Mindfulness, the Way for Calmer and Happier Children

Mindfulness, the Way for Calmer and Happier Children

Find calm and serenity. And learn, slowly, to recognize and manage emotions. As? Mindfulness is a form of meditation that offers exercises that are like games. And, to celebrate World Children’s Rights Day, a gift for families: an app offers free sessions to meditate together!

 

Stressful rhythms: it is one of the most common expressions in our daily life, not only when we talk about us adults, but also, more and more often, when we refer to our children. Continuous stimuli, heavy roadmaps to support, expectations not to be disappointed: there are pressures to which our children are subjected daily. And the recent Coronavirus pandemic has certainly not eased the tension, on the contrary: it has upset habits and certainties, aroused concerns, forced strong changes and new daily stunts, with repercussions inside and outside us all. 

 

Let’s stop for a moment: it is the need of many. And a beautiful suggestion in this sense can come from mindfulness, a current name for a proposal that has its roots in an ancient practice. We talk about it with  Maria Beatrice Toro, psychologist, and psychotherapist, Instructor of Cognitive Therapy based on Mindfulness (MBCT), who has written many books on this topic. Among them,  Growing with Mindfulness. Guide for children and adults under pressure (Franco Angeli),  dedicated to families.

 

Stop attention

“We always have our heads somewhere else, occupied with thoughts on the next things to do, on what we would like to be or have, on what we should have said”, begins Maria Beatrice Toro. “We are connected with the whole world, but we do not find the time and the way to connect with ourselves.  And our children mirror this frenzy. When it’s time to go to the gym they have to have a snack in the car, while they set the table they repeat the time’s tables … 

 

Thus, they are subjected to a continuous dissociation of attention. And this has important consequences: distraction and excitement make you nervous, confused, and agitated. Practicing mindfulness helps to interrupt this perennial flow, because it brings our attention to the present moment, to what we are experiencing. In this way the present expands, opening up in details that we never even imagined, all to be savored. Thus helping us to discover how rich reality is, and how deep we are.

 

Remove instead of add

What is the secret of mindfulness? “Do one thing at a time, to live it to the fullest. The adult needs to rebuild this lost capacity: the child, on the other hand, often needs simple invitations and immediately enters this dimension, because he has a natural predisposition to be one hundred percent inside what he does. Many problems of the little ones arise from times or challenges that we adults impose on them: too many more stimuli than those that would be enough for them.

 

And, then, the proposal is: what if we take something away from the child? If we let it be, explore? What if we allowed him to listen to his emotions, instead of losing them amid a thousand distractions? Learning to focus on oneself is a great resource: it not only helps to enhance attention but also to know and recognize emotions, learning to become aware of them and manage them “.

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Let them explore without disturbing them

Where do we start from? From the body, and in particular from the five senses: sight, touch, smell, hearing, taste. The scientific literature says that if every time we make sure that the child’s mind remains in the present through the doors of the senses, doing one thing at a time, without interruption, leaving him all the time he needs, and without judging, we allow us to build a very important skill: the ability to see the richness of life, explains the psychologist.

 

Meditation practices designed for children are exercises, but they can be proposed as games and can be done at home or school. They are moments of exploration, simple, but precious because they aim to preserve that ‘magical’ mindfulness that children already have naturally. And in the meantime, in different ways, they develop awareness. 

Mindfulness – try these games!

Here are some examples of exercises suitable for children aged 3 to 12, taken from the book by Maria Beatrice Toro.

