~ awake in this moment, at home in the world ~

Growing Mindful Kids

May 30, 2012
Plant seeds of mindfulness in your child's life, and you may be surprised how beautifully those seeds bloom. Kids are naturally primed for thoughtfulness and care, and this interest can be cultivated through simple practices sprinkled into your family's daily life. Give a few of the following practices a try the next time your family needs an infusion of love and understanding.

Sprinkle your day with blessings and simple reminders to be present and grateful.  When you arrive at school with just a few moments to spare, sit in the car together and take a few deep breaths (or "mindly breaths" as my son used to call them), and wish each other a happy day. My family was inspired to do this by Susan Kaiser Greenland, who wrote The Mindful Child, my favorite book about mindfulness for kids.

Include simple rituals at mealtime and bedtime, too.  Create an after-school routine that helps everyone transition happily back home. Craft a mealtime grace or toast that can be recited every night. Create your own family blessing or prayer that embodies all you love, and recite it together just before bed. These small acts of intention and care can help ground your family's busy days in happiness and peace.

Be generous with hugs and other expressions of care. When my children were young, every family member had the inalienable right at any time to call out, "9-1-1, I need an emergency hug!" Regardless of how busy, angry or sad the other family members were, they were required to shower that needy family member with hugs and kisses. Try it in your family and see what happens. A group hug can change the mood of a room instantly. And offering this safety net of unconditional love can help kids manage their fears and worries with greater ease and faith.

Practice 100 acts of kindness. Try this in the days leading up to Valentine's day, or any time your family needs a little lift. Commit to practicing "random acts of kindness" toward others in your lives. Keep a list, if you like, or hang a cut-out heart in your kitchen for each tender act. Or, set up a "Change for the World" jar. Collect your family's loose change in a bowl or jar in a visible place, and when it's full send the amount off to your favorite charity.

Talk about feelings often. Sometimes drawing pictures together, discussing struggles at school, or listening to music can help lead to a discussion about emotions. Talk about what tender feelings might have been brewing just beneath the surface of someone's confused behavior, or try to imagine how others might have felt when facing challenges or delights in their lives. This helps kids understand that all life comes with ups and downs, and that there are healthy ways to manage them.

Grow a Thanksgiving tree. Try this just before Thanksgiving or any time you need a little more gratitude in your life. Draw or create a sculpture of a tree without leaves. Create colorful leaves emblazoned with words or pictures of people, places and things your family is thankful for, and hang a new leaf each day. You might love your thanksgiving tree so much that it becomes a permanent fixture in your home!

Practice yoga or meditation together. It’s no longer difficult to find books and online offerings about tailoring these practices to kids. These practices help cultivate emotional and physical balance, and they offer healthy outlets for the emotions and energy kids carry with them. Kids love to move, so why not put that urge to good use?

Make family prayer flags. Inspired by traditional Tibetan prayer flags, make some of your own. Include words that inspire your family to be mindful, thankful and kind. How about  peace, love, share and savor? A slightly more spontaneous - and less labor intensive - approach is to scatter written reminders in random and surprising locations all around the house.

Read books of all kinds. Kids love a good story and there are plenty of good ones that help foster emotional and mental wellbeing. Studies have also shown that reading about the stories of others - even fictional ones - helps cultivate feelings of empathy, thoughtfulness and care, in both children and adults.

Practice sharing "friendly wishes" for others. This variation on traditional lovingkindness meditation, crafted by Greenland and shared in her book, invites us to hold a person in our heart and send them wishes of happiness, health and wellbeing. It offers both kids and grownups a way to incline their hearts toward others, and also offers a potent answer to that question of, "What can we do?" when someone we know faces is struggling. Your family will likely feel better when you send out friendly wishes - either secret or out loud - to those around you. And who knows, your wishes may help others feel a little better, too,