How often have you said to your child, ‘Please PAY ATTENTION!”?
You may have said it quietly and patiently, or more likely with some sense of urgency and exasperation in your voice. Either way, kids hear this message from parents and teachers all the time.
But have you ever taught them how to pay attention? – How to refocus your mind when it’s racing in a hundred different directions, or it’s anxiously worrying or happily daydreaming or just plain being distracted by a random butterfly passing by?
Often the kids I work with want to pay attention better. They try to stay focused, but they can’t quite figure out how to do it – especially when they’re overwhelmed by the stress of busyness all around us.
And that’s where mindfulness practice can really come in handy.
The Benefits of Mindfulness
Mindfulness, remember, is a particular way of paying attention. It’s paying attention, on purpose, to the present moment, without judgment (or bias or blame). It’s the skill of intentional attention – being fully present in this moment, attending to what is right here, right now.
The cool thing about mindfulness? It’s a skill that anyone, even a child, can develop with practice. It’s a mental muscle that can be strengthened and put to good use – reducing stress, improving concentration, calming hot emotions, cultivating kindness.
And boy does it come in handy when we find ourselves “scatter-brained” or “zoning out” or literally “lost in thought.”
In short, when we train our minds to focus more clearly, we can more easily find calm in the chaos of life.
How Can I Help My Child Be More Mindful?
- Be inviting and encouraging. It’s very important for any mindfulness practice that we approach it with an attitude of kindness and curiosity – rather than “command and control.” Invite your child to explore the possibilities in each moment. Encourage them to discover whatever it is they may notice or experience. Accept when they are not in the mood or unable to do so.
You are not trying to produce a “right answer.” You are simply supporting your child in starting to notice what they notice (and from there we’ll notice what they need, and then notice what choices they’re making, and how that’s working for them – but first things first).
- Practice moments of stillness. A very helpful way of focusing our attention, especially at first, is by practicing being still and quiet for brief periods of time. Here, try it with me right now – let’s see what you notice.
Allow your body to settle in place, wherever, however it is, however it wants to be in this moment. Let your body become still, your feet quietly and firmly on the floor, your hands resting quietly in your lap. See what you notice for the next few moments as you let your body become perfectly still. Just see what you notice. Ready, go. (30 seconds)
Ok, great, what did you notice?! You may have noticed that your body feels calmer, perhaps relaxed or even tired. Or maybe you noticed it was restless and jittery. You may have felt tightness, tension, or pain somewhere. You may not have noticed anything in your body. You may have noticed sounds around you. Or saw something in the room you hadn’t noticed before. Or you may have noticed racing thoughts in your mind. – Or worries or judgments about whether you were doing this right. – Or thoughts that this was boring or stupid.
- Know that “It’s good to know.” It’s all good to know! WHATEVER was going on for you, it’s good to notice it. In that moment of awareness, you were being mindful. It that moment, you just strengthened your powers of attention!
- Repeat as directed. Now, if you and your child can become still for just 1-2 minutes, once or twice a day, to just notice – What is going on in this moment? What do I notice going on around me? What do I notice going on inside me? Then you will be strengthening your mindfulness muscles. You will be developing the habit of mind of being more fully present and focused.
There are many more ways to practice and strengthen mindful attention skills, and in the coming months we’ll explore more of them. This is a good beginning. For now, begin to cultivate a culture in your home (or classroom) of pausing each day, just to notice, with kindness and curiosity, what’s up? What do you notice, here, now?