Consider teaching your child mindfulness during this period of homeschooling.
Millions of children are being homeschooled during the COVID-19 crisis. That means if you’re a parent, you’re now also the teacher, the principal, and the school counselor!
I’ve often wished that emotional intelligence education was part of the K-12 curriculum in all schools. The Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley has written that "an increasing number of studies have shown the potential benefits of mindfulness practices for students’ physical health, psychological well-being, social skills, academic performance, and more." Mindfulness is a basic skill for a physically and mentally healthy life. So if you are temporarily homeschooling, is mindfulness something you can put on the curriculum? Yes, and it only takes a few minutes per day. If that sounds like one more “should” during an already hectic time, consider that you too might benefit by taking a daily break to teach your children a bit about mindfulness.
If you don't have a habit of mindfulness meditation, or don't know how to practice it, you may be thinking "I can't teach my children what I don't know myself!" Then now may be a great time to learn with them!
Here are some suggestions for introducing your children to this important life skill.
1. Use a brief (maybe 1-2 minutes) mindfulness training break once or more per day to help make everything else go smoother. No need to make it a separate class, assign papers, or give grades! If a child shows more interest in the topic, ask her or him to do some Google searching to find fun, brief mindfulness videos that might interest the rest of the family.
2. Explain the basics: Mindfulness is being aware of the moment without judging it or reacting to it quickly. Tell your children that practicing mindfulness puts a pause between something that triggers us and our response to it. Use a visual cue to make this point, maybe two rocks on the table in contact with each other. Push one, the other moves. Now put a gap between the rocks and show them that when you move one, the other does not react. It’s the gap between them that does that. The mindful gap allows us to accept what’s here in the moment, whether we like it or not, and choose the thoughts, emotions, behaviors we want in response.
3. When you do a brief mindfulness break, you can sit on the floor in a circle, but it’s also OK to just sit around a table. Teach the basics of meditation posture so that they learn it as a whole-body practice. Show them some options for how to hold their hands (prayer position over heart, palms face up on knees, and so on). Don’t worry about them getting posture or hands just right. If your children resist these parts of the practice don’t worry about it. Tell them that mindfulness is like brushing your teeth: You do it throughout your life to help you stay healthy. You don’t have to do it perfectly every time, but it’s important to do it regularly.
4. Make your mindfulness training fun so that it’s a time of the day that your children look forward. Surprise them with some new little twist on it each day.
- Pass around a bottle of peppermint extract so that everyone can experience its strong aroma.
- Go stand out in the rain and teach them to notice how the mind wants to escape because it has decided rain is “bad.”
- Practice pretending with them that you’re a fish in an ocean of peace and acceptance. Tell them that each time they breathe, they are using their mindfulness gills to take in peace and acceptance and send it to every cell of their bodies.
- If it is still cold enough where you live, go out and have fun seeing your breath in the air. Teach them to see that trail of vapor as a kind of spiritual umbilical cord, a symbol of their connection to life, the universe, God (whatever language works in your family). Tell them that a few minutes of practicing breath awareness allows them to be aware of their breath any time throughout the day when they need to remember their spiritual umbilical cord.
- Walk around the yard slowly and mindfully in a single file line; this is a simple introduction to walking meditation. Then sit and talk about one thing that each person was aware of during the walk.
- Give a raisin to each child. Let them spend a while just looking at it, smelling it, squishing it near their ear. Then tell them to place it on their tongue without chewing for a while before swallowing. You’ve just introduced them to mindful eating.
- Do a brief lovingkindness meditation in which you just sit quietly together and say the name of a loved one out loud every 15 seconds or so. Teach them how to say in their minds when they hear each name: May you be happy, may you be healthy, may you be at peace. Talk about how it feels good to pause and send good wishes to other people.
- If you think they are up for it, introduce a more advanced practice by asking each child for the name of someone who has been mean or unkind to them. Repeat the same lovingkindness words: May you be happy, may you be healthy, may you be at peace.
Make up your own creative approaches for your few daily minutes of mindfulness training. Google “fun mindfulness activities for children” and you’ll find lots of ideas. Remember, keep it fun and brief. If all you accomplish in this time of homeschooling is to plant a seed that mindfulness is fun and easy to practice, that will be enough.
Kevin Anderson also writes The Soul of Therapy, an online column where he answers questions from readers.