meaningful.

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Connection- to others, to self and to space- is a valuable healing agent. By heightening our own sense of internal connection, we are better able to connect to our environment and community. Connection yields grounding and centering, while strengthening one's sense of purpose. 

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I'm always in awe of people's capacity for resiliency in the face of adversity. It's become clear, both personally and professionally, that only through the darkness are we able to see the light. We bloom from those moments that are most challenging.

 

Setting Intentions with Kids

 

Intention setting helps foster clarity and fuel our goals. It's also a beautiful way to empower kids! All children- especially those who are prone to anxiety or hyperactivity- can benefit from a daily intention setting practice. Oftentimes, intention setting allows children to develop a sense of focus while assigning purpose and meaning to their behavior. Here are some guidelines for how to use intention setting with little ones:

What are intentions, anyway?  

You can introduce the concept of intentions to your child by comparing the process of setting intentions to making a map of your day: where would you like to end up today? What do you have to do in order to get there?

Encourage your child to identify goals that are clear, specific and within reach. It is also important to explain to your child that the purpose of intention setting is to identify your current goals and experiment with the process. The emphasis is not on mastery, but having awareness of what you would like to accomplish and exercising flexibility in how you reach your goals.

Get creative!

Inspire your child to put their intentions down on paper. They can write out their intentions or create a picture to represent them. You could also create an "intention jar" with slips of paper, and have your child write down his or her intentions and put them in the jar in at the beginning of their day.

Instill hope + positive thinking

Intention setting provides an opportunity for your child to practice positive thinking. We are far too often critical of ourselves, and tend to fixate on our perceived limitations rather than identify our strengths. Intention setting is an opportunity to help your child reframe any negative thoughts, reflect on what they have already accomplished, and recognize their infinate potential.

 

I dream of painting, and then I paint my dream
— Van Gogh

Reflections // Intentions

 

Happy New Year!

Although we can always benefit from some thoughtful self-reflection and intention-setting, the end of one year and the beginning of another is a particularly powerful time to offer gratitude for the experiences that have allowed us to grow, while simultaneously recognizing where there is room to keep growing.

This can be done in a variety of ways, may it be through art, journaling, talking it out or taking time for a meditation practice. If a meditation practice is something you would like to try, below is a script to help guide you. 

The Holidays: An Opportunity for Stillness

 

I was in awe of snow as a little girl. I would stare out the window and watch the snow fall at night, with finger's crossed for a snow day come morning. I remember thinking how incredible it was that a weather force so powerful that it could put the whole town on pause could fall so gently. There was a certain sense of stillness about the snow. Everything seemed a little more quiet. 

Despite being intrigued by snowfall in childhood, I never grew to like winter. I don't like being cold, and I often find myself anxious and disconnected around the holidays. With all that's going on in the world this year, the holidays feel particularly bleak. (Note: mercury is also in retrograde right now, only making matters worse. Sigh.)

That being said, it's important to find time for self-care during this time of year. With all the physical and emotional chaos of the holiday season, finding time to be with yourself is helpful in staying grounded. This may look like going on a walk around the neighborhood, getting your hands dirty and making some cookies, or spending all day in your pajamas reading a book.

In order to connect with my internal experience, I find it helpful to do a body scan meditation, bringing awareness to my breath and the physical state of my body. If you'd like to try a body scan meditation, you can use this script and audio recording, which is helpful in guiding your experience, especially if you are new to this practice.

In navigating holiday commotion and winter woes, we can turn to nature to help guide us: move slowly, be gentle, and find stillness. 


The quieter you become, the more you can hear.
— Ram Dass

Stop and Smell the Roses

 

When I first moved to Brooklyn, I wasn't sure how I was going to find any sense of stability or calm. For one, city living tends to yield crowded schedules. And then, there is the beautiful-yet-sometimes-burdensome spontaneous nature of the city (i.e. when subways suddenly decide to shut down, when a stranger engages in a surprising conversation, when you're left without an umbrella in an unexpected rain storm, and so forth.) Consequently, city dwellers like myself succumb to navigating daily routines on autopilot, with feelings like frustration and anguish becoming far more familiar than those like peace and contentment.

