Supporting your child’s emotional well-being
Mindfulness is a great buzz word but in simple terms for children, it is about awareness – awareness of their thoughts and feelings, what their body feels like, what they see and do and the noises that they hear around them. In fact, children are probably better than all of us at practicing mindfulness as they live almost completely in the present moment! Building self-esteem for children is everyone’s priority: there are some very simple techniques to support your child to build their ‘happiness skills’ from an early age, which can be easily added to your daily routine.
An easy way for children to practice mindfulness is to focus on what is happening around them. Start with hearing – talk to your child about listening to the sounds in their environment. Let your child know that you are going to make a sound and that they should listen carefully until they can no longer hear the sound. Ring a bell and listen to the vibration together, usually about 30 seconds. It will have a calming effect on your child and it’s a fun way to teach them to pay attention to what they can hear in their surroundings.
Approaches to mindfulness and kindness
Build emotional literacy and start by acknowledging your child’s emotions. Help them to correctly identify and name the emotion that they are feeling. This can be extended for older children by asking them if they can identify the source of the emotion and what is making them feel sad or upset. The aim is not to get rid of negative emotions, but to be able to recognise and name them and then accept the emotions for what they are. Talk about your own emotions with your child – share that you are feeling sad, disappointed, frustrated or happy and explain why you feel that way. Your child will often recognise how you are feeling simply by innately reading your body language, so sharing and recognising your feelings and emotions provides acceptance and enables your child to be comfortable with their own feelings. For younger children, there are a number of books that deal with emotional ups and downs which are easily understandable and allow children to engage and identify feelings. This is a fun way of having an open discussion about feelings with your child and to discuss how to respond to challenges that might arise for them in school or pre-school. Recognise that the frustration, anger, or fear they feel is very real, let them know that it is okay feel that way and then focus on what to do with that emotion
Encourage your child to be aware of their breathing
Practice breathing with a ‘breathing buddy’ by lying on the ground with your child and placing a small cuddly toy on their tummy. They focus their attention on the rise and fall of the stuffed animal as they breathe in and out and begin to increase their awareness of their breath. Build on this by taking deep breaths with your child and exhaling deeply – this breathing technique can also help to calm your child down or to move them out of an angry feeling by taking 5 deep breaths together.
Create a mindful bedtime routine. Bedtime is a great time to introduce mindfulness to your child as you can introduce the technique of doing a short body-scan before bed – ask your child to close their eyes and then wiggle their toes and then their fingers and to move their hands on to their tummy to feel their breathing. It is a calming way to return to the body at the end of the day.
Gratitude and kindness
Cultivating an environment of kindness and being grateful for the simple things that we often take for granted will give your child’s well-being a boost. Be aware of your language and make a habit of being grateful and recognising gratitude in your child’s world. Use language like…’Aren’t we so lucky that the sun is shining today and we can go to the park’ to build gratitude. Talk to your child about saying thank you and what it really means – how do they feel when they get a present? How does it feel when their friend shares a toy with them? Recognise and talk about what being kind and feeling grateful is. Younger children often like to express their gratitude by doing a drawing which builds on their happiness. Encourage these expressions of being grateful and identify a gratitude wall in your kitchen or on the fridge where you can display their drawings; they can see them daily and can talk about how they felt when they drew them.
The purpose of teaching mindfulness to our children is to give them the skills to develop their awareness of their immediate surroundings, to understand their emotions and feelings and to be confident in expressing them. It will not eliminate tantrums or suppress their feelings of frustration or anger but will give provide the foundations for building and shaping their approach to their emotional well-being for later life.
Tips for practising Mindfulness together:
- Practice what you preach – role model calmness, take time out of your busy schedule to be present with your child. Turn off the technology, put away your phone and enjoy your time together without distractions.
- Share your emotions with your child; let them know that it is okay to have feelings and that they can share them with you too.
- Take time every day to talk to your child about their day; read to them and encourage them to express what they feel and what they are thinking about.
- Reflect on their kind actions, talk about good deeds and being kind; ask your child to share the ways that they have been kind to their friends and recognise all of the different ways of being kind.
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