#parent | #kids | How to teach kids to be mindful


Mindfulness can regulate children’s emotions by being more balanced because they are focused on the here and now.
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There are plenty of perks to being a child – no bills, little responsibility. But do you know the worst part? You have no idea what you are feeling. You may lash out and be branded a trouble maker, hide yourself and be labelled shy, or just keep sweating the small stuff because you don’t know that what you are feeling is overwhelmed and sometimes, that’s just as common as breathing.

Unresolved, unarticulated feelings can create a tsunami of rage in a person; in a child, even more so.

The experts believe this is where mindfulness comes in. Mandeep Jassal, Behavioural Therapist, Priory Wellbeing Centre, explains: “Mindfulness is a practical and simple way of noticing things around us that we don’t usually notice. Mindfulness for children can help train their attention back to the present moment which in turn improves their focus and concentration. Mindfulness can also regulate children’s emotions by being more balanced because they are focused on the here and now rather than thinking about the next thing they want to do. It can train children to slow down, manage stress and reduce their anxiety, helping them to feel more positive about themselves.”

Mandeep Jassal

“Mindfulness can also regulate children’s emotions by being more balanced because they are focused on the here and now rather than thinking about the next thing they want to do. It can train children to slow down, manage stress and reduce their anxiety, helping them to feel more positive about themselves.”

Emma Shanahan, Principal, Aspen Heights British School, adds: “When you’re mindful, you’re taking your time; you’re focused in a relaxed, easy way. It is important to have mindful activities in the day in order to re-energise our creative minds, as well as to renew and restore our energy levels for other cognitive tasks.”

When you’re mindful, you’re taking your time; you’re focused in a relaxed, easy way. It is important to have mindful activities in the day in order to re-energise our creative minds, as well as to renew and restore our energy levels for other cognitive tasks.

– Emma Shanahan

How does mindfulness help?

Bonita Smith, Head of Early Years and Pre-K Teacher, Dwight School Dubai, says: “As an Early Years teacher with more than 15 years of teaching experience I can say mindfulness helps kids in the following three main ways:

1. It builds confidence and self-esteem. It allows children to build confidence and create an awareness of self, by implementing the tools they need to establish their own identity. These early tools will assist in building a well-rounded, confident individual.

It creates self-awareness and self-control. Through teaching mindfulness from as young as age three, we are showing students that they are capable of controlling their emotions and the way that they might react to situations. It also allows them ownership of their feelings.

3. It develops emotional language and encourages communication. Through early teaching and learning of mindfulness recognition, students are learning what emotions are, that they are normal, that we all have them, and most importantly that they can be named.

It builds confidence and self-esteem. It allows children to build confidence and create an awareness of self, by implementing the tools they need to establish their own identity. These early tools will assist in building a well-rounded, confident individual.

– Bonita Smith

A recent article by World Economic Forum pointed to the benefits of swapping detention for yoga, meditation and mindfulness lessons in schools. At a Denver school where elementary school children were sent to a yoga class instead of detention, the teachers said that instead of doing lines or math, learning yoga helped kids learn about how anger feels in their body. And consequently, they could name and release that feeling.

Studies published in the international ‘Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology’ point to mindfulness reducing stress in children. The practice of inculcating mindfulness was introduced in the UAE a few years ago – and schools have effectively used it to help children whether they are studying in face-to-face or online modules. Thirteen-year-old Sara Hajjiri, from Kings Al Barsha, recalls an exercise she did in class. “They gave us this one activity I remember really well. They gave everyone an M&M and they made everyone put it in their mouths and they then told us to eat it slowly … it stood out to me the most because it reminded us to take every day slowly and not rush. Most of the time when we forget I think back… I think as school people, sometimes we have to remember to not get overwhelmed with the work, especially with the exams and lessons, and we need to remember to take a break.”

Her sister, Leen, confirms that the mindfulness exercises they do – including yoga – have helped her stay centered. She says: “It helped me a lot because normally when a test is coming up or we have an overwhelming amount of homework, which happens frequently, yoga helps me calm down and take things more slowly.”

The kids (16 and 10) were online earlier on and again this term so far it’s been online again, so the school is taking a lot of initiative – they have wellness seminars, we have a list of counsellors and between periods the kids would tend to do a couple of yoga exercises, or breathing exercises.

