Learning about mindfulness can be a huge benefit to both nannies, parents and kids. The idea that our brain is constantly changing throughout our lives means that our sense of happiness, contentment, and meaningful living, can be transformed through how we experience the present (Shapiro, 2020; Eysenck & Keane, 2015).
Mindfulness is a term we hear a lot today and it can be especially helpful to children. It is the human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us. That means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment, through a gentle, nurturing lens. The goal of mindfulness is to wake up to the inner workings of our mental, emotional, and physical processes. Mindfulness involves acceptance, meaning that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them—without believing, for instance, that there’s a “right” or “wrong” way to think or feel in a given moment. When we practice mindfulness, our thoughts tune into what we’re sensing in the present moment rather than rehashing the past or imagining the future.
Power of Mindfulness
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), research suggests that, despite not being fully understood, the benefits of mindfulness come from its ability to help us “dial down the body’s response to stress” (American Psychological Association, 2019, para. 10). The benefits of practicing mindfulness include:
- Increased focus, attention, self-control, compassion
- Improved academic performance, ability to resolve conflict, overall well-being
- Decreased levels of stress, depression, anxiety, disruptive behavior
Mindfulness has been linked to 2 core social-emotional skills: self-regulation and self-awareness.
Mindfulness exercises can be used to teach children how to recognize and label their thoughts, emotions, and actions as well as how to react in a positive way to advance their social-emotional development. Here are several ways to teach these concepts to children.
This exercise is designed to teach children to monitor their heartbeat and breathing. It helps them become aware of how their body feels in the moment.
- Have your child place their hand on their heart and ask them how it feels. Have them count their heartbeat for 15 seconds.
- Next, ask the child to count their breaths for 15 seconds.
- Ask the child to jump or run for one minute.
- Repeat the heartbeat and breath counts. Discuss how they have changed (the heart is beating faster and there are more breaths) and then talk about why this might be happening.
This teaches children the core components of mindfulness through the acronym STOP. Let the children know they can use this is many areas of their lives whenever they feel overwhelmed. Discuss each STOP component and then give the children a real-life example of how this can be used – for example, how can they use this if they get scared in a thunderstorm.
- S: Stop. Whatever you’re doing, just pause momentarily. Ignore the storm.
- T: Take a breath. Re-connect with your breath. The breath is an anchor to the present moment. Focus on your breathing and slowly count as you inhale and exhale.
- O: Observe. Notice what is happening. What is happening inside you, and outside of you? Where has your mind gone? What do you feel? What are you doing? Verbalize what is happening and how you are reacting.
- P: Proceed. Use the information gained during this check-in to change course. Understand why you are experiencing these feelings and how you can control your reaction.
One easy way for children to dip their toes into mindfulness is through body poses. To get children excited, tell them that doing fun poses can help them feel strong, brave, and happy. Have the kids go somewhere quiet and familiar, a place they feel safe. Next, tell them to try one of the following poses:
- The Superman: this pose is practiced by standing with the feet just wider than the hips, fists clenched, and arms reached out to the sky, stretching the body as tall as possible.
- The Wonder Woman: this pose is struck by standing tall with legs wider than hip-width apart and hands or fists placed on the hips (Karen Young, 2017).
Ask them how they feel after a few rounds of trying these poses. You may be surprised. You may want to take pictures of the various poses and ask the children what other poses make them feel positive about themselves
This activity can teach children how strong emotions can take hold, and how to find peace when these strong emotions feel overwhelming.
- Make a snow globe type device. Fill a clear jar about ¾ full of water and add a large spoonful of glitter and glue. Put the lid on the jar and shake it to make the glitter swirl.
- Tell the child: “This glitter is like your thoughts when you’re stressed, mad or upset. See how they move all over and make it hard to see clearly? When you’re upset – because you’re not thinking clearly – it’s easy to make silly decisions. This is normal and happens to everyone.
- Place the jar on a hard surface and watch as the particles fall. Then say, “Now watch what happens when the jar sits still for a couple of moments. See how the glitter starts to settle and the water clears? Your mind works the same way. Deep breaths can calm us and help us settle when we feel a lot of emotions. When you’re calm for a little while, you can see things much clearer. This will help you make better decisions.”
This exercise helps children learn about how their emotions can cloud their thoughts and facilitates the practice of mindfulness while focusing on the swirling glitter in the jar. You can give the child examples like anger or fright and walk them through calming exercises.
The Safari exercise is a great way to help kids learn mindfulness. This activity turns an average, everyday walk into an exciting new adventure. Tell the child that you will be going on a safari: their goal is to notice as many birds, bugs, creepy-crawlies, and any other animals as they can. Anything that walks, crawls, swims, or flies is of interest, and they’ll need to focus all of their senses to find them. As you begin the walk, discuss what you see. Then ask them to stop and do the following
- Close their eyes and identify what smells they detect. There could be flowers, freshly cut grass or even dog poo.
- Open their eyes and look up – list what they see.
- Next have them look down and list what they see.
- Close their eyes again and concentrate on what they hear – birds singing, cars passing by, other children laughing.
- Open their eyes and look to the front, right and left and describe what they see – trees, cars, houses, people.
On the way back, talk about all the things they noticed and how then expand on their experience and become more aware of their environment.
There are a lot of applications for mindfulness in everyday life that can help you and your child to become more mindful and aware. How children think about themselves, how they feel in different situations and how they react in various situations can be improved through mindfulness.
If you are a nanny interested in getting comprehensive training on how to care for children, check out the Professional Nanny program at the Nanny Institute.