Mindfulness to assist with anxiety, depression, concentration, performance, sleep, mood management and more
Mindfulness, truly being there in the present moment, mind and body together, is the in thing at the moment (along with barre classes, turmeric, avocado and protein!!!) and something that has been in use for centuries in various forms such as meditation, breath awareness, and prayer. I have been teaching breathe awareness and other forms of mindfulness with clients – young and old, as well as my kids, for many years now, and the benefits can be significant – from increased focus, performance and relationships to better mood management, resilience, and greater joy.
This article shows you how you can teach and guide adolescents and children to learn techniques which will encourage them to spend some time in digital detox, in stillness, and mindfulness and which will stay with them throughout their lives.
What is Mindfulness?
The dictionary’s definition is “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique“. Of course, kids will wonder what you are taking about, so to encourage them to do the following exercises I am going to teach, it is best to explain the benefits to them in a way that is appealing to their ‘map of the world.’ That is an individual’s perception of the world which will determine their feelings and behaviours.
Depending on the age you might talk about how it can assist them to get better marks in tests by increasing focus and reducing exam anxiety or for littlies letting them know it can help them to feel better if they are upset or angry, or may help them feel happy and relaxed.
Helping the child to connect to appealing benefits, makes it much more likely for them to want to give mindfulness a try and incorporate it into their daily lives.
In my clinic and with my kids I have managed to assist children and teenagers with spelling and maths improvements, anger and emotions management, exam focus and worries, sports performance, teenage eating disorders and more.
Of course, mindfulness is not just for our kids. I have noticed even greater improvements with many children’s issues when the parents or caregivers have taken up regular mindful practice themselves.
Why is it so great for kids and teens?
The latest research suggests the effects of mindfulness on the lives of youngsters are significant and include
- Increased management of emotions (and less negative emotions)
- Increased social skills
- Increased memory and ability to plan and organise
- Increased self-esteem
- Increased sense of calmness and relaxation
- Increased sleep quality
- Decreased exam/test anxiety
- Decreased ADHD behaviour such as hyperactivity and impulsiveness
- Decreased anxiety and depression
- Less conduct and anger management problems
(For more information about the benefits of mindfulness and meditation, click here.)
The wonderful thing is that to teach your loved ones how to be mindful does not take long at all, and it can be loads of fun.
I have included three easy mindfulness techniques for various ages. There are heaps more you can try out or just adapt the ideas I have included to suit your child and the specific issue you are working on.
Setting up to learn mindfulness
You don’t need any special equipment. However, I do recommend a warm, quiet and safe environment. Cushions or blankets may be an option for comfort.
Getting buy-in (especially from teenagers)
It may take some work, to convince teenagers, in particular, the value of slowing down, disconnecting from their digital devices and simply breathing.
So here are some tips to increase likelihood of them getting on board;
- Model Mindfulness
We can’t show adolescents the benefits of a mindfulness practice without modelling it ourselves. We don’t always need to be bliss balls, but we should demonstrate our ability to manage stress and respond, not react, to setbacks.
- What’s in it for them?
Teenagers may see mindfulness as completely unrelated to their busy and connected lives. Here are a few research findings that you could share with them:
- Studies show that students who meditate before an exam perform better than students who do not
- Mindfulness practice can improve concentration
- Mindfulness-based interventions have been shown to reduce the symptoms of anxiety, stress, and depression
- Teach Teens about their brain
Adolescents are fascinated about how their brains work. We can teach teens how mindfulness instruction is like getting the owner’s manual for their brain. This TEDx talk by Dan Siegel, author of Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain, has a great demonstration that you can use with teens (or even younger kids) to teach them about the parts of the brain, using their hands as a model.
- Teach Teens about Their Mind
We need our teenagers to understand that for example if we are worried about an exam or test that our anxiety is truly “in our heads.” Our stress comes from our worrying brains ruminating on all the worst possible scenarios – I’m going to fail, mum and dad will be furious with me, I’ll never get into uni, and I’ll never find a job!
When we practice mindfulness, we learn that much of the chatter of the mind is just that: chatter. It’s not reality — it’s worry, it’s anxiety, it’s baseless projection. Mindfulness teaches teenagers to be aware of their thoughts, perhaps labeling them as “worrying.” They can acknowledge fear, without getting caught up in the negative thoughts it generates.
- There’s an App for That!
I realize there’s a bit of irony in recommending apps to practice mindfulness, especially to get teens to practice disconnection from their uber-connected cyberworlds. However, apps such as the Insight Meditation Timer can be a great way to practice mindful breathing. I use the Inner Balance trainer with my clients as a great visual way to becoming mindful.
If at first you don’t succeed…
Some kids, especially those who find it tricky to focus or keep still may only manage a few minutes of intentional mindfulness at first, so just go with the child and up the time as they start to get used to the exercises, and they start to gain the.
