Like adults, children and youth can benefit from the healing and transformative power of mindfulness too.
Learning how to cope with stress and manage difficult emotions can set young people up for a healthy adulthood. Mindfulness can help us cope with (and release) stress, manage physical pain, illness and mental health challenges, and enjoy life more.
Knowing the benefits of mindfulness, it is easy for adults to want to press the importance of it upon their child. However, an overly preachy or high pressure approach can backfire - and could even close the door for youth being willing to try it. The good news is, we can plant a powerful seed of mindfulness in our children, by starting with ourselves first.
Preach what you practice
Children - and youth, in particular - have a powerful “BS-meter.” They sense when adults tell them to do what the adults are not doing themselves. This is true about many things like social media use, healthy sleeping and eating, substance use, and yes, mindfulness practice. This ends up being a barrier for young people to try any well-intentioned advice that adults might have to offer.
The most powerful way to offer mindfulness to our children isn’t to tell them “You should try meditation.” Instead, when you develop, role model, and embody your own mindfulness practice, you open a door to mindfulness for your child or youth. Your practice doesn’t need to be perfect. When you show vulnerability and imperfection, you actually demonstrates respect and authenticity.
In the right situations, you might consider gently and lovingly inviting your child to practice with you. For example, before starting to eat dinner as a family, you might say, “I’ve had a really tough day. I’d like to just stop and take a few breaths, so that I can be as present with you as I want to be. Maybe we can sit quietly and take a few deep breaths together. Would that be OK with you?”
If you are new to mindfulness, try adopting an attitude of curiosity and offer to explore it with your child, as partners, learning together. You could say something like, “I don’t know much about mindfulness, but I hear it’s really helpful for when people are stressed and when people are in pain. That sounds like something that would be really good for me because I get stressed. And I also think this could be great for us as a family. Can we check this out this together?”
Make it relevant
What motivates your child? What are they passionate about? What concerns do they have in their life already? When it comes to mindfulness, start there!
Your child may be motivated (or stressed) by sports, or school, or their peers. They may be passionate about antiracism, or social justice, or climate change. They may struggle with anxiety, depression, or another health condition. Whatever your child is experiencing, there can be a role for mindfulness.
For example, mindfulness can help athletes and performers stay calm before a big competition, and focus during their activity. It can improve memory and concentration at school, and improve relationships and connection with others.
There are examples of mindful athletes, activists, artists, teachers, and scientists that could be role models and inspirations. For example, if your child likes sports, you can talk about how the Toronto Raptors were “mindful champions.” If they like music or movies, you could mention famous people with mindfulness practices.
We know that youth listen to other youth more than adults sometimes, so hearing about mindfulness directly from another teen could be powerful. They may be interested in watching this short video below or reading a blog: A Teenager’s Experience With Mindfulness.
Planting seeds and practicing together
Your child may not be interested in mindfulness right away, and that’s OK. You can plant powerful seeds with your own mindful example and gentle encouragement. Your influence may be greater than you realize. The foundation will be there for when your child is ready to grow their own practice – even if you can’t predict when those seeds might bloom into mindful flowers.
To water the seeds of mindfulness in your child or teen, gently offer age-appropriate resources, and invite your child to practice with you.
For younger children:
- Watch the Alphabreaths video clip or read the book out loud, and try the playful breathing exercises with your child.
- Try an activity-based mindfulness game for the whole family, like these activity cards from Susan Kaiser Greenland.
- Gift them a book like The Mindful Teen, and you may enjoy reading it together!
- Introduce the tech-savvy youth (which is most of them!) to our free BC Children's Breathr app, and try some of the practices together. These practices can be done anytime, anywhere – waiting for the bus, eating a snack, preparing for a test.
- Share a mindful moment in your day with your youth – what situation did you bring your awareness to? How did you feel?
When you offer any resource, be gentle and do not pressure them. Remember to lead by example and “walk the walk, not just talk the talk.”
Empowering mindful youth to lead
One common myth is that mindfulness is individual, solitary and self-absorbed. However, accepting the present moment does not mean ignoring or minimizing problems in society that cause pain and suffering.
There are many people who have used mindfulness to effect social change, like the Vietnamese Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh who brought mindfulness directly into his activism to end the Vietnam War. He formed a great friendship with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Many young people are very aware of deep societal and systemic challenges such as racism, discrimination, and climate change. They have a deep sense of values and justice. We can share with them that mindfulness can help them develop the resilience to cope with the stress of these challenges. It can also help them develop the clarity and compassion needed to create deep positive social change in a nonviolent and sustainable way.
We can even share an authentic and personal story from our own experience. For example, we might share an example about how mindfulness helped us to handle a conflict, communicate in a way that was more aligned with our values, or even just avoid making a situation worse.
Mindful youth will heal the world!