– Deepali Tulpule

Indian expat and mum-of-two Deepali Tulpule credits her kids’ school, Gems Modern Academy, for taking change of their mental health. “The kids (16 and 10) were online earlier on and again this term so far it’s been online again, so the school is taking a lot of initiative – they have wellness seminars, we have a list of counsellors and between periods the kids would tend to do a couple of yoga exercises, or breathing exercises. They also had certified yoga and meditation coaches coming in and talking about how to keep themselves focused because it’s not easy for them to look at the screen for five-six hours, which is what the kids were doing. Then they had all these mindfulness techniques that they shared. The school took care of a lot of things.”

At Aspen Heights British School, says Shanahan, “You might see adults engaging in group activities with children; yoga, breathing activities, or observing and interacting with our school animals – our chickens, newly hatched chicks, tortoises, terrapins, Giant African snails, and a hamster. In addition to these timetabled adult-focused activities that are planned for, each classroom has a ‘Mindful’ area.

“Since setting up these mindful areas in the classroom, teachers have noticed the increasing maturity of those children who decide to take themselves to the area at certain times during the day.”

“Since introducing these thoughtful spaces in our classrooms there has definitely been an improvement in many children’s ability to regulate their emotions more independently, and their social interactions have been more positive,” adds Clare Quick, Head of FS2, Aspen Heights British School.

Rashmi Nandkeolyar, Principal of DPS Dubai, says mindfulness exercises in classes are factored into the time-table and student-led. And besides these, emotional freedom technique (EFT) exercises are done by students – guided by teachers – before stress-generating moments such as exams.

What is EFT?

US-based WebMD explains: “Emotional freedom technique (EFT) tapping has roots in the 1970s when several doctors began stimulating acupressure points to help their patients deal with stress, fear, and phobias. One of them, patented by Dr Roger Callahan, is called Thought Field Therapy. Later Gary Craig simplified the process and made it available to the public under the EFT name.” Tapping procedures can differ slightly, but most use these locations: the heel of the hand, three locations around the eye, the area below the nose, the area below the lips, the collarbone, the underarm, and the top of the head. From seven to nine taps are delivered on each spot, adds the website.

Smith says that at Dwight, the children are taught mindfulness starting from Pre K. “There is a ‘calm corner’ with soft light, sensory toys, and visual cards showing various emotions. The teachers encourage recognition of feelings and emotions and touches on these daily. By using songs, games, and breathing exercises, through role modeling and play, the teacher can show what these feelings and emotions mean. The students are then encouraged to use the calm corner when they feel too overwhelmed to participate in an activity or perhaps have too much energy.

Activities to try at home

Maria Tansey, a UAE-based life coach, says, “One or the key elements to helping cultivate mindfulness – is definitely starting young…as early as possible, at three or four years old.”

And one of the chief ways to do it is by helping them understand their emotions. “There are some helpful exercises that can be employed such as investing in an ‘emotions mat’, which allows children to learn the different emotions that are all illustrated on the mat, and have the ability to express themselves this way and be ‘aware’ of their emotions. This helps them learn how to ‘respond’ rather than ‘react’ and to be aware of things that can trigger them.

“Painting is another excellent activity to help children become even more mindful – especially when the child is encouraged to paint their feelings or their emotions.

“In the age of technology, children can also be influenced by certain apps such as ‘Calm’ and movies such as ‘Inside Out’, which help children understand their emotions and what’s going on in their head and why they might be feeling lots of different emotions all the time,” she says.

Fatene Layache, Executive, Leadership and Personal Life Coach, says: “Kids have big emotions in little bodies, thus teaching them about mindfulness at a young age and including this practice in their day-to-day activities goes a long way towards a well-balanced society.

“There are lots of ways to practice mindfulness, beyond breathing exercises. Some include noticing and naming body sensations, thoughts, and emotions. ‘What do you notice in your body right now?’ is a simple question that you could start asking your kids to reflect on. As a parent, you can pause, tune into the five senses, and share what you notice with one another during a doctor’s appointment or in the grocery checkout line.

Show, don’t tell

“At the end of the day, “What we focus on grows!”, so if we included mindfulness in our kids’ daily lives, this practice will grow and they will learn to be mindful adults.

“Finally, always remember, that “kids see, kids do”, i.e. kids model parents behaviors, and not their words. As parents, if you are going to meet your child’s emotional needs, you want to make sure that you are meeting your own. Be mindful about your emotions and your triggers, get curious about yourself, foster self-awareness and be true to who you are as a person.”

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