Let’s get started
To start, it is important to teach a basic mindfulness process. Try this one for starters;
- Have your child lie down or sit comfortably cross-legged
- Decide on the focus (intention). For this exercise, we will focus on the breath, but it can be looking at your hands, a flower, a soft toy
- Go through the basic process:
Older kids and teenagers:
- Decide what to pay attention to
- Notice. Ask your child to close his eyes and focus their mind on their breathe going in and out and to notice when they are not focusing on the breathing and their mind is thinking of other things
- Accept that it is normal for our minds to wander and they have been distracted
- Dismiss what has distracted them
Return their attention to what they are supposed to be paying attention to
Younger kids you can try the acronym SOLAR
- STOP: Raise hands in a stop motion
- OBSERVE: Put their hands above their eyes and look around
- LET IT GO. Pretend they have a butterfly in their hands and let it go
- AND: Make a plus sign
- RETURN: Walk two steps ahead, turn around and walk back to the start.
Three fun and easy ways to teach your Kids and teens mindfulness
ONE: Mindful Breathing
- Core practise – STOP – LISTEN – BREATHE
Get your child to lie or sit down and take them through the following nice and slowly.
- Close your eyes
- Be still and listen
- Notice how you feel inside
- Pay attention to your breathing
- Breathe slowly in through your nose and out through your mouth
- Imagine the air slowly filling your lungs and belly and then flowing out again. Like a balloon filling up as you breathe in and deflating as you breathe out
- If you think that you are thinking about other things, that’s OK. Just accept it and bring your attention back to your breath
- Notice your belly moving as you take slow belly breaths
- Ask yourself what am I feeling (may need to prompt – happy, sad, silly, scared, frightened, worried, calm. Peaceful)
- Keep paying attention to your breath.
- Continue for a minute in silence (shorten or lengthen as needed)
You may wish to download this Mindful_Breathing script and record a reading of it for an older child to run through it in their own time independently
Please note. Some young children may not have mastered breathing in and out and so working with them on, for example, pretending to blow out a candle and breathing in the scent of a flower to start them learning to breathe on command. Be playful and do this with them.
TWO: Three Senses
A helpful mindfulness trick is simply to get your child to notice what they are experiencing right now through three senses – sound, sight, touch.
Ask them to take a few slow breaths and ask:
- What are three things you can hear? (clock on the wall, car going by, music in the next room, my breath)
- What are three things you can see? (this table, that sign, that person walking by)
- What are three things you can feel? (the chair under me, the floor under my feet, my phone in my pocket)
Think of these answers to yourself slowly, one sense at a time. It’s impossible to do this exercise and not be present and mindful!
THREE: Body Scan
This mindfulness meditation helps bring you more fully into the present moment, by noticing and allowing whatever physical sensations are present in your body.
You may wish to download this Body_Scan script and record a reading of it for an older child to run through it in their own time independently
Tailoring the techniques depending on your child or teenager
The trick is to think about your child or adolescent and what may appeal to them as an individual – as we say in NLP; what is their map of the world?
For example for the mindful breathing you may wish to get you younger child to pop a soft toy on their tummy and feel it rise and fall, a teenager may use their phone. For the three senses exercise, you may get a young child to notice things when they are having a bath – the sound of running water, the feel of the water or bubbles, the colour of the water…. A teenager may check out what they sense when at the beach such as the feel of sand in between toes, salt on their tongue, and the sound of the waves.
You can use any of the techniques above and tailor them to age or interest. If they are into space include rockets, into drawing use painting or art as a vehicle.
Learning more about how Mindfulness can help you and your family
We can all benefit from incorporating mindfulness practice into our busy lives.
I currently use and coach NLP and mindfulness skills on a one-on-one basis (often as part of a holistic approach to a particular health and wellness issue) at my clinic. However, I will also teach a private group or family. So please do contact me and we can discuss your aims and needs further.
Baer, R. A. (Ed.). (2015). Mindfulness-based treatment approaches Clinician’s guide to evidence base and applications. Academic Press.
Greenberg, M. T., & Harris, A. R. (2012). Nurturing mindfulness in children and youth: Current state of research. Child Development Perspectives, 6(2), 161-166.
Perry-Parrish, C., Copeland-Linder, N., Webb, L., & Sibinga, E. M. (2016). Mindfulness-Based Approaches for Children and Youth. Current problems in pediatric and adolescent health care, 46(6), 172-178. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Lindsey_Webb5/publication/298055223_Mindfulness-Based_Approaches_for_Children_and_Youth/links/56e960ee08aedfed73898bee.pdf
Anxiety BC Youth. 2016. Being Mindful. Retrieved from http://youth.anxietybc.com/mindfulness-exercises
Burdick, Debra. 2014. Mindfulness Skills for Kids & Teens: A Workbook for Clinicians & Clients with 154 Tools, Techniques, Activities & Worksheets