When I was 11, my family and I decided to ditch the American hustle and move into an RV to travel the world.
I spent all of my teen and tween years hiking, rock climbing, jumping into alpine lakes, experiencing different cultures, and I loved it.
But it also made me a black sheep.
When we changed lifestyles, I had a few close friends with whom I would hang out. But the more I was traveling and experiencing new ways of living, the more ostracized I felt.
My peers didn’t know how to accept someone so different from them. Being a teenager who wasn’t into high school gossip and prom is confusing to people.
Instead of just ending our friendship, I allowed it to become toxic. We would hang out and I accepted that I would be treated differently (not in a good way). I began to believe I wasn’t good enough; that I didn’t deserve to be heard, and that being myself was wrong.
I lost my voice. I forgot how to express myself.
Being unable to express ourselves, especially as children, is almost unbearable. And for years, even after I stopped being friends with my friends, I still felt insecure and unable to express myself.
But I learned a skill that changed that and retaught me to be confident, expressive, and authentic: mindfulness.
I started practicing mindfulness from a young age. After seeing how impactful it was for me to grow up as a mindful child, it inspired me to start my career as a children’s mindfulness coach at the age of 16.
Think about this: when did you learn about mindfulness? Imagine if you had learned the things you now know about yourself when you were 15 years old, 10 years old, or even eight years old. This realization made me decide to take the leap into entrepreneurship and share what I’ve learned with other children, so they, too, can become confident, creative, expressive, and reflective.
Teaching children mindfulness has been a growing trend over the past few years, but I’ve seen so many misconceptions around it at that time.
So, I decided to share my top dos and don’ts for teaching children mindfulness:
1. Don’t limit their mindfulness practice strictly to yoga and meditation. Do have dance parties.
Practicing mindfulness is practicing awareness of everything, right? So why can’t children’s mindfulness practice include painting, hiking, singing, baking, play, fighting, or tumbling? The sky is the limit. Mindfulness isn’t limited to yoga or meditation; there are millions of ways to teach children mindfulness. My favorite way to get them interested in practicing mindfulness is through dance parties. Get some of their favorite music on—maybe even some strobe lights, and dance!
Depending on how naturally expressive your child is, they might want to do a solo dance party or invite the whole family. Either way, dance parties are a great mindfulness practice because they help your children express themselves, be vulnerable, and become more aware of their bodies.
After the dance party, ask them the following questions, or have them write their answers in a journal:
>>How did you like your dance party?
>>What was your favorite song to dance to, and why?
>>Did you feel expressive?
>>Did it feel uncomfortable to express yourself like that?
2. Don’t make meditation boring. Do use hot chocolate, tea, prompts, music, and crystals in meditation.
Even adults struggle with getting themselves to sit down and meditate for 10 minutes. So, how can we expect children to do that? But don’t be discouraged because meditation is one of the most powerful things we can get children (or anyone) to do.
The only rules of meditation are not to move or talk while sitting. But you don’t have to sit for a certain amount of time, sit in a certain way, or even be in complete silence. When you incorporate some fun tools into your teaching practice, children will fall in love with meditating.
Make them a cup of hot cocoa or tea to drink while meditating, give them some prompts that encourage mindful awareness, get a good ambient playlist that intrigues them, or crystals that are helpful.
*Crystals may be a choking hazard for younger children.
3. Don’t force them to sit and meditate, or stretch from the get-go. Do find their creative outlet first.
While meditation and yoga are great mindfulness practices, children don’t necessarily need to be mindful and we can even avoid these entirely, to begin with. Instead, help them find their creative outlet.
Creativity naturally encourages mindfulness and is approachable for children. Help them find a way to be creative every day. Creativity can be many things and isn’t strictly painting or singing. It could be climbing, biking, dancing, writing, or cooking—anything that allows them to have fun in the creating process and to express themselves.
4. Don’t encourage them to be mindful while you aren’t. Do practice mindfulness yourself.
Practice what you preach. If you would love to see your children become mindful, work every day on being mindful yourself.
Find a practice that works for you and apply it consistently. Another tip to note is sharing what you’ve learned in your practice as well. Treating children as equals will help you open a more mindful dialogue and create a better relationship with them.
5. Don’t just tell them to breathe. Do ask them engaging questions that help them practice awareness.
While reminding your children to breathe or pause for a second can be helpful at times, asking engaging questions will improve their self-awareness.
If your child is dealing with hard emotions or is even getting too excited, help them to be mindful by asking them questions that encourage them to understand themselves more, like:
>>Why do you feel this way?
>>Could this emotion be helpful to you?
>>What caused you to feel this way?
Be sure to treat them as equals in these moments to some degree, and don’t go into full “parenting mode,” as it might cause your children to shut down or try to control things instead of learning.
6. Don’t focus on one topic or tool in mindfulness. Do introduce many different subjects and tools in the realm of self-awareness.
The best way to get your children to hate mindfulness is to stick to one practice and not give them diversity. While I believe you should have one consistent practice, limiting them to only one will make them feel like mindfulness is an obligation they must do rather than a growing experience that can be fun.
I recommend giving them a taste of all mindfulness practices to see which one they love. Show them journaling, meditation, yoga, dance parties, and mindful painting.
7. Don’t ignore negative emotions or topics. Do embrace and help them work through negativity and discomfort.
The point of mindfulness is to learn to embrace all aspects of life. In modern-day mindfulness practices, there’s an unhealthy stigma that we should focus on the positive. While focusing on the positive is good to some extent, we need to talk about negative emotions and uncomfortable topics when they come up with children. These feelings are important to pay attention to because they hold our biggest discoveries, and will help children the most with being happy. When children can learn to embrace discomfort and negativity, they will learn how to deal with their emotions with more ease, grace, and flow.
8. Don’t practice mindfulness every once in a while. Do one consistent practice.
Mindfulness is like exercise; it needs to be done consistently for its effects to work. Find what mindfulness practice your children seem to enjoy the most and make it consistent, whether it’s journaling, meditation, or yoga. Ideally, you want to aim for a daily practice, but when first starting to teach your children mindfulness, make it a consistent weekly practice that works best for both of you.
Once you apply these tips to your children’s mindfulness practice, it is going to make mindfulness easy and fun for them to learn.
Everyone needs mindfulness. It isn’t exclusive to those who have jobs or are of a certain age. If anything, teaching children how to be mindful is the most important skill in the world. When we teach children how to be mindful, we are teaching them to be confident in who they are, and not to allow others to dictate their self-expression.
It is a skill that will set their entire future up for success.