Troubleshooting Mindfulness With Kids And Teens
Here’s how you can help kids and youth when they feel like mindfulness practice is not working out for them.
Tell them that it’s normal. It is. We live such hyperactive lives these days that sitting still for 60 seconds can feel like a daunting task. There are so many ways to practice that I’m sure you’ll find something that feels less boring. Try walking activities or playful sensory awareness activities instead of sitting meditation to get used to mindfulness. Then add sitting practice. Start small with 60 seconds or less and later build upon it. Also, noticing that they feel bored is being MINDFUL. So congratulate the child for noticing just that. This is a great way to start a discussion about emotions and feelings. And how mindfulness helps us recognize and deal with them.
“I don’t like it.”
Ask them what it is exactly that they don’t like about it. It’s easy to adjust the setting (go outside) and their position (lie down instead or take a mindful walk). Sometimes, when we notice the content of our thoughts, we can become anxious. This can happen during mindfulness practice as well. We are more aware of our inner life when we practice, and if we’re sad or anxious, we will be aware of that, too. Keep your practice light and the sessions short when there’s resistance. Don’t force anything. Go for something playful and active. Sitting still and listening to your mind is revelatory. It’s a little bit like turning on the light and experiencing your life and mind as they are instead of the way you want them to be. If you are in denial, that might pop up. If you are unhappy, you will notice that. If your kid has trauma or PTSD, you should be sure to discuss it with a healthcare practitioner and a mindfulness teacher or a therapist who has experience with this.
“It doesn’t work.”
If a child has tried mindfulness before and it’s been hard for them, they might have started with something that has been too challenging. Sometimes sitting meditation feels hard, and when that happens, I always recommend trying something else like playful sensory awareness exercises. There are so many ways to practice mindfulness that when one approach doesn’t work, you can try something else. Explain that, and try something that is more active, such as a mindful walk or eating mindfully (instead of sitting with eyes closed). When they learn that mindfulness does work, they will be more interested in sitting practice, too.
“I don’t like being watched.”
Some might feel embarrassed or vulnerable sitting still with their eyes closed. This is normal and okay. Find a private place for them, and try letting them practice alone. Tell them that it’s okay to keep their eyes open (for example, with a soft gaze if they want to). A lot of people practice exactly like that.
Ask them what it feels like doing the activities and why they think it’s stupid or difficult. Try to get an active discussion going so that you can help them with whatever it is that is challenging for them.
“It’s a weird religion.”
Mindfulness is not a religious practice. Similar techniques can be found in most religious and contemplative traditions globally, but, in our context and when it is used in health care, mental health, and education, it is not.
“I can’t do it.”
Ask them why they think they can’t pull it off. Tell them there’s no one right way to do it. Some believe they are failing if their minds don’t quieten down. Quieting the mind is not the goal of mindfulness practice. Sometimes the mind is quiet, sometimes it isn’t—we simply notice what our minds do. Some think they have failed because they can’t access positive feelings off the bat. Mindfulness takes practice; we train our brains the same way we train our bodies during sports. We plant seeds of positivity that will grow over time. By trying several different exercises and different approaches, you will likely find something that works for both of you. You can also remind them that they are already mindful at least during some part of their day. That mindfulness is a normal human ability. The next time they are being mindful, help them notice it. Maybe they were paying attention to something closely. Perhaps they were paying full attention during sports or listening to a friend. Maybe they ate something and enjoyed it. Maybe they were enjoying their favorite song or were engaged with their pet. Ask them how it made them feel when they were mindful like that. Mindfulness practice gives us more of those wonderful moments.
“I can’t focus because my mind is so full of stuff.”
That’s okay, minds wander; it’s what minds do. Explain to them that mindfulness practice is just about that—noticing what our minds do. Mindfulness practice teaches us to take sensations directly and to let go of the inner commentary. We learn to let go of the chatter, instead of engaging with it. When we practice, we give our minds a much-needed break, and we can feel better. But it takes some practice to teach our brains to take this break. Start with short sessions and engage their senses through sensory awareness activities. Ask them how they feel during and after those exercises. They might just be surprised by how focusing on their senses (smell, taste, touch, sound, sight) can make the inner chatter less noisy for a while.
“It’s not worth the time.”
Explain the potential benefits, and ask them if there’s something that they think could be of use to them. Maybe there’s some area in life that they could improve with mindfulness skills (academia, sports, arts, hobbies, friendships). Help them picture a viable end result, how mindfulness skills could assist them to make a positive change in their lives. What could that be? Be careful not to overpromise, but make them curious about the possible benefits. Finally, tell them how mindfulness has benefited you or someone else they look up to. You can add that you think it’s worth spending two to five minutes a day in practice so that the rest (1440 minutes) can become much more enjoyable. Would they be willing to invest a few minutes in order to set themselves up for improved focus, less stress, and a more positive outlook on life? To be able to pick themselves up when feeling bad or focus at will to perform better when they want to succeed? Explain how just a few minutes can improve their mood and possibly the whole day.
I hope you enjoyed these ideas.
May you be happy & healthy,
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Chris Bergstrom is the founder of BlissfulKids.com and a dad who is thrilled to practice mindfulness with his son. He is a certified mindfulness facilitator, and trained to teach mindfulness to students in K-12. He’s also an executive consultant, and has taught meditation for more than 10 years.