"There are two ways to wash the dishes. The first is to wash the dishes in order to have clean dishes and the second is to was the dishes to wash the dishes." - Thich Nhat Hanh
Mindfulness is the art and practice of doing something (anything!) with your full awareness. You are present and immersed in an experience connecting you with breath, body and sensory experience. You are being kind to yourself and hold no judgements on what you 'should' be doing. You allow distractions and thoughts to come and go, before gently returning your attention back to your mindful moment.
When we are mindful, we are not thinking about the past or into the future, we are keeping our attention directed to the present moment. This mindfulness allows us to keep our stress in check. This is particularly important for our children in this busy and changing world. COVID (and all the challenges it brings), school pressures, friendships to navigate, busy lifestyles and families under pressure - Phew! A long list of stresses that can take a big toll on little people's mental health.
Mindfulness and Our Brain
So, what is happening when we practice (and it takes practice!) mindfulness? Studies have sown that, when we regularly engage in mindfulness activities, significant changes occur in our brain. Our amygdala, the part of our brain that triggers our fight/flight/freeze, becomes less active following mindfulness sessions.. This means we are less reactive to experiences that would usually stress us. Our cortex and prefrontal cortex, which are the thinking parts of our brain that help us problem solve, become more active after practicing mindfulness. This means we are engaging parts of of our brain that help us problem solve, reason and understand empaty. But the biggest changes lie in the increased activity in our hippocampus, the part of the brain that is responsible for regulation of emotions, learning and memories. This increased activity has a big impact on our capability and resilience to engage in new experiences. It also makes it easier for us to connect to the people and world around us.
With regular mindfulness practice, we are rewiring our brain to interpret, respond and recover from stress in a much calmer way... How cool is that!?
This means that, as well as becoming less reactive and more focused, we also have much greater success in our learning, social interactions and self-confidence.
A Mindful Experience
Mindfulness can be as simple as checking in with our breathing. Drawing attention to your inhale and exhale. Feeling all the sensations as you take a deep breath in and then sinking into a long out breath. But a mindful experience can also come in many other forms. It can look like:
Movement, Yoga, Dance
Listening, Watching, Grounding Activities
Eating, Cooking, Gardening
Drawing, Journaling, Gratitude Lists
and so much more...
Mindfulness can be inserted into any activity that brings you joy and that you consciously give your full attention. Remembering that distractions come and go, but we gently turn our attention back to being present in the experience.
Tips for Creating a Positive Mindfulness Practice
Being mindful... together.
We can ALL benefit from a mindful moment. Role model the practice yourself (little people are always watching!), as well as joining children in mindful moments. An experience linked with connection provides more meaning and is going to have a big impact on how children engage in the activity. While you're practicing mindfulness, you can also narrate your thoughts and feelings to encourage children to check in with their own.
Keep it positive.
In a room of chaos, spending a minute with your breath can help you keep your cool and stay focused (what a superpower!). We want children to feel empowered, confident and happy to access this skill whenever they feel the need. So, it is very important that mindfulness is not used as a consequence for a child that needs to 'calm down': This is a preventative and regulating activity.
Yes, lives are busy (too busy!) and sometimes the little things get swept to the side. But it's important to practice mindfulness regularly to feel the benefits. Be conscious of making time to have mindful moments or weaving them into everyday activities. Perhaps you have a mindful moment as you leave the house or as you come inside from play time. Or, maybe you spend a minute mindfully eating your lunch. Have a think about when and where you can inject some mindfulness into children's day.
Attune to the needs of your little people.
While some children may enjoy listening to a guided meditation, other children may need movement to engage in mindfulness. Choose an activity that connects for the child and have fun with it!
Words: Jessica Press
Jessica is a Child Development Practitioner for Connect.Ed and has a Bachelor of Education (Primary) and Science
Originally published in Connected Caregiving Winter 2022