“Heigh-Ho Heigh-Ho” to Mindfulness We Go…
Seven fun, musical ways to teach your children mindfulness.
Teaching our children how to be mindful has been added to our list of important things to do as parents in this hyper-paced generation of over stimulation and endless activity. With the constant bombardment of technology at an ever increasingly young age, parents are looking for ways to help their children stay calm and focused more than ever.
In times past, being mindful or present was something we kids did naturally simply by running around outside with our friends, creating games in our back woods, playing in the dirt barefoot or catching slippery big-eyed toads from the pond deep in the woods behind our homes. Kids just don’t get to do that anymore and we find ourselves having to teach them how to be mindful and present moment focused. A lot of the stress and anxiety we see in children these days is sadly caused by the inability to be present in the here and now. They are worried about when will they earn some “technology time,” how many people liked their post or how much extra time mom will let them play Mindcraft after school.
|Meet Carrie at the 2022 Natural Living Expo Saturday morning, November 12, where she will be performing live at the expo entrance beginning at 9am.|
So, what is mindfulness? “Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally,” says Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and the Center for Mindfulness at UMass Medical School. “It’s about knowing what is on your mind.”
Mindfulness is being in the present moment with what you are doing and aware of your current state of mind, rather than rehashing the past or imagining the future. It also involves accepting your thoughts and feelings without judging them as right or wrong. Increased attention, emotional regulation, planning and prioritizing are some of the positive side effects children experience when developing mindfulness.
As with anything else, parents are the most important teacher in a child’s life. The best way to teach mindfulness to your children is to model the behavior yourself by having your own daily practice. Even if it is just a few minutes a day, developing your skill set will help you operate in mindfulness more often, aligning you more deeply to yourself so that you will be able to connect more with your kids and everyone else around you.
Model mindful thoughts by speaking them aloud to your children. Sharing your inner dialogue when practicing your own mindfulness strategies serves as an example to help kids create their own healthy inner dialogue. For example, when encountering a stressful situation, you might say aloud, “I am feeling a little upset about this situation, but I’m going to take a moment to breath before I say anything else.” Openly accepting your own feelings in front of your children, (especially when it’s a feeling we don’t like) will make a huge impression and inspire them to handle their own emotions in the same fashion the next time they experience it in the future. You might say something like, “Wow, that really made me feel mad and I can feel my body starting to get tight and I want to yell, so I’m going to take a moment to walk outside and take a big gulp of fresh air until I feel my body calm down.” Sometimes it’s hard to do this in the moment when emotions are high, and discussing it after the fact has a powerful effect as well.
The blending of music and mindfulness is as natural as the perfect harmonic sound of birds joyfully singing in the back yard. Music naturally decreases stress, anxiety and blood pressure, while raising our self-awareness and level of compassion for others. Pairing music with mindfulness training is the perfect way to keep it simple and fun. Here are seven fun ways to teach your children to be mindful using music.
The breath is the most important part of teaching mindfulness. Put on some music that is calming to your child and have her lie on the floor with her favorite stuffed animal on her belly. Show her how to breathe in and count 1, 2, 3 and breathe out 1, 2, 3 and watch the animal go for a ride up and down. Psychologist Daniel Goleman calls this, “training of the attentional circuitry…that helps them focus not just on what the teacher (or parent) is saying, but this same circuitry helps them manage their distressing emotions.” Helping your child with this attention training by gently bringing the mind back when it wanders also provides self management training. By adding music, your child learns that music is not only for fun and dancing, it can also be for relaxing and learning. Lori Lite describes this type of breathing in her lovely book Sea Otter Cove that teaches kids how the otters do this. Musical breathing is a great addition to bedtime routines for little ones that are restless, overactive, and need help calming down at the end of the day.
Five Senses Mindfulness Meditation
Use the five senses to get your child to tune into his body, which calms his mind. Start with calming music in the backdrop; classical is always a good choice. With eyes closed, ask your child to listen to the noises around him. What does he hear? He can say them in his mind or aloud depending on his age. Younger children like to interact during this, which is fine. Allowing whatever comes up without judgment is mindfulness. Then ask him what he smells, offering an example of something you smell in the air. Continue through the senses offering examples of what your experience is in the current moment, which may be the feel of the cold floor on his bottom, or the cool breeze in his hair. This is a great way to teach your child about his senses and how to feel his body. It brings everyone into present moment awareness, which is where true peace resides.
