By Victoria Sumner, mindfulness expert of Alma House Therapies
As a mum and counsellor, I cannot emphasise enough the absolute magic that is mindfulness. Let’s be real here – as wonderful as being a parent is, it’s also pretty tiring sometimes. And in reality, being a kid is hard work too; there’s so much to learn, take-in and experience, it’s no wonder our kids can feel utterly overwhelmed from time to time. This is when we see our kids have a mini meltdown, often in my experience, over a vast range of things – from not being allowed to eat chocolate for breakfast (although I empathise with that one), to not wanting to share a toy, or refusing to go to bed before you lose your last shred of sanity.
This is where mindfulness comes in. For me, mindfulness is a bit of magic. It gives me the opportunity to take a breath and ground myself, but when we teach it to our kids, that is when the real magic happens.
Mindfulness is all about learning to connect with ourselves and become more aware of our thoughts, feelings, our body and our surroundings. When we teach this to our children, we’re teaching them to identify their feelings and their emotions and in turn, we can show them how to self-soothe and calm themselves down when they’re feeling angry, upset or anxious.
One of my favourite activities to do with children, is to go for a mindful walk. It’s a wonderful opportunity to get outside, get some fresh air, connect with nature and have some fun. When we’re on our walks, we take time to pause and explore our five senses. What can we hear if we listen really closely? What kind of things can we smell? What different colours can we see all around us? It seems so simple, but in doing this little mindful activity, we’re teaching our children to focus and concentrate better, we’re teaching them patience and we’re using that time to bond as a family.
As a counsellor, I often work with young children who are dealing with anxiety, worries and who often feel completely overwhelmed by the world around them. One of my favourite resources to use are Scope’s Mindful Monsters activity cards. They are a range of mindfulness based activity cards, specifically made with 3 – 8 year olds in mind, designed to improve concentration, encourage relaxation, boost creativity and inspire positivity. This fantastic resource can be delivered straight to your door with new cards to explore each month, and there are loads of fun and playful ways to teach mindfulness to our kids right in our own home.
I cannot recommend Mindful Monsters enough as a wonderful, playful and fun way to teach mindfulness to children.
My favourite cards
I want to share my favourite Mindful Monsters activities with you:
- Mindful Mouthful – “Slowly eat a piece of your favourite chocolate. How does it feel? How does it taste? How does it smell? You can try this with any food.” I love this one because… chocolate… but also because it teaches kids to really savour their food, learn new words to describe things, and quite frankly, encourages them to eat slower which is better for digestion.
- Make My Day – “What can you do for someone to make their day extra special? You could bake them a cake or pay them a compliment.”
This one is lovely because it teaches our children to be kind, and the world always needs more kindness. It also inspires children to think about others, encourages decision making and promotes empathy. Added bonus, you might receive the kind of compliment only a child can give, e.g. “Mummy, you don’t look so tired today.” Thanks, kid.
- Belly Breathing – “Lie on the floor and put a teddy on your tummy. Fill your tummy with air and watch teddy getting higher. Then see how he falls when you breathe out. Try this a few times. Do you feel more relaxed?” As a therapist, deep breathing is one of the most basic mindfulness exercises that I share with both children and adults. It’s a great way to learn to regulate our emotions, calm nerves, reduce stress and anxiety and even helps to lower pain levels. As a mum, it gives me the chance to have an opportunity to ground myself whilst I’m encouraging the kids to calm down and relax. Very useful at bed time.
- Garden Art – “Shoes on, it’s time to go out! Find some petals and leaves and use them to make a pattern. What colours can you see? What smells can you smell? Do this with shells on the beach or twigs in the woods.” Personally, I love a good walk outside. The exercise and fresh air usually does wonders for my mental health, and it’s the same for the kids. Not only is it a great reason to get them to run around and burn off that seemingly never-ending supply of energy, but it encourages children to connect with nature and tap into their imagination and creativity.
So how exactly does mindfulness work, you ask?
According to neuroscientist Sara Lazar, practising mindfulness regularly improves the neuroplasticity of our brains and can improve neural connections in our pre-frontal cortex. This area of our brain develops fastest in childhood, and is associated with concentration, cognitive control and self-regulation. Her studies also showed that over a period of 8 weeks, individuals who practiced mindfulness daily also showed a reduction in amygdala size. The smaller the amygdala, the better we respond to stress and anxiety.
What an incredible thing to teach our children. It’s a gift they, and frankly us as parents, will benefit from their entire lives.