Screens, schedules and stress make it increasingly difficult for any of us to focus. No matter how hard we try, there is always something else begging for our attention. This problem used to be exclusively for adults—we have the most responsibilities to juggle, after all. But now we’re seeing a trend of the same distracted behavior from children and young adults.
To encourage deep focus and balance, more and more families are turning to mindfulness meditation. It’s a simple habit that doesn’t require pharmaceuticals or a doctor’s intervention. There are no unknown side-effects to worry about or special accommodations to be made. Simply put, mindfulness is a practice that can be done anytime, anywhere by anyone.
The purpose of mindfulness is to help be fully conscious of one’s thoughts, feelings and body sensations. In other words, it’s a way to be intentional with our thoughts and present in each moment. Benefits include reduced stress, increased focus, plus a decrease in emotional reactivity and anxiety. But perhaps most importantly, it’s an alternative to medication that you can start immediately.
Jumping right into a mindfulness exercise regimen can be intimidating. We live in a culture of distraction and busy schedules, which can sometimes feel like the only way to live. But the benefits of mindfulness are too great to ignore. To help kickstart your family’s mindfulness practices, we put together a list of helpful tips and resources. They can be used by each family member separately or all together—the only rule is that they must be done consistently.
Practice Mindfulness Before You Need It
Most of us don’t know we need mindfulness until we’re faced with an overwhelming situation. In the middle of an important meeting or a difficult test, we are desperate for a sense of clarity, but we’re just too stressed out to find it. The trick to avoiding that cycle of anxiety is to implement mindfulness well before you need it. Start practicing when you’re experiencing low-stress periods of your life. It’s easier to learn the skills you need to center yourself when the stakes are lower.
This rule applies to kids as well. The earlier you can instill a habit of mindfulness in your children, the better. Of course, we can’t expect toddlers to know how to purposefully sit still for five minutes a day. That looks too much like “time out” to be helpful. Instead, we encourage parents to find tools like activity cards that offer 50 different games and exercises to promote relaxation and focus. Bonding and peaceful family moments—what could be better?
Add Mindfulness into Your Existing Routine
Habits are easier to form if you add them into your current routine rather than trying to create an entirely new one. If you and your family are finding it hard to make time to practice mindfulness, try coupling it with an activity you already do every day. Some find it best to practice a moment of mindfulness right before dinner, after brushing your teeth or as soon as you get into bed. The actual activity doesn’t matter as much as the fact that it triggers a daily reminder to take a few minutes to practice mindfulness.
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Keep A Daily Journal
The most common form of mindfulness is sitting in a quiet place where you can focus solely on your breathing. And while that might be the most ideal form of mindfulness meditation, the most effective is whichever one you and your family can practice on a daily basis. If sitting down in a quiet room doesn’t work for you or your children, you can try other activities that can help you work up to it like a daily journal. Writing your thoughts out for 10 to 15 minutes a day can be a great first step toward mindfulness. More than focusing on a single task, journaling also connects you with your thoughts and helps you identify themes on the days that you’re struggling to find focus.
To start a mindfulness journal, you can use any standard notebook or try a guided notebook designed specifically to help your mindfulness practices. I Am Here Now: A Creative Mindfulness Guide and Journal is a great tool to use if you’re brand new or looking for some new inspiration.
Download Mindfulness Apps
Screens are certainly one of the reasons why so many of us need mindfulness practices, but they aren’t all bad. Some of the best mindfulness tools available right now are phone apps. Headspace, for example, is a guided mindfulness and meditation app that helps you achieve a daily habit. Backed by science and designed by some of the best developers, Headspace programs are built to accommodate any experience level. The app starts you on a free 10-day program and from there you can choose what features work best for you.
If you want a less involved app, many find the Calm app to be extremely helpful. Calm focuses mostly on meditation practices that encourage better sleep, but it also can be used when you feel yourself needing a quick breathing exercise. Downloading a mindfulness app on your most frequently used devices ensures that you’ll never be far from a helpful breathing exercise.
We will review other apps that are more targeted toward children in a later article. For now, try these and see how you can include your child or children in the practice.
As with all things, there is no single correct way to incorporate mindfulness into your family’s life. Whatever combination of habits and tools that work for your family is the right one. The most important thing to stay consistent and enjoy the endless benefits.