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18th Oct 2018

Mindfulness for children: How exactly do you master it?

It can boost mental wellbeing.

Lorraine Lynch

“It’s like emptying your brain, so there’s nothing left in it.”

As a psychologist at Sugru Child Development and Contextual Play Therapy Services, I engage with families from all over Ireland dealing with issues from prenatal woes to teenagers needing extra coping strategies.

We employ the most up-to-date research in positive parenting research to forge a new way for parents to learn how to promote holistic well-being in their home.

So, while we learned what mindfulness was yesterday and how it can be beneficial for adults, it’s fascinating how amazing children are at bringing their minds to this natural state with very little effort. Really.

However, when you really think about it, children have an advantage over us because they don’t tend to dwell on the past or fret about the future. They also have a natural curiosity about the world around them which allows them to attune to every single new thing.

Over the last decade, there has been a marked decline in the amount of time children spend playing outdoors and interacting with nature, with a concurrent increase of engagment with technological devices.

As a result, more children seek instant gratification and can’t attune to the present in the same way. Unfortunately, these statistics are associated with worrying mental health figures of our young Irish population, with anxiety, depression, eating disorders and suicidal ideation all on the increase.

Our role, as caregivers and healthcare professionals is to curb this increase by teaching children the skills to prevent negative thought patterns and build resilience.

The benefits of mindfulness are undeniable but how can this be taught to young children?

We begin our classes by teaching children about the concept of what mindfulness is by using concrete examples – it’s like emptying your brain, so there’s nothing left in it.

We begin to feel our bodies in different ways by embodying different animals and objects, for example, heavy, heavy, fat, fat elephants walking slowly slowly around or really, really light feathers dancing and almost floating through the air. Progressively, we become smaller, quieter and more relaxed until we come into the foetal position with our heads down on our two hands – this is the baby lion cub position for the children. This process brings energetic boisterous children into a peaceful relaxed state within twenty minutes, and is the beginning of a process whereby they will eventually be lying on their backs doing body scans, deep breathing and creative visualisation.

In the last class, we engage in art therapy where children are provided with an array of materials with which to create their peaceful place. They are encouraged to take their masterpieces home with them for their bedrooms so they can practice their deep breathing and come back to this mindful place whenever they want to.

From courses that we run within schools as part of the curriculum and as after-school classes, we have seen first-hand how children develop from the first to the last class. Children often report that their brains feel “fuzzy and empty” afterwards, which is how you know you’ve reached an optimal mindfulness state. Overall, parents and teachers generally report improved psychological well-being and social adjustment during and after these courses, which is just one link in the chain to holistically enhance families’ lives.