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Children of all ages can benefit from mindfulness, the simple practice of bringing a gentle, accepting attitude to the present moment. It can help parents and caregivers, too, by promoting happiness and relieving stress. Here, we offer basic tips for children and adults of all ages, as well as several activities that develop compassion, focus, curiosity and empathy. And remember, mindfulness can be fun.
From our earliest moments, mindfulness can help minimize anxiety and increase happiness.
Adversity comes at us from the moment we are born. Infants get hungry and tired. Toddlers grapple with language and self-control. And as children develop through adolescence to become teenagers, life grows ever more complicated. Developing relationships, navigating school and exercising independence — the very stuff of growing up — naturally creates stressful situations for every child.
At each developmental stage, mindfulness can be a useful tool for decreasing anxiety and promoting happiness. Mindfulness — a simple technique that emphasizes paying attention to the present moment in an accepting, nonjudgmental manner — has emerged as a popular mainstream practice in recent decades. It is being taught to executives at corporations, athletes in the locker room, and increasingly, to children both at home and in school.
Children are uniquely suited to benefit from mindfulness practice. Habits formed early in life will inform behaviors in adulthood, and with mindfulness, we have the opportunity to give our children the habit of being peaceful, kind and accepting.
“For children, mindfulness can offer relief from whatever difficulties they might be encountering in life,” said , an author who teaches mindfulness to children. “It also gives them the beauty of being in the present moment.”
Part of the reason why mindfulness is so effective for children can be explained by the way the brain develops. While our brains are constantly developing throughout our lives, connections in the prefrontal circuits are created at their fastest rate during childhood. Mindfulness, which promotes skills that are controlled in the prefrontal cortex, like focus and cognitive control, can therefore have a particular impact on the development of skills including self-regulation, judgment and patience during childhood.
Mindfulness isn’t something that can be outsourced. For parents and caregivers, the best way to teach a child to be mindful is to embody the practice oneself.
Of course, being a parent is an incredibly stressful experience in its own right. For those raising children, practicing mindfulness exercises — and ideally practicing mindfulness meditation for even a few minutes a day — can be profoundly beneficial, allowing caregivers to not only share the skills of happiness and acceptance with a new generation, but also take better care of themselves at the same time.