Drawing On Emotions
It’s fun to invite friends and cousins in for this one. Get some white drawing paper. If it’s a big group of kids, use one of those big rolls of paper and roll it out on the floor. Give each child their own pile of crayons. Pick different songs or pieces of music that have varying tempos and emotion, and include some classical pieces as well, which tend to have the most interesting results. As you play the different types of music, talk with the kids about how it makes them feel, and then have them draw what that feels like on the paper. This pulls the children into the present moment awareness of how they are feeling while allowing them to see that other kids may feel the same way or may feel something different, nurturing empathy and compassion.
Freeze And Feel Dance
Play varying tempos of music for your child while she dances around until you pause the music with a “freeze” command, then get her to tune into her body sensations. What is she feeling? Ask her to put her hand on her heart to feel the rhythm and to tune into how her breath is moving after dancing, as well as any other sensations she may feel. Try loud, soft, fast and slower music as well.
Listen For The Horns
Help your children identify the different types of sounds and instruments in a piece of music, which hones attention skills and, if practiced enough, can lead to better listening in a classroom setting or wherever there are multiple distractions competing for their attention. You may want to start with their favorite songs and gradually move on to some classical music. If you are not sure yourself, listen to some solo tracks with your kids of one instrument playing, and then try to identify them in the music together. Take them to see an orchestra or the local band playing at the high school to practice this skill some more. Tuning into one specific thing is what mindfulness is all about.
Write Your Own Gratitude Song
Teaching your child to foster a sense of gratitude and appreciation is a skill that will enhance his life for years to come. One way to help him recognize what he is grateful for is to have him create his own gratitude song or a special family song that’s all your own. Pick a tune he knows to another song, like “Old MacDonald” or a popular song on the radio, and rewrite the words. Keep it simple and funny. Then remember to sing it to him again and again so he knows it. Pull it out when he is feeling down or needs a little pick me up. Kids are much more apt to remember things you sing versus just using words. You will be surprised at how much singing this familiar song with a positive message can perk up your child’s mood or get him to tune in and pay attention before you want him to perform a specific task.
Musical Calming Jar
Fill a mason jar with hot water and glitter glue (you can also use a plastic container for younger ones). When you shake the jar it is similar to a snow globe and represents the flurry of the mind when we are upset, over-stimulated or worried. After a few moments of breathing deeply, the jar and the child both calm down. Once you have your jar made, add some music. Begin by playing one song that is exciting and perhaps overly loud while shaking the jar. Change to a mid-tempo song to let your child feel the start of calming, and end with a song that is quieter and soothing as the sparkles in the jar start to settle into stillness, just like your little one. Have your child pretend she is the sparkles falling to the bottom of the jar. You’ll be amazed at how fast she will settle down when the quiet, relaxing song comes on.
As with learning any new skill, repetition is the mother of all skills. The reason it is called a practice is because we need to keep doing it over and over. Kids love repetition as evidenced by the number of times you have probably read the same books again and again at bedtime. Repetition feels good to them and makes their brains feel safe and happy. By using music as a tool for calming and soothing you set up a healthy and safe environment for children to learn to relax. Allowing them to choose which is their favorite way to practice being mindful increases their locus of control and therefore their feelings of self-assuredness and safety. Over time, this will set a lovely tone of sweet harmony in your home so you can attune more to the rhythm of a joyful family.
Carrie Rowan is an award winning singer/songwriter, author, edutainer, and founder of the popular Bee Kind Music and Calming for Mommy classes that educate while they entertain children and adults. Her passion is combining positively charged music with energy medicine and mindfulness to spread joy while healing and soothing souls of all ages. Visit www.merrygomusic.com. Meet Carrie at the Natural Living Expo Saturday morning, November 12, where she will be playing live at the expo entrance beginning at 9am.