Mindfulness has become a trendy word that is used to describe everything from yoga exercises to colouring activities. It can be hard to find a simple way to explain it, especially to children.
This is how I explain modern secular mindfulness to both kids and adults. I try to keep it simple.
How to explain mindfulness to young kids:
Mindfulness is simply… noticing what is happening right now.
Mindfulness is taking notice of how your body feels and what you see, smell and taste. Maybe you even feel emotions in your body, perhaps through a tightness somewhere, or a good sensation.
Mindfulness is also noticing what your mind is doing.
What happens when you start noticing these experiences?
When you notice what is happening around you, you focus more deeply, and that attention to your own senses will help you improve in diverse areas of your life.
Improved focus can help you achieve at higher levels in sports, school or music. It will help you score higher on tests, too. We always do better when we’re able to pay attention to what we’re doing, right?
But there’s more…
When you notice what is happening around you, it can help you to calm down when you’re sad, angry or frustrated. Mindfulness helps you deal with tough emotions, and mindfulness can make you happy and feel good.
Would you like to try it out? I would!
That’s a great way to start talking about mindfulness with younger children.
How to explain mindfulness to teens:
When talking with adolescents, you could simply expand on the previous explanation and say that mindfulness is a basic life skill that can benefit us in many ways.
A popular way to put it is to say: mindfulness is about paying attention in a particular way – on purpose, in the present moment and without judgment.
The non-judgment part means that we simply have an experience without contemplating if the experience is good or bad. By doing this, we develop more self-awareness, emotional balance, and impulse control. It’s about recognising our inner and outer experiences and understanding how they affect our well being.
How does mindfulness work?
We tend to be reactive. For example, when someone says something we don’t like to hear, we react. Sometimes we say something that we would like to take back the moment after we blurt it out. Or we are knocked down by a heavy emotion and it can take days to bounce back, sometimes even weeks.
Mindfulness helps us create space between a strong emotion and our actions. We learn to deal with positive and negative experiences more calmly and by making better decisions.
When we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings, we can respond in a more clever way, without hurting our own feelings or the feelings of others.
As we create more emotional balance, we are less easily knocked down by our emotions, but in moments when we are knocked down, we bounce back faster.
Pretty awesome, isn’t it? Most adolescents deal with strong emotions, and mindfulness skills can really make a difference. Now that you know more about mindfulness, would you like to give it a try?
What is the goal of mindfulness practice ?
“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space lies our freedom and power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom” – Victor Frankl
Mindfulness helps us sustain our awareness more often and for longer periods. We can begin to practice mindfulness by adding many brief moments of awareness into our lives on a daily basis.
This awareness comes with lots of benefits.
Here are some of the good things mindfulness can bring to your life:
- Mindfulness helps us create space between the emotions we have and the actions we use to respond to them.
- Mindfulness helps us focus.
- Mindfulness can make us feel better emotionally and physically.
If you need studies as proof to practice mindfulness, you’re in luck: thousands of studies have documented the physical and mental health benefits of mindfulness. Benefits such as;
- decreased stress and anxiety,
- improved health,
- better sleep,
- improved focus and awareness,
- better problem solving,
- improved impulse control,
- increased compassion and kindness,
- stronger relationships,
- and even higher life satisfaction.
Wow, now that’s an impressive list! :) Did you know that studies have shown that practicing mindfulness, even for just a few weeks, can bring a variety of physical, psychological, and social benefits?
Before we start believing mindfulness is a panacea, it’s important to point out that mindfulness is not the silver bullet that will solve every problem.
Even if we practice mindfulness, we will still experience difficult feelings and mental chatter. However, with mindfulness, we can change our relationships with our emotions, thoughts and negative self-talk.
We don’t have to believe every thought we have, or be knocked down so often by our emotions. Sometimes we can let our thoughts drift by and then disappear, just like a cloud in the sky.
Here’s one more fun definition. A friend of mine says mindfulness is… like being the best possible parent to yourself. Present, gentle, attentive, compassionate and grateful for each moment. I love that definition.
I hope this short introduction will help you communicate the idea of mindfulness to your family.
Please share how you would describe mindfulness, and if you’ve found a good way to communicate with children about mindfulness, be sure to tell us!
May you be happy and healthy!
Chris Bergstrom is a dad who is thrilled to practice mindfulness with his son. He is trained by Mindful Schools to teach mindfulness to students in K-12 (but not associated with MS) and a member of the American Mindfulness Research Association. He’s also an executive consultant, and has taught meditation for more than 10 years.