Can Adopting Mindful Based Approaches at a Young Age Help Regulate our Children?
Imagine snacking on a bag of m&m’s while thinking about that never ending to do list, i.e. What’s for dinner tonight? Did I put the clothes in the dryer? What will I pack for the kids’ lunches tomorrow morning? Without even noticing, a few m&m’s turns into the whole bag, and you are left wondering how on earth you just finished a whole bag of m&m's. This is where mindfulness comes into play, i.e. the ability to be present and aware of our actions at any given time. So what exactly is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a type of meditation which allows you to focus attentively and purposely on what you are sensing and feeling in that moment, without interpretation or judgement. It means slowing down, focusing and taking your time to fully experience the present. Mindfulness can involve breathing or even guided imagery which can help relax your mind and body.
So let’s talk about how children can use mindfulness to assist with calming aggression and challenging behaviors. Children with sensory processing issues or neurodivergent conditions such as autism present with challenging behaviors due to them feeling ‘out of sync’ or not being able to verbalize how they are feeling at any given moment. Adopting mindful-based interventions empowers children to develop self-management strategies to self-regulate, focus, sleep better and gain more awareness before a challenging behavior may present.
Here are 7 ways you can adopt mindful based approaches in your child’s day to day lives:
1. Bedtime mindfulness: Practice gratitude as much as you can as part of your bedtime routine. Think about somebody or something you love and allow your child to feel that sense of gratitude and love. You can even ask your child to lie in their bed, close their eyes, and bring their attention to various parts of their body, starting from the head and moving all the way down to the toes. This creates awareness and gets the body relaxed and ready for sleep.
2. Mindful breathing: Ask your child to close his/her eyes and sit comfortably. Direct their attention to the sensation of breathing in and out. Choose a stuffed animal and place it on your child’s tummy. Have your child watch the animal ride up and down the tummy like an ocean wave, connecting the movements with breathing patterns. As your child is breathing, guide them to any thoughts or feelings they may be holding onto, breathing negative emotions away from the heart.
3. Mindful humming: Ask your child to hum a tune to their favorite song and then press their hands to their chest asking them to notice the vibrations from their humming. The humming can send calm signals to the body and allows children to be mindful of their breath, creating a sense of calm and peace. For children who may not be able to follow instructions, parents can always hum the tune, allowing their children to still feel the vibrations.
4. Mindful movements: Adopt simple yoga poses and approaches to allow your children to be mindful of their body movements. Guide them through various poses. For example, imagine tree roots growing from the bottom of the ground and feel your feet connected to that very same ground. Clasp your hands, lift them over your head straight up in the air while balancing on one leg, picturing yourself growing tall as a tree.
5. Mindful Walks: Go for a long stroll and ask your child to pay attention to the sounds such as birds chirping or how the wind feels on their skin creating more awareness to their senses and surroundings.
6. Make your own calming bottle: Fill a clear jar with water, glitter, beads, and baby oil. When your child is feeling dysregulated, ask them to shake up the jar which will have a snow globe effect and can help soothe the mind by bringing awareness to the bottle at hand. This works well for younger children or children with limited communication skills.
7. Soles of the Feet: This technique was developed by researchers to manage anger and aggression in children. When faced with emotionally challenging situations, you can teach your child to redirect their awareness to a neutral part of the body such as the soles of their feet. This technique helps calm and clear one’s mind during stressful situations. In one longitudinal study, researchers had adolescents with autism learn the “Soles of the Feet Procedure,” which involved shifting attention from the emotional trigger to the soles of their feet and aggressive acts were significantly reduced from 14-20 per week to 4-6 per week after the 3-year follow up period (Singh et al., 2011).
So what are the benefits of using mindful based approaches at a young age?
- Promoting awareness can facilitate more empathy and kindness, creating an open heart and less judgement towards others.
- Patience is a virtue and by practicing mindful breaths or even mindful walks, learning how to stop and process allows children to develop more patience.
- Learning to be in the moment and not in the past or the future is so beneficial to avoid potential meltdowns of what might have happened in the past or what may not happen in the future.
- Acceptance is key to understanding that we don’t always get what we want at that given moment. Mindful based approaches can help facilitate more acceptance of the situation at hand.
- Adopting mindfulness teaches calming practices which can decrease overall challenging behaviors as well as stress, depression and anxiety.
Mindful based techniques are not only useful for children but have repeatedly been shown to reduce parental stress, improve overall well-being and improve parent-child relationships. Mindful based training can allow parents to better regulate their own reactions to stressful situations and thus better manage social, emotional and sensory needs of their children. It is important to remember that mindfulness is a skill that takes practice and doesn’t have to be so rigid. Once the approaches have been adopted, many positive effects of mindfulness including improvement in positive emotions and overall life satisfaction can be manifested.