Children and mindfulness: just because the world’s gone mad it doesn’t mean you have to. It’s never too early to engage your kids in mindfulness practice. Mindfulness has many definitions and for me, it’s just the awareness of being aware. Buddhists have a word, ‘tath?t?’, which is best translated as ‘suchness’ or the ‘as-is-ness’ of the moment.
In order to create reality, we have to perceive everything as something. We label things to give them meaning, whereas tath?t? – we should just let it be what it is, Doris Day ‘Que Será, Será’ style.
Children experiencing a heightened sense of stress
The difficulty arises because the human operating system doesn’t want this moment, it wants a better one, in the future, so it’s mad keen for you to get this moment out of the way. It makes you impatient with this ‘now’ without realising that this particular now is all it ever has [that’s because when it gets to the next now, that also becomes ‘this now’, hence your ego is in a never-ending chase for a better moment]
Children and young people are also experiencing this heightened sense of stress.
The boomerang principle
Mindfulness boils down to whether you want to make the present moment your friend or enemy. Once you have decided you want the present moment to be your friend, it is up to you to make the first move. You can’t sit there, all sulky, waiting for life to offer an olive branch. Become friendly toward it, welcome it no matter in what disguise it comes, and soon you will see the results. Life becomes friendly toward you; people become helpful, circumstances cooperative.
Some might call it serendipity, karma or the law of attraction. I don’t care what you call it. It’s a boomerang principle; if you chuck enough good stuff out there, some of it will come right back at you.
Here are some mindfulness and wellbeing activities that you can introduce to your kids. Designed to be quirky and fun, they appear in ‘Diary of a Brilliant Kid’ (Capstone) and ‘A Teenager’s Guide to Awesomeness’ (Hodder).
Acts of kindness
Challenge everyone in your family to do a sneaky random act of kindness and report back at the end of the day. They will learn that being kind doesn’t have to cost anything and when you’re kind to someone that makes them feel like a ‘somebody,’ and it makes you feel amazing too.
Bend their minds
Here’s a question that will fox your family; what hasn’t happened that you didn’t want that you haven’t celebrated?
It’s easiest to unpick by giving some examples. This morning, I didn’t want toothache, I didn’t have toothache, but I failed to celebrate the fact. On my drive to work I didn’t run over any badgers (I didn’t want to run over any badgers but nevertheless I failed to celebrate the non-killing of said badgers)
Give your kids a few examples and get the conversation flowing. You’ll find their creativity outstrips yours by a mile. The lesson is, of course, to refocus on what’s going well in your life
Ask you family to chat about the ten things they want for Christmas that aren’t ‘things’.
See who can keep a fruit pastel in their mouth the longest. This is a nice intro to a chat about mindful eating and savouring your food.
Maybe share my modern-day DOs and DON’Ts for eating properly, having energy and living forever…
- DO sit down and eat as a family (as often as possible). If it’s not happening, insist that it does
- DO switch off the TV and phones. Chat. Ask your family what the highlight of their day has been
- DO appreciate your food. That means savouring it and thanking whomever provided it. That might be God but, more likely, Tesco Extra
- DO add a bit more porcupine to your diet (but careful of the prickly bits, they tend to get stuck in your throat)
- DON’T eat in front of a screen or standing up
- DON’T eat without cutlery or out of a box
- DON’T eat anything delivered to your door by someone on a motorbike
- DON’T eat anything passed to you in your car through a hatch
- DON’T eat fast food more than once a week. And eat it slowly.
- Plus, DON’T eat anything your great grandma would not have recognised as food
After tea, give everyone a pen and paper and ask them to write down the 10 happiest moments of their life. In secret. To be shared at the weekend [I promise you, most of the moments will be time spent with family and friends]
‘Not breathing’. It’s literally the number one killer in the UK and the biggest cause of death across the world. It’s a scandal. Yet the media fails to report it. So breathe. And keep breathing. It’s quite important.
My advice: Spend 3 minutes breathing well, 5 times a day.
Here’s how. Sit with feet on ground and straight back. Wear a small smile (and your clothes, obviously. Meditating while naked still works, but it’s embarrassing if your mum comes in). Close your eyes. Breathe in through your nose for 5 seconds, hold it for 6 seconds and out through your mouth for 7.
Easy enough to remember: 5 in, 6 hold, 7 out.
Shinrin-yoku, aka ‘forest bathing’ gives you another clue about wellbeing. The Japanese are big believers in forest bathing as a way of healing and, indeed, stopping you getting poorly in the first place. It’s the simplest and cheapest remedy ever – being outdoors, in nature – is good for your health and happiness. Top tip from Japan, stick your coat on and get some fresh air.
Or ‘friluftsliv’ which literally means ‘free air life’ in Norwegian, and is used often to describe a way of life that is spent exploring and appreciating nature. Similar to ‘forest bathing’, fresh air, nature, outdoors, jumping in puddles, hide & seek, wandering, playing, building dens… they’re free medicine. The Japanese and the Norwegians, they can’t both be wrong?
Gemütlichkeit refers to a feeling of cosiness, contentedness, comfort and relaxation. The Danes call it hygge (pronounced hoo-gah. A soft chair in a coffee shop might be considered ‘cosy’. But sit in that chair surrounded by close friends and a hot choc, while funky music plays in the background, and that sort of scene is…well…that’s gemutlichkeit and hygge.
Here are a few things to throw into a Sunday lunch conversation. Not overtly mindfulness questions, but kids will live their quirkiness and they kick-start some interesting chats:
- If you do what’s easy, your life will be hard and if you do what’s hard, your life will be easy. True or false? Explain.
- People who live in comfort zones are actually extremely uncomfortable. Discuss.
- Go out looking for friends and you will find very few. Go out and be a friend and you will find many. Waddaya think?
- Being lazy pays off now. Hard work pays off in the future. What the heck does that mean?
Expert article by Dr Andy Cope
Andy has spent 15 years researching positive psychology and is the UK’s first Doctor of Happiness. He has recently launched a new well-being service for schools, Brilliant Schools and is the bestselling author of the personal development Art of Being Brilliant Series, HAPPINESS and SHINE as well as the Children’s book series Spy Dog.
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