A young Latino boy spreads his arms in joy.

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Foster Resilience: Teaching Mindfulness to Children

Stop and smell the jasmine. Live in the present. Focus on what’s important. Picture yourself nailing that pirouette. These are all things we tell our kids to do – even though we may have trouble doing them ourselves. But what do they mean if we stretch beyond the clichés? What mindset and values are we really trying to instill in our children? It’s all about being mindful.

Tune In: Whether daydreaming or preparing for a show-and-tell presentation, children (and adults) can pay attention to their thoughts, feelings and senses with an open mind and heart. In “Building Resilience in Stressed Kids using Simple Mindfulness Techniques” Dianne Maroney defines mindfulness as “focusing your awareness on the present moment; calmly noticing your emotions and physical sensations without judgment as you are doing whatever you happen to be doing. You can be mindful as you do just about anything from sitting quietly and breathing to drawing, eating or playing in the sand.”

Benefits include improved immune function, concentration, self-acceptance and self-control. It can decrease stress and help children manage challenging situations. “Mindfulness creates resilience because it promotes an understanding of one’s emotions, the ability to control emotions, and a deeper sense of knowing what we are fully capable of,” states Maroney.

Parents can weave practical activities into daily routines even for young children “to help them cultivate resilience and develop and refine their mindfulness practice as they mature,” according to mindful.org. “Teaching mindfulness to kids can also help shape three critical skills developed in early childhood: paying attention and remembering information, shifting back and forth between tasks and behaving appropriately.”

Neighborhood Safari: Take an adventure walk together to observe the clouds, listen to the woodpecker, smell the gardenia. Pathways.org also recommends engaging indoor activities on breaks from homework, before bed or when anxious. At mealtime, family members can discuss how they felt during the day or any mindful activities. “The goal of mindfulness is to improve awareness of experiences, thoughts and feelings and help your kiddos relax when they begin to feel overwhelmed.”

Focused Fifteen: The Imagine Project suggests 15 minutes for timeless activities like doing a puzzle, chasing bubbles, researching a country or reading a book and discussing characters. Or together cook up some Quaker chocolate chip energy bites and analyze each ball’s flavors and texture. Positivepsychology.com encourages children to describe emotions. “Does anger feel like they’ve got steam coming out of their ears?...Validate emotions. Children often respond with frustration or sadness when told that their pain, however trivial it seems to us, is ‘not a big deal.’”

Inhale the Moment: Mindful.org offers several conscious breathing exercises to calm the nervous system like having little ones put a favorite stuffed animal on the belly and watch it move up and down, rocking it to sleep. Or on each exhale consider “ something that went well today.” And encourage simple kindness like making a get-well card. “It’s important that we model this way of being in the world and include them in these acts as often as possible…These small or large acts are the essential healing agent within the family system, our culture, and the world.”