Imagine this scenario: Your child is studying for a science test and is feeling anxious about it. She tries to focus on her notecards, but her thoughts keep drifting: I flunked the last test ... The material is hard ... Everyone gets it but me ... I’m going to fail the class if my grades don’t improve.
What can help her put the brakes on negative thoughts and concentrate on what’s in front of her? One answer may be mindfulness.
Learn about this technique for staying focused on the present, and not letting thoughts, emotions or self-control issues get in the way.
What Mindfulness Means
Mindfulness is often defined as living in the moment without judgment. But many of us, kids and adults, don’t naturally function that way.
When a thought pops into our head, it’s usually colored by what has happened in the past or what we think might happen in the future. Even if the thought isn’t accurate, we may react to it as if it is.
The practice of mindfulness can help people stay focused on the present. It can teach them to view their thoughts in a more neutral manner and keep their emotions in check. Being able to do those things can help them respond to challenges and stressful situations in a more thoughtful way.
Mindfulness and Kids With Learning and Attention Issues
The possible benefits of helping kids be mindful has been gaining attention. Studies have shown that it can improve their behavior and ability to focus in school. Some schools have even started doing mindfulness training in the classroom.
Improved behavior and focus is a plus for all kids. But it can be even more valuable for kids with learning and attention issues. That’s especially true for those who struggle with anxiety or impulsivity.
Also, kids who struggle in school may have negative experiences that can lead to negative thinking. Those experiences can decrease their motivation and make them feel like they can’t succeed. Being able to recognize those negative thoughts and block them can help kids stay focused and positive. It can also bring a sense of calm.
Learning to Practice Mindfulness
Mindfulness may not come naturally to most kids, but it can be learned. There are many online resources and books on mindfulness (both for kids and adults), so you can help your child learn at home. You may also be able to find mindfulness classes in your area.
Mindfulness training typically involves breathing exercises. The goal is to concentrate on each breath, in and out. In a class setting, the instructor may prompt kids to notice when their mind wanders, and gently remind them to bring their thoughts back to the sensations of their breath.
Younger kids may be given a stuffed animal to place on their belly. Watching it rise and fall makes focusing on breathing more concrete.
Some kids with impulsivity and attention issues may have difficulty focusing on their breath. Mindfulness training involves other exercises that may be more doable for them. Kids may be asked to notice how their body feels, or how their feet connect with the floor and their seats to the chairs.
Classes may also incorporate movement for kids who find it hard to sit still. The goal of these exercises is to help kids pay attention to what’s happening inside them, as well what’s going on around them.
How You Can Practice Mindfulness at Home
Your child doesn’t need to take classes to learn and practice mindfulness. Here are some ways you can work on it at home:
- Look for books for kids on what it means to focus on the present and how to practice quiet breathing. Choose a book that’s appropriate for your child’s age to share together.
- Practice breathing exercises with your child. Sit quietly and focus on the in and out of breathing. Ring a bell or chime to mark the start of an exercise to draw your child’s focus to the practice.
- Model mindfulness for your child. Point out times when you use mindfulness to control anxiety or emotions.
- If your child is acting anxious or impulsive, have her stop what she’s doing and practice mindfulness for a minute. That can help her manage her behavior and self-soothe.
Building Key Skills Through Mindfulness
Mindfulness doesn’t just help kids in the short term. It can also build key strengths.
Every time your child notices her thoughts drifting and then brings her attention back to her breath, it can help build focus. Every time she catches herself before she reacts to her thoughts, it can help build self-control. Mindfulness can also help your child become more self-aware and gain self-esteem.
The more strategies your child has for handling emotions, the more able she’ll be to tackle her challenges. Talk to her about strategies for coping with anger and frustration. Help her learn ways to gain self-control. And learn how to help grade-schoolers or middle- or high-schoolers deal with stress.