Our minds are constantly active. You might be watching television – but also thinking about the past, or worrying about the future, or wondering what you’re going to have for dinner.
Mindfulness is focusing your complete attention on what’s happening right now. It’s also letting your thoughts and worries come and go without judgment.
You can be mindful of your internal world – for example, what you’re thinking, how your breath makes your chest rise and fall, or how an emotion feels in your body. Or you can focus on what’s around you – for example, the sun on your skin, the smell of your coffee, or the sound of a bird.
You can be mindful anywhere and with anything. For example, you can be mindful while you’re eating, walking, listening to music or sitting.
When you practise mindfulness, you’ll feel generally calmer, more focused and better able to concentrate. And in moments of stress, you’ll be able to pause, relax, see things more clearly and make better decisions. For children and teenagers, mindfulness can be a way to deal with the stress of study, work and play as they get older.
You can use everyday moments to build and practise everyday mindfulness. The more you practise, the more benefit you’ll get.
You can also encourage your child to build mindfulness. In many ways, this is simply about getting your child to do what they naturally do. Young children are naturally mindful because every new experience is fresh and exciting for them. Older children and teenagers can learn mindfulness.
There are many ways to help your child build and practise mindfulness. For example:
- Colouring in is a great way to get your child focused on a task.
- Walking through nature with the family can get your child interested in exploring the beauty of nature. Your child could collect and examine autumn leaves, or feel the sand beneath their toes during a walk on the beach.
- Taking photographs or drawing something interesting or beautiful – like a sea shell or an insect – encourages your child to look closely at details.
- Looking after a vegetable patch encourages your child to notice how plants grow.
- Listening to music and focusing on the instruments or lyrics is a great way for your child to focus on the present without distraction.
Mindfulness meditation is a highly focused type of mindfulness. It combines meditation, breathing techniques and paying attention to the present moment to help you notice the way you think, feel and act.
You can do mindfulness meditation with an instructor, or you can use a guided mindfulness meditation app.
If you or your child is trying mindfulness meditation, you might sometimes find that you or your child is focusing on negative or upsetting thoughts. It could be worth trying mindfulness with an experienced practitioner. They can help you understand your thoughts and focus on positive things.
Mindfulness: the evidence
There’s clear evidence that practising mindfulness can have health benefits for adults.
For example, studies suggest that mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) can reduce stress and improve other mental health issues. Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) can help people with depression stay well and stop them from getting depressed again. It can work just as well as an antidepressant.
Being ‘present’ and less anxious can boost social skills and academic performance. It can also help people manage emotions. Mindfulness can also reduce anxiety and depression.
There’s growing research into mindfulness for children and teenagers, including both school-based mindfulness group programs and individual practice. The research suggests that regular mindfulness practice and programs:
- work best at helping children and teenagers reduce stress, anxiety and panic
- appear to improve attention and reduce low mood
- can boost children’s and teenagers’ empathy and self-compassion.
Children and teenagers seem to enjoy and appreciate mindfulness activities, and schools are introducing mindfulness-based exercises into their day-to-day routines.