Guest post by Haley Roth, owner of FLY Yoga Arts and FLY Learning Arts. Haley works with schools nationwide to bring mindfulness and movement into the classroom. She also teaches a course on Mindfulness for Educators at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Find attention and inspire gratitude!
The “thwack” as the cereal hits the wall, the screams as you unmute your Zoom window, the tantrums, the toy piles, and the sleep training…
Mindfulness for little ones may seem like a special superpower gifted only to a select few. After all, toddlers and babies barely have the capacity to manage their physical bodies, how could they possibly manage their emotions or gain control of their thoughts?
I’ll be straight with you - they can’t yet!
I often hear parents gripe: “Oh my kid could never do that - they don’t even sit still!” Or “I can’t believe that kid is so calm and peaceful - mine is not.” But what if I told you that Mindfulness can aid in you and your child’s wellbeing at any temperament and any age, and teach them to celebrate and appreciate the world around them.
Developmentally, children of a young age are just beginning to explore the boundaries between self and others. This can express itself in the constant “No!” or “Mine!”; in the tendency to seem intolerant of others’ needs and spaces; in the struggle to let go of or share their favorite things and people. These are all normal benchmarks in the discovery of a healthy ego.
Young tots don’t yet have a clear boundary of “my emotions,” “my thoughts,” or “my impulses.” They just roll with them like a steam engine down a hill! While it may be a frustrating phase for parents, leaning into your child’s natural energy and excitement, while introducing the concepts of attention and gratitude can transform even the most difficult moments with understanding, appreciation, and celebration.
Mindfulness = presence.
When we think of Mindfulness, we often envision meditating yogis sitting down, being quiet, and gaining control of their thoughts or feelings, but this is far from the reality of what Mindfulness is or how it works with little ones.
Mindfulness is a state of radical presence that is linked to higher reports of happiness and wellbeing. In a Harvard study by Dan Gilbert and Matthew Killingsworth, researchers linked happiness to the presence of mind, concluding “a wandering mind is an unhappy mind.”
This is how I see it.
Presence can infuse the mundane with appreciation and joy the way tea leaves infuse ordinary water with flavor and depth.
The great news is that young ones are steeped in this sense of fascination easily and often. After all, how long does it take you to travel with your kiddo down a block? Most of us might conclude that our child isn’t paying attention when that couldn’t be farther from the truth. They’re paying MORE attention to everything, which keeps them from paying attention to walking from point A to point B :)
So let’s lean into the gifts your child naturally has, and show them how mindfulness can help develop the power of attention, encourage and create a practice of gratitude (just in time for Thanksgiving) and bond you together in a sense of wonder.
Three free + easy ways to help your family joyfully practice mindfulness.
*A Precaution: Mindfulness practices are best practiced as “habits”, while in the car or laying down for a nap or play session. These are preventative practices that help with big emotions (and not always so helpful to try out right in the middle of a fit). Once you and your child have developed a regular way to name and practice these techniques, the more likely they are to work in the tough moments.*
One thing that unites us, at any age, is the syncopation and pace of our breath. Not only does it allow us to regulate our nervous system when agitated or stressed, but it gives us something to focus on when our thoughts and feelings begin to overwhelm us. Doing a simple counting breath together (in for 1-2-3-4 + out for 4-3-2-1), while listening to the sound of the breath, helps parents Co-Regulate with their children, and gives us all a quick, easy tool that is always with us.
Practice + listen now; to hone even GREATER attention (while enjoying some uplifting music) I’m also sharing with you a FREE sneak preview into a song and exercise that helps hone attention in kids as young as 2 years old and as old as my great-grandma. Straight off the soon-to-be-released Harmonious Universe, the song “Find Attention" guides us to focus on our breath, our bodies, and our perceptions, leaving us with peace, joy, and focus.
Connect: Describe or talk about physical sensations + feelings.
After listening to Find Attention, make the bond even stronger and brighter by asking “what do I feel like after practicing?” With babies, you can sing or describe some of your feelings to them (even if they aren’t yet verbal) and with tots, you may ask what their bodies feel like.
Do any parts of the body feel hot? Cold? Tingly? Itchy? Sleepy? Awake? Get to know how you (and your child’s) body feels when practicing mindfulness so that you can better pick up on physical cues and needs. This could open the door to talking more about feelings and understanding what “feeling” words are in your child’s vocabulary (angry, sad, happy, hungry, zoomy) so you can better regulate and relate to them in stormy moments.
Share in the Wonder: Create, appreciate + celebrate gratitude.
My absolute favorite way of practicing mindfulness with young ones is to create with them. Remember, meditation and yoga are not the only ways to find radical presence. Practices with music, art, and storytelling ignite a sense of beauty and wonder. You might take a mindful walk together and stop to state appreciation for things that sparkle. You may find that taking photos or making up stories light up your child’s sense of wonder. Whatever you create, express gratitude for the beautiful, funny, and fun things that they make.
If you need ideas, check out this free downloadable colorable Mandala (crayon holders) and Mad Lib (for ages 3-up). Share in some favorite colors, favorite things and find grateful peace together.
Gratefully and ever after.
Remember, the key for young kids is modeling your behavior and the ways you hope they will behave. Practice together to start, and these practices can radically transform the way your child views you, views themselves, and views their world.