Here's a short story: during a yoga and mindfulness retreat, a newfound friend and I found ourselves sharing concerns over how we were going to bring mindfulness practices into our hectic lives. How were we going to find the time? We told ourselves we would start small, and she proposed a simple suggestion: what if we drink a cup of tea every morning and used that moment to find awareness in the experience of drinking tea? No phones, no laptops, no reading. Just you, and your tea.   

How beautiful is that? Ever since, mindful-tea-drinking has become my morning ritual; a crucial moment of peace, grounding and presence. In hopes to resolve the often dispirited ways of navigating my busy schedule and the city's many uncertainties, I've established other customs, too.

These days, my weekend rituals include foraging for flowers and produce at my local farmers market, biking to a nearby neighborhood to then explore by foot, and drinking (lots) of dandelion tea. As I engage mindfully with these things that bring me joy, I am better able to bring awareness and value to my weekly routine. I've realized that you don't actually need flowers in hand to truly stop and smell the roses. Finding joy and meaning in the day-to-day just takes practice.

Using Mindfulness to Talk About Racism

 
 Illustration by  Amberi Barreche.

Illustration by Amberi Barreche.

Racism functions as a widespread traumatic experience for people of color. We know now, more than ever, that a colorblind approach does not impel racial equality. Consequently, now is the time for conversations about racism in America to transpire amongst adults as well as children. It is particularly important that white people join in and ignite the conversation, as white privilege ultimately permits voluntary engagement with these topics, unlike those people of color who do not have the privilege to choose.

This summer, I was able to attend the 2016 Mindfulness & Education Conference at the Omega Center in Rhinebeck, NY, where a panel of scholars committed to promoting mindfulness as a tool for healing trauma talked about the role mindfulness plays in the issues of diversity, racism and oppression in schools. As both an orchestrator of these conversations as well as a participant, I was eager to hear what they had to say. Many of them identified the importance of two primary components underlying mindfulness: curiosity and compassion.


Stay Curious 

When engaging in conversations with others about racism, diversity and oppression, curiosity can be used to help recognize that each and every person’s experience of the world is unique. Additionally, it is important to highlight that racial and ethnic differences play a crucial role in the experience one has of the world, especially when talking to children about race. 

If we ask ourselves to be curious about a person’s experience of the world, we are forced to both recognize and question the implicit biases and prejudices we devise about others based on a person’s skin color, performed gender, ethnicity, socio-economic status, religion/spirituality, and other identifiers valued by society. Get comfortable asking others to tell you about their experience (literally, try asking someone, “would you tell me about your experience?”), rather than allowing stereotypes to taint our lens and develop false impressions of others.

(Note: kids are really, really good at being genuinely curious about others. If you need a little inspiration or guidance, turn to them.)

Curiosity also functions as a valuable tool for overcoming our own biases and prejudices, in that it fosters self-awareness. I try to ask myself why another person’s presence evokes whatever emotional and cognitive response I may experience (the subway is a perfect place to practice this): What about this person makes me uncomfortable/comfortable? What ideological, institutional, interpersonal and internalized forms of oppression contribute to my response to this person? What feelings do I have about myself that may contribute to my response to this person? By noticing our response to others, being curious about those responses and recognizing the potential internal and external contributions to them, we are taking a moment to bear witness to our own biases.   


Lead with Compassion 

And then there is compassion, or empathy. With the emergence of proverbs like “more love, less hate”, the world is already asking for a more compassionate approach towards humanity. I’m not so sure that curiosity and compassion are necessarily separate entities; rather, I think that curiosity oftentimes allows for the cultivation of compassion. Through my own process, I’ve learned that nurturing a sense of compassion for others, regardless of whatever differences may exist between me and that person, is only possible once I truly allow myself to notice and accept my on-going responses to that person. 

With compassion comes the choice to believe that every person is inherently good. In a world that is becoming increasingly- and alarmingly- polarized, this is not easy, but perhaps most essential. I, myself, rely on my own mindfulness practice to assist me in developing this internal sense of compassion for all.

Historically, we have seen that disconnection does not heal the world of hate. Rather, connection, as fueled by compassion and empathy, is a vital healing agent. In a time where it is easy to feel disheartened, remembering the power of connectedness helps keep me feeling hopeful.