Mind­ful­ness for chil­dren: Three easy ex­er­cises to help kids slow down

LIZ CON­NOR speaks to teacher and au­thor Uz Afzal about sim­ple strate­gies to help lit­tle peo­ple har­ness a greater sense of calm and ap­pre­ci­a­tion

Western Daily Press - - WDP3 | Family Health -

MIND­FUL­NESS is a word that seems to be ev­ery­where. From calm-boost­ing apps to anti-stress colour­ing books, slow­ing down and ap­pre­ci­at­ing the ‘now’ has never been more pop­u­lar.

But while most of us know by now how ben­e­fi­cial em­brac­ing re­lax­ation tech­niques can be for adults, what about chil­dren?

Re­searchers have found that mind­ful­ness can have pos­i­tive ef­fects for young­sters too. One 2015 study found that school chil­dren aged 10 and 11 who par­tic­i­pated in a short med­i­ta­tion pro­gram showed im­prove­ments in cog­ni­tive con­trol, work­ing mem­ory and cog­ni­tive flex­i­bil­ity, as well as achiev­ing bet­ter aca­demic re­sults.

Re­search pub­lished in the Mind­ful­ness jour­nal also found im­prove­ments in math­e­mat­ics grades in chil­dren with ADHD, while a study of pri­mary school chil­dren in Korea found that just eight weeks of mind­ful­ness low­ered lev­els of ag­gres­sion, so­cial anx­i­ety and stress.

A num­ber of schools across the UK have al­ready started adding the prac­tice to the cur­ricu­lum.

Mind­ful­ness is a type of med­i­ta­tion where you shift your aware­ness to fo­cus on what you’re sens­ing and feel­ing in that mo­ment. Practising mind­ful­ness can in­volve breath­ing meth­ods, guided im­agery, and other tech­niques to help re­lax the body and mind and help re­duce stress re­sponses. It’s not about ‘switch­ing off ’, but bring­ing your aware­ness into the present.

“I’ve been a teacher for 20 years and have wit­nessed first-hand in­creas­ing stress lev­els among chil­dren,” says

Uz Afzal, a UK pri­mary school teacher who has writ­ten a new book on the topic, called Mind­ful­ness For Chil­dren.

Uz be­lieves that with in­creased use of smart phones, tablets, gam­ing and so­cial me­dia, there’s pres­sure on chil­dren that didn’t ex­ist 10 years ago.

“Liv­ing in a fast-paced ‘swip­ing’ cul­ture means chil­dren can find it hard to stop and be still,” she says.

“The anx­i­ety that chil­dren feel be­fore ex­ams can pre­vent them from per­form­ing well too,” adds Uz, who has wit­nessed how build­ing a reg­u­lar mind­ful­ness prac­tice can help to keep exam jit­ters un­der con­trol. “Practising mind­ful­ness be­fore a test can help chil­dren to calm down, to fo­cus and to ac­cess their higher or­der think­ing skills and their learn­ing mem­o­ries.”

Here, she out­lines three sim­ple ex­er­cises par­ents can use to help chil­dren have a sense of con­trol over their lives, thoughts and feel­ings...

1 BAL­LOON BREATH­ING

“THIS is a re­ally help­ful prac­tice that your child can use at any time of the day to calm down and to fo­cus,” says Uz.

Ask your child to place their hands on their ab­domen. “Tell them to imag­ine that they have a small bal­loon in their belly and that each time they breathe in, the bal­loon blows up, and each time they breathe out, the bal­loon de­flates.”

Uz says your child should feel their belly ris­ing and fall­ing as the bal­loon blows up and de­flates. “As they breathe in, they can say to them­selves in their head, ‘Blow up bal­loon’, and as they breathe out, they can say, ‘Let all the air out’. “Per­haps they can pic­ture the bal­loon blow­ing up and de­flat­ing with each in and out breath.”

You should con­tinue this for about 30 sec­onds to three min­utes, de­pend­ing on the age and at­ten­tion span of your child.

2 EAT LIKE A SCI­EN­TIST

WHEN it comes to meal­times, it can often be a race to eat as fast as pos­si­ble, to the point that we often barely reg­is­ter the process. This ex­er­cise, Uz says, is great for in­still­ing a sense of ap­pre­ci­a­tion in your child.

“Choose a piece of food to share with your child,” she in­structs, not­ing that fruit or dried fruit works well. “Now we’re go­ing to pre­tend to be sci­en­tists. Take a mo­ment to in­ves­ti­gate what your food looks like. What colour is it? What shape is it? What else can you no­tice about the way your food looks?

“Next, let’s use our imag­i­nary mi­cro­scope. Look­ing re­ally closely, can you see any pat­terns or lines?”

You should also both ex­plore the tex­ture of your food by look­ing at your food or touch­ing it. “Take a piece of this food and hold it un­der your nose,” says Uz. “Take a deep breath in. How does it smell?”

Next, put the food on your tongue and use your sci­en­tist’s taste buds to ex­plore fur­ther. “How does it feel in your mouth? No­tice the shape and tex­ture. Does it taste of any­thing?”

At this point, you can slowly be­gin to chew your food, all the time notic­ing how the taste, shape and tex­ture are all changing. Uz says you should keep your child en­gaged, ex­plor­ing their plate in this way un­til all of the food is fin­ished.

3 THE GRATE­FUL GAZE

“THIS next prac­tice is a lot of fun. It helps your child to no­tice what they have to be grate­ful for, wher­ever they are,” says Uz.

“Tell them to take a mo­ment to be still and fo­cus on the breath in their belly. Now ask them to look around the space you are in.

“Wher­ever you are, can they look around them­selves with a grate­ful gaze? Can they name each of the things they can see that they’re grate­ful for?”

When practising mind­ful­ness, Uz says to re­mem­ber to have fun and keep it breezy – the idea is that your child en­joys spend­ing time slow­ing down and doesn’t view mind­ful­ness as an­other thing to worry about on their to-do list.

Do­ing these ex­er­cises to­gether can be a great bond­ing ex­pe­ri­ence and of course, the calm­ing tech­niques are also ben­e­fi­cial for adults, help­ing to ease the stress of day-to-day life.

■ Mind­ful­ness For Chil­dren by Uz Afzal is pub­lished by Kyle Books, priced £14.99. Avail­able now. (oc­to­pus­books.co.uk).

Try eat­ing like a sci­en­tist to help chil­dren fo­cus on their food

Uz Afzal is a pri­mary school teacher and au­thor of Mind­ful­ness for Chil­dren

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