Conscious Parenting 101

Published on February 20, 2017

Article by Elizabeth Hurchalla for Bodhi Tree

Meditating, doing yoga, even just consciously taking time for a cup of tea on the back porch—these are things many of us learned to do in adulthood. Recognizing the benefits that such practices bring to our lives, we’re often eager to share them with our kids. But teaching children to be mindful can be a tough sell, as mindfulness cannot be forced. That said, there are things you can do to encourage your kids to be self-reflective and live in the moment, starting with these nine pointers.

9 Ways to Inspire Mindfulness in Children

  1. Look at yourself first.

“Kids will watch us much more than they listen,” says Rachel Donaldson, LCSW, a Los Angeles–based psychotherapist who’s certified in mindfulness-based stress reduction. If you’re trying to encourage your children to be present, but you look for your keys and answer an email in the middle of playing Go Fish, something’s going to get lost in translation. “When you manage stress and get in touch with your own emotions, you’re teaching mindfulness,” explains Donaldson. Remember that next time you’re stuck in traffic with your offspring in the backseat.

  1. Slow down and mirror your kids.

Try taking a cue from your children to help yourself be more present. “Young kids are naturally mindful. They pick up a leaf and touch it and say, ‘Look, this is red!’” notes Donaldson. As much as possible, “cultivate your kids’ natural curiosity,” she says. Then slow down and match your kids’ focus and presence rather than always hurrying to the next thing.

  1. Meditate around your kids.

“I have a picture on my desk of my three-year-old granddaughter imitating me meditating,” says Ba Luvmour, headmaster of the Summa Academy, a school in Portland, Oregon, that supports the emotional, social, physical, intellectual and spiritual growth of its students. “But you can’t go to them with an agenda and say, ‘[You] need to meditate,” he cautions. Just model meditation and “they’ll play around with it, which is exactly what they should be doing.”

  1. Stay open to whatever clicks.

“I had been a mindfulness educator for years,” shares Donaldson, who’s also a yoga teacher and mother to three, when she tried to teach her son meditation. It was a “disaster,” she says. Instead, she found he responded with a body-scan ritual (see below). At bedtime, she engaged in this loving-kindness practice, wishing herself wellness and happiness and health, then turning toward her son, rubbing his back and silently wishing the same things for him. “He instantly calmed down,” she says. “Notice what kids are curious about and work with that, rather than ‘how can I teach you this technique?’”

  1. Be playful.

Mindfulness isn’t about meditating for 20 minutes a day; it’s about paying attention to the present moment throughout the day. So instead of thinking of it as another task you have to add to your family’s schedule, make it fun. For example, at the park, “ask your kids to lift their arms over their heads and feel their feet on the ground,” suggests Donaldson. Or at the breakfast table, “put a timer on the table and invite everyone to try chewing a mouthful of food for 30 seconds,” says Luvmour.

  1. Ask what they’re grateful for.

At dinnertime or bedtime, ask your kids what they’re grateful for, Donaldson suggests, and share what you’re thankful for, too. Whether it’s religious or not, a gratitude practice encourages mindfulness.

  1. Try a pushing exercise.

For example, “you can do person-to-person yoga postures together, or have your child lie on their back with their feet in the air while you lean forward against them,” advises Luvmour. “Try letting your child push against you—only offering resistance, never acting as the aggressor—then say, ‘Whoa!’ and [let your child win].” That physical connection can help emotions move through the body, Luvmour reports. Finally, ask them how it feels—after all, mindfulness begins with noticing.

  1. Embrace quiet time.

If you have some set family quiet time (say, before dinner), everyone can reflect and recharge. You might also give a journal to older kids, who are developing their self-awareness, an important aspect to mindfulness. “Journaling is an opportunity for insight for all ages,” says Luvmour. “Personal stuff will come up—their parents’ divorce, insecurity about their age. Ultimately, it’s not about the events in their lives; it’s about who they are and how they participated in the events.”

  1. Ask what they notice—and narrate for them.

“Noticing and empathizing brings awareness to what’s happening in the present moment,” says Donaldson. “For example, notice sounds and name what they’re hearing. Or you might say, ‘I notice your face is turning red—are you OK? Are you hot?’ That’s self-reflection, and awareness of what your body is doing is critical to wellbeing. In positive and not-so-positive moments, give them a moment to self-reflect.”

How to Perform a Body-Scan Meditation

Here’s how Rachel Donaldson did a body-scan meditation with her son when he was young. If your child shows an interest in meditating, try it.

  • Take a couple of breaths. Feel your body on the bed. If you want, close your eyes.
  • Pretend you have a flashlight. Shine the light on your feet, noticing your toes, letting whatever’s there be there. Say, good night to your toes.
  • Take your awareness up to your feet. Send your feet gratitude for standing all day. Say good night to your feet.
  • Now up to your ankles…. And so on.

“The meditation goes much more quickly for kids than adults,” says Donaldson. “By the time I got to his belly, he’d usually be asleep, but sometimes he would make it all the way to the top of his head. The idea is to invite curiosity, gratitude and kindness, allowing whatever’s there to be there, and then saying good night.”

Sharing ways to become more mindful gives children tools to live calmer, happier lives. Although they may not respond to every technique, you’ll likely land on some that work for them, and those that don’t will give you an opportunity to focus on your own mindfulness practice—noticing, accepting, then letting go of your own expectations. After all, modeling mindfulness is the best way to guarantee that children grow up to be mindful adults themselves.


child riding horseback on woman

Published on: February 20, 2017

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