I spend quite a bit of my week teaching children’s mindfulness and yoga classes throughout the Dallas-Ft. Worth Metroxplex. Teaching mindfulness to children and teens is one of my greatest passions because I truly believe it is one of the best skills we can cultivate to have more mastery over our emotions. When we are adept at working with our emotions, we are no longer at the whim of our emotions and have more control over our behavior. This creates the space for so much freedom and opportunity in our lives. We can free ourselves from those automatic stress reaction patterns and habits we find ourselves trapped in when dealing with stress. Can you relate to automatically reaching for food to soothe stress or to habitually laying on the car horn when someone cuts you off in traffic or to yelling at your child when you trip over a toy they leave out on the floor? We all have our maladaptive automatic patterns for dealing with stress. They often developed when we were very young. While they may have served us well at some point earlier in our lives, they no longer fulfill that same purpose and can be the cause of much suffering for ourselves and others in our lives. So much of the time, we do not even realize we have these behavior patterns. Through our mindfulness practice, we can become aware of our automatic behavior patterns that have previously eluded us. Mindfulness can allow us to break free from our automatic stress reaction patterns to have more mastery over our lives. And you know what? Children and teens can become aware of this too! How wonderful would it be for our children to learn their automatic reaction patterns to stress and how to free themselves from them? Think of how this could empower them at such a young age in their lives!
I love to use this visual when working with children to demonstrate how mindfulness creates the space for us to respond versus react to the stressors in our lives.
This visual was inspired by the Viktor Frankl quote, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” Our mindfulness practice creates the pause. We have so much more control over our lives than we realize.
So where do we start? Spending a few minutes of practicing mindfulness with your child or teen a day is a beautiful place to start! Children and teens love this bell breathing exercise that I learned from Thich Nhat Hanh! I have seen this practice calm a large group of high energy children! It is wonderful to practice one-on-one with your child as well, and can cultivate a greater sense of connection between you and your child. All you need is a singing bowl, bell, or chime for this practice!
To begin, find a quiet, comfortable place to sit with your child. Introduce the singing bowl/bell/chime by asking your child to close their eyes if they fell comfortable and listening to the sound of the tone. Ask them how they feel when listening to it. You want to ensure that the sound of the tone is calming to your child for this practice. Allow your child an opportunity to invite the sound of the bell.
Invite your child to sit in an upright posture where their spines are elongated towards the sky. Perhaps sitting criss cross on the floor or in a chair. Model this sitting posture. The posture is not what is most important here so allow your child to sit any way that they prefer if they express resistance. As you ring the bell once, invite your child to breathe in, and as you ring the bell again, invite your child to breathe out. Repeat breathing in and out with the bell about three to five more times. Breathing in for two seconds and out for two seconds is often a good rhythm to start. Now offer your child a chance to lead the bell breathing practice! Go along with however your child rings the bell! Offering correction here can interfere with the benefits of this practice. The most important thing is that you are having fun with your child! Allow them to go through this practice three to five times. Now, pause the bell ringing practice, and let your child know that you want to share a way to receive even more benefit from this practice! Teach your child the belly breath. Here is an example of how you can introduce this:
“I want to share with you the belly breath. When we take slow belly breaths, our bodies and minds receives all the oxygen we need to think clearer and feel calmer. This is how you do the belly breath. Place your hands on your belly, and as you breathe in, fill your belly full of air like it was a balloon, and as you breathe out, feel the air empty out of your belly as your belly pulls back towards your spine. The belly breath works best when you breathe in and out through your nose.”
Practice this a few times with your child. Then go through the bell breathing practice again using the belly breath. You can explore deepening the breath by ringing the bell at a rate of 3 or 4 seconds. Find what will work best for your child here. Give your child a chance to lead the practice as well!
This simple practice only takes a few minutes and is a wonderful way to help your child connect to their breath and invite some calmness into their day! Perhaps spend some time after bell breathing taking turns sharing what you are each grateful for that day to promote gratitude and connection!