The Importance of Promoting Mindfulness to Our Children

Many times as a child I remember being taken outside to “get some fresh air”, or “enjoy the garden” – essentially to stop and smell the flowers. Much later, as a parent and teacher, I have repeatedly used this strategy, particularly when the mood was a bit low or fractious.

This approach of redirecting our mind, energy or mood, has a name – “mindfulness” and while the practice of mindfulness has a long and rich history to strengthen and promote mental wellness, it’s regained favour in recent times.

Practising mindfulness includes mind and body activities such as meditation, attitude shifts, ways of thinking, breathing exercises, yoga, gratitude, nature walks, colouring, art, dance, and music, and showing kindness to others and animals; these are all beneficial for our health and wellbeing, particularly for our tamariki.

That’s why at Save the Children, we’re dedicating October to encouraging mindfulness. Alongside Peppa Pig and Twinkl, we’ve developed more than 50 free online resources and a virtual children’s yoga event to help support mindfulness practices in young children as a means to combat rising anxiety levels amongst New Zealand’s children.

From daily photography challenges to nature walks, stretching and breathing exercises to calming strategies for ECE, the tools can be used in the home or classroom.

The impact of Covid-19 has sharpened our awareness of the importance of good mental health for our children. All over the world children have been impacted by lockdowns.

In fact, new analysis by Save the Children, using data from the Oxford Covid-19 Government ResponseTracker, reveals that children globally have lived under various levels of enforced lockdowns for an average of six months – or 184 days since the Covid-19 pandemic started in early 2020.

Children in Venezuela have faced one of the longest periods at home, with intermittent lockdowns keeping children inside for up to 16 months, while in Lebanon, children were confined to their homes for 418 days. Across Zimbabwe, children were in lockdown for nearly nine months this year alone. And currently in New Zealand, children in Auckland are still in the midst of lockdown restrictions.

As our family demographics change and sole child families become more common, lockdowns can be particularly challenging for young children that are used to regularly playing with other children in ECE or school settings. This is also a time of development where children are naturally active but have short attention spans, and a lack of play with friends and other caring adults can lead to feelings of loneliness, boredom and low moods.

Children who are missing their friends and active ECE schedules can be supported through mindfulness activities that are active, or calming, or focus the mind on their surroundings.

A nature walk is an example of one of these activities. Using a mindful approach, the adult and child are more interactive and focused on enjoying the natural surroundings together. This approach includes, asking your child questions to guide their senses: “we are outside in the sun and the fresh air – what can you smell? Take deep breaths, how does the air feel on your skin – warm or cold? What can we feel, the bark on the tree, the grass between our toes? What can we see – the colours of flowers, the shapes of clouds?”

Research has found that brief exposures to nature while being mindful of the surrounding natural environment may help offset some typical stressors that contribute to negative mood. So, although this activity will not necessarily mean our child will not miss playing with their friends, it does provide an engaging experience that supports them to feel calm and be present in their natural surroundings.

Understanding the benefits of mindfulness as adults can support us to promote and practice mindfulness with our children. Instead of worrying about how we can entertain our children or distract them from their worries, try shifting the focus to how we can be mindful together and work on strengthening mental wellness.

As author Eckhart Tolle puts it, “wherever you are, be there totally”.