  • The curious Martian (3 – 8 years ) 
  • A game to play together at breakfast, one morning when you have some time. Pretend that you are Martians who have just arrived on Earth and that you do not know anything about what is on the table: milk, fruit juice, yogurt … Observe one food at a time as if you have never seen it before: it is big or small? What color is it? Touch it: is it smooth or hard? Then smell it: what does it smell like? You can also listen to it … for example, a biscuit, if you break it, go ‘croc’! Finally, taste it and tell yourself your discoveries. 
  • What is it for? Starting with things to eat is a good idea because food is very attractive to the little ones and allows for a complete sensory experience, setting all the senses in motion. Furthermore, observing reality as if it were the first time strongly activates the dimension of exploration.
  • The jar of calm (3 – 8 years)
  • Fill a transparent jar with water and pour sequins and beads: turning the jar upside down, these will slowly fall like snow, settling on the bottom. At different times, ask the child to count his breaths while watching the glitter go down: he will experience that the number of breaths changes according to the situation. For example, if before doing his homework, watching the sequins slide towards the bottom, he counts 10 breaths, after finishing them there will probably be less, maybe 6, because he will be more relaxed and the breaths will be longer. 
  • What is it for? In this way, the little one becomes aware of his breathing, and of how much it may be conditioned by the emotional state: when he is tense or excited, breathing is faster, when he is calm, slower. And sometimes, proposing to him to look at the jar can also serve to make the breath longer, and thus induce calm.
  • The trial box (4 – 6 years)
  • Speaking of making room in the bedroom, here is an effective and painless way to reach the goal. Take a transparent box and put in it any toys or objects that seem too many to you; so leave it in sight and… wait. During the first week, observe how many times the child takes those items out of the box. It only takes 5, and 3 no, the next week move those 3 to another box, this time opaque. If for another week you notice that he does not remember its existence … you can easily think of giving away those objects, giving them to other children. 
  • What is it for? You gave him time to become aware that he doesn’t use those games. And, therefore, eliminating them will not cause tears or scenes, as often happens, because it will not have a traumatic effect, but it will be a natural gesture.
  • Hunting for sounds (4 – 8 years)
  • Inside a closed room, remain silent and listen to the sounds that are heard when no one speaks. Then, open a window and focus on the noises coming from outside. And again, always in silence, slowly exit the room and explore the sounds of other environments. In the end, you tell yourself what you heard: was it pleasant? Unpleasant? Unusual? Try to classify the sounds: high, low, high, low, soft, annoying … And now also try to observe if some come from inside the body … 
  • What is it for? Train your hearing ability consciously, developing listening. Furthermore, silence allows the child to connect with himself, with others, and with the environment around him. It induces calm in the body, creating space for discoveries.
  • Mindful bubbles (3 – 6 years) 
  • In a container, mix one part of liquid dish detergent, 3 parts of water, and 2 parts of honey (the secret ingredient that makes bubbles heavier and more resistant). To make large bubbles and not burst them, you need to refine your technique: you have to blow softly and slowly. Then, on a sheet of paper draw many colored bubbles, and call them ‘the bubbles of letting go’. One bubble will be further away than the others. Then invite the child to focus on a negative thought, for example: “I’ll never make it” and then … suggest that he entrust him to a bubble by mentally saying: “I’ll let you fly away!”. 
  • What is it for? Blowing bubbles is a very pleasant way to develop attention. To do this, the baby has to control his breathing, which becomes slow. As you continue in the game, the state of concentration increases and you can get to observe your emotions. 
  • The tightrope walker (for all ages)
  • Draw a strip on the ground, and tell the child to imagine that he is a famous circus artist: he will have to walk it while keeping his balance, as if it were a rope suspended in the air, above the heads of the spectators. . Invite him to spread his arms and take a slow breath before each step, placing his heel on the ground first, then the toe. At the end of the course, he will take another breath, greet the spectators and jump off the platform. 
  • What is it for? Exercise develops attention to one’s body, a sense of balance, and an awareness of the relationship between breathing and movement.
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Mindfulness: small daily practices

In mindfulness meetings for children, I work in harmony with their parents: they are a great resource and can do a lot at home, starting with simple actions, says Maria Beatrice Toro. When we begin a journey, first of all, I ask the little ones to observe the bedroom with new eyes. Often they realize that it is full of things: then I propose to do ‘cleaning’, discarding what is not needed. This is very important to create a free space ‘outside’, which allows the child to find a free space ‘inside’ himself.

 

And then… there are a thousand ways to practice mindfulness at home! Our children love to do everyday things with us: then, by washing the dishes together we can stop and ‘feel’ the hot water on our hands or ‘look’ at the bubbles. Or, while eating a slice of cake, we can ask the child: ‘What ingredients do you think are there?’. If he guesses there is sugar, or catches the scent of lemon, he doesn’t win a prize, he just recognized something. If he identifies an almond flavor that is not there, he can laugh at it together and understand why … It is not a question of performance, of ‘right or wrong, we are simply in the field of experience, lived thoroughly.

 

A nice initiative to celebrate World Children’s Rights Day

The main European app of mindfulness and meditation, Petit Bambou, has chosen to support this day by making available for free,  from Friday 20 November,  the new program:   “Discovery Children 5-12”, with five sessions dedicated to the little ones.  Meditative practice, carried out in a lively and creative way, can be, as already mentioned, support facing emotional stress and inequalities caused by Covid-19, helping to cultivate mental well-being.

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The sessions are designed to be practiced together with parents or family, to encourage moments of shared serenity, and the little ones will be able to become aware of their breath, feelings, and emotions, trying to live the present moment. The guiding voice that accompanies parents and children in the practices is Alice Curzi, a professional in the integration between clinical consultation and mindfulness, who graduated in Social and Development Psychology and specialized in Relationship Psychoanalysis. 

 

The surprises, then, do not end there: at the end of the first practice, the participants will receive a free e-book “Practicing meditation with children – A short guide for teachers or parents who wish to practice meditation with their students or their children. “. The Petit Bambou app is available for download in Europe on Google Play and App Store, respectively for Android and iOS devices. 

 

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