By Guest Blogger: Rhiannon Landesberg
I teach yoga and mindfulness practices to over 200 students a week at the River School in Washington, D.C. This class gives students as young as 2 years old tools to connect with their breath, bodies, and feelings through music, movement, stories, and relaxation. My curriculum allows students and teachers the opportunity to pause and breathe. To stop and notice. To listen and feel.
I often ask my youngest yoga students, “What does it mean to be mindful?”
“Mindful is when you pay attention to right now,” one of my first graders responds. “Like your mind is full of just right now.”
Studies show that mindfulness training leads to structural changes in the brain. It can enhance attention, awareness, impulse control, and executive functioning skills. It helps cultivate compassion and overall well-being in both children and adults.
Witnessing the effects these practices have not only on the well-being of students, but also on teachers and parents, has been particularly rewarding. I often hear stories from parents and teachers about how their student or child used deep breathing as a tool to self-regulate in a difficult moment or how they practice yoga poses at bedtime when they are feeling anxious and can’t settle.
In the busy world of having a child, it might feel like there is never enough time. Between school, activities, meals, and everything else that family demands, the stress of everyday life can be overwhelming for parents, and that stress is often compounded in children. We all need space where we can just be - without expectations. Bringing mindfulness into your home, even in just small, bite-sized ways, can make all the difference for your child’s social-emotional development and overall well-being, not to mention your own! Here are four tips to keep in mind when introducing mindfulness to your child:
Make space for peace
Making a peace corner (or any small space dedicated to your mindfulness practice) can be a special activity that you engage in with your child, while also introducing mindfulness in a fun way.
Your peace corner can be adorned with favorite things that bring you joy, such as a plant, a rock, a stuffed animal, or your child’s favorite books. This is a place where you or your child go when you need to re-focus or re-set. You can discuss what peace means to each of you. Color, read, take deep breaths with a breathing ball or meditate with a DIY mind jar. These are all ways to make your space extra mindful!
There is often a misconception that mindfulness=happiness. Mindfulness is the awareness of our range of emotions and the ability to feel and experience them all without judgement. We should be teaching children that it is not shameful to have uncomfortable emotions like sadness, fear, or anger. It is about how we deal with them that matters. The practice of labeling emotions can help your child process them easier. When we label an intense emotion like fear or anger as it arises, it begins to lose its power over us.
Ahn’s Anger is the story about a little boy who learns how to sit with and befriend his anger. As he welcomes his anger, his anger grows smaller and smaller until it disappears. I love this book because it has allowed me to have such enlightening conversations with children about how anger feels in their bodies, minds, and hearts. Giving children the tools to talk about and manage their emotions in a healthy way, without judgement, will empower them for life.
A grateful heart allows us to remember and celebrate the good things instead of dwelling on the bad. A gratitude practice can increase feelings of happiness and well-being for both you and your child. Studies show that gratitude enhances our sense of empathy, mental strength and self-esteem.. A simple gratitude practice is an amazing tool to introduce in to your daily conversations with your kiddo.
You can have this conversation in the car or on the bus, at the dinner table, or even make a gratitude jar for your home. Everyone can contribute something, and when you or your child are feeling down, pull out a piece of paper as a beautiful reminder of all of your many blessings. This practice will surely bring joy to you and your child.
It’s great to have your child participate in drop-off group activities and sports, but make sure that you are carving out time to cultivate a love of movement that includes both you and your child.
Take a walk in nature, plant a garden, do a race for charity, have a living room dance party or practice these fun yoga and partner yoga poses. Not only will these make for positive connections for a healthy love of physical exercise, it will fuel your endorphins, relieve stress and serve as an incredible bonding experience for all.
A mindfulness practice can set your child up with physical, emotional and mental strength to navigate life’s challenges with confidence and resilience. In addition to your child’s social-emotional development, your well-being will be enhanced and you will see the world in a more compassionate way. Taking the time to pause and breathe, stop and notice, listen and feel, move and be still with your child are simple, yet powerful ways that you can begin to harness the magic of mindfulness.
Rhiannon is a child, family and adult yoga and mindfulness specialist based in Washington D.C. For the past seven years she has been sharing her love of mindful movement in schools as well as partnering with a number of non-profit and community organizations. She is passionate about getting tools for health and well-being in the hands and hearts of people of all ages and backgrounds.