In a busy world, where time always seems to be ‘of the essence’, we are all straining to be effective parents, productive professionals, and happy to boot, it’s no wonder that sometimes our patience snaps and our tolerance wanes. But who then is at the end of our frustrated outburst or our annoyance? It’s often our children or the children in our care.
Now the question here is not about us controlling our own outburst or exasperation, (albeit desirable) but rather, what are we teaching our children when this happens?
Children learn by copying. They observe, they copy, and then learn from their own experiences of copying what we do – good and bad. So when we all push ourselves to the brink of collapse (often physically and mentally), with no time or space to breathe easy or release our tensions, children will pick up on this, and eventually try to emulate us. They think it’s important to get everything ‘right’ and to be ‘perfect’. And we all know what an elusive and impossible master that can be!
What can we do to redress this balance and teach our children that it’s ok to just ‘be who they are’; to spend time sitting quietly with their own thoughts; and to experience the world in a different way? We suggest trying yoga, meditation or mindfulness.
What are they?
Yoga is an ancient form of physical, mental and spiritual practice about revealing the true essence of our being. It originated in India thousands of years ago, but is not considered a religion; it’s rather a philosophy, in which the practitioner uses certain techniques such as controlled breathing, stretching and poses to understand themselves and the oneness of all things better. There are different branches of yoga that put emphasis on different techniques.
Meditation is one branch of yoga in which you quieten your mind and just observe what is left when you remove all the ‘mind chatter’. It is a simple practice that you can do almost anywhere in order to clear out the clutter in your head and find an inner calm.
Mindfulness could then be said to be an extension of meditation in which, having quieted your mind, you then take control of your thoughts and your attention to focus on the moment; observing and experiencing it fully. The Greater Good Center at Berkeley, have an easy-to-understand definition:
“Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment, through a gentle, nurturing lens.”
Benefits for children
These practices have been shown to have many benefits for adults and children, including: 1,2,3
- Boosting the body’s immune system
- Increasing suppleness and strength
- Reduced negative emotions, anxiety and stress
- Changes in areas of the brain linked to learning, memory, emotional-regulation and empathy
- Improved sleep patterns
- Reduces behaviour problems and aggression
- Increased sense of self
How to start meditation, mindfulness and yoga with children
Unless you are a practising yoga teacher, you might think it is difficult to start helping children to meditate or learn yoga, but you’d be wrong. Of course, there is a place for having a dedicated yoga teacher to come into your setting and share their experience and knowledge with your children, and if you can arrange that on a regular or one-off basis, then that will be a great way to start.
But there are also many simple ways that you can use to introduce these practices into your setting. Here are 3 short exercises to get you started.
Yoga: move and pose
One way to engage toddlers in stretching their bodies and beginning yoga poses, is to get them to pretend to be animals. Many yoga poses themselves are based on characteristics observed in animals. You could ask the children what kind of traits they think certain animals have, such as a cat (suppleness), a tiger (strength), a snake or cobra (curling and twisting) and then ask them to show these traits with their bodies. You can then build these into the real yoga poses.
Ask the children to sit or lie down quietly and focus on their breath coming in through their nose, filling their tummies so their tummy rises up; and then blowing out through their mouth. You can do this to slow counts; in for four counts and out for four counts. Remind the children that their tummies should rise up like a balloon when then breathe in and go down/deflate like a balloon when they breathe out.
Ask the children to sit or lie down quietly and try to listen to every sound in the room. Guide this by pointing out different things e.g. a fan, the hum or a radiator of the ticking of a clock. Just spend a few moments really listening to and focusing on each sound, then move on.
You can do the same with areas of the body. Get the children to listen for their heartbeat and then to sense how their feet feel, or how their hands feel on the floor etc. The purpose is to get them to consciously focus on individual things one at a time, without judgement.
Continuing and building on your practices
Once you have run a few sessions, expand on your practice by either inviting a yoga teacher in, or researching and building on things. One of the best ways to help children is through stories and children are naturally drawn to stories, and they often want to act out or physically engage with them. The website kidsyogastories.com has some great information and resources especially designed to help teach yoga and mindfulness to toddlers. You can even start with the babies in your setting too.
For more resources and ideas, visit: www.parenta.com/ymm-resources
- Start slowly
- Lead by example
- Use some guided meditations to start with
- Connect to ideas/concepts they understand – e.g. cats stretch, snakes curl, trees stand still
- Do not expect children to be perfect meditators – just plant the seed and let it grow.