SHARING MINDFULNESS WITH CHILDREN AT CHRISTMAS
'WRAPPING UP CHRISTMAS WITH MINDFULNESS'
Christmas and New Year are a time we like to review the past and plan for a better future. Part of that process might include encouraging children and teenagers to practice mindfulness. Any adult with a regular practice would wish its benefits for young people, but as all parents know introducing something different is easier said than done!
It can be a big ask to persuade children and young people, whatever age, to be still and bring their attention to their breath or thoughts and the immediacy of the NOW; there’s so much else demanding their attention.
One simple way of encouraging mindful awareness is a practice which focusses on gratitude and appreciation. Gratitude practice is increasingly included in mindfulness courses and it is clinically proven to increase levels of happiness and well-being and decrease stress and negative thinking.
For younger children, a craft activity of making ‘gratitude leaves’ to hang on the Christmas tree can be a fun activity which encourages them to focus on what and who they are grateful for in their lives, and then create coloured leaves bearing short messages to hang on the tree.
As a parent or carer, take the time to sit quietly with the child and suggest they think about the small things they are grateful for and the people who offer kindness to them. Perhaps suggest a few things, like the kindly dinner lady at school, the pet who loves them or grandma’s Xmas cake, even the fact that they can go to the kitchen tap and have a glass of clean water. Encourage them to think of at least 6 things, extending a sense of what is good in their lives.
Make a template in the shape of a leaf, cut several out and create a hole in the top, have some string handy to hang it from the tree or from twigs in a vase and a supply of glitter and coloured pens, then encourage the child to fill in and decorate the leaves and hang them from the tree. For younger children these could be presented as something Santa really likes to read!
This simple activity allows the child to focus on the positive aspects of their lives now and the people whom they are close to. The key thing is to encourage the child to bring to mind the small things, which builds and awareness of how much in their lives is good.
You may also like to have a mindful moment before eating Christmas lunch. This would be different to saying grace, as the focus is on appreciating the abundance of the food and having a sense of where it has come from and the chain of human effort and care which has brought it to the table. It is a completely secular practice which makes us aware of the wider community which supports us all.
Where did the cranberries come from, who raised the turkey, who picked the sprouts? Many children will answer ‘Sainsbury’s’ (other supermarkets are available!) but asking them to look a little deeper puts us all in touch with the wider world.
The key in these activities is to focus on appreciation and gratitude: ‘we have this and we take time to value it’. There is no element of comparison to what others may have or not, we are simply taking the time to take in the good stuff in our own lives.
These simple practices could form part of a new years resolution. Guiding your child to either list 3 good things that happened today as you put them to bed or for older children or teens beginning the habit of keeping a gratitude journal and writing those positives down at the end of the day.
There are many simple and effective ways to begin to introduce mindful awareness to children and young people. At Christmas these seem especially appropriate as families come together and look forward to a new year, there are specific programmes designed to be taught to children and teenagers and finding a qualified teacher of these can build mindfulness skills in the young.