Last year I was lucky enough to be asked to write about my experience in incorporating Mindfulness into my Special Needs classroom. I was so happy to hear how others are using these techniques and arming our students with strategies to help them succeed. This year I have been working with children in Early Intervention and been given the opportunity to adapt the techniques I used with my older students for my little friends who are under 3 years old. Every morning I get to hang out with some amazing children, all at different levels and all unique. I have some children who thrive in a hands on approach and like to hand lead me to their favorite activity or grab my face to show me something important. Some thrive in more peaceful settings where we sit together, looking at books, and talking about the animals we see and the sounds they make. I am blessed to be invited into their worlds and get a glimpse of life from their wide, wonder-filled eyes.
Anyone who knows me will tell you that Mindfulness has a special place in my heart. It’s had a huge impact in my work and personal life so I’m all in! But, teaching these techniques in a classroom is much different than bringing these practices into someone’s home and teaching them. It’s not enough for us to teach our children these techniques either. In order for these to have longevity and meaning we need to practice what we preach. And why not? Mindfulness should be part of everyone’s self-care toolbox. It helps decrease anxiety, the feeling of isolation, stress, helps combat sleep challenges, encourages self-compassion, and helps with the acceptance of the way things are currently while helping give us insight into how to accomplish our goals. Creating this in your own home is easy when you commit to changing a few things and you will reap huge rewards! So how do we do it? Read on!
Create a safe, judgment free space
As parents and educators we tend to sit down with a child with our own agenda in mind. This could be working on social skills, motor skills, or communication. When we sit down to move our child through this and they don’t want to participate (or run screaming from the room!) we can feel like we have failed and we think of all the ways we “could” have handled it. But every single moment has the potential to be a teachable moment, for both of you.If we come into the situation with flexibility and listen to our children we will find that we have the opportunity to teach skills that might not even have occurred to us. Follow what their interests are and give them freedom to play without being corrected or redirected to something else. Comment on what they are playing (i.e. “I like your blue train” or “Wow, your car is really fast!”) without interrupting what they are doing. Be cautious of how much you are talking or asking questions as this could initiate a feeling of being overwhelmed for your child, so take it slow and let things unfold naturally. This creates an environment that feels safe and encourages more exploration and play. Not only will you give them a feeling of confidence and respect, you just might find out your child had a skill you hadn’t realized was there.
Be Present with them
We hear this a lot in association with Mindfulness, but what does it mean? Essentially it means when your with your child actually BE with your child. Set aside the list of errands your ticking away at in your brain, sit down, and be with your child with no restrictions and no judgement. I believe we should always be finding new opportunities to have our children work on skills that might be challenging for them. But some learning can be novel and can lead to some big accomplishments! I have a little friend who is really into some beaded necklaces I put in small, individual containers. The idea was to work on opening and closing the containers (to work on fine motor skills), and then putting the necklaces on an off (which also worked on his fine motor, but also his flexibility in taking them off gently and patiently). He was so highly motivated by these necklaces and containers that we started to think of other silly things we could do, like balancing the containers on our heads while be do a sitting, “Buzzing Bee” yoga pose. I was being present to see that we could use his new found interest in a bee we saw in a book, work on saying the “zzzzz” sound as well as learning to say “bee”, he was able to imitate my pose with age appropriate accuracy, and he was imitating my actions of balancing something on my head. And we got in a huge fit of giggles while we were doing all of this. Be aware enough to know when it’s time to throw your agenda out the window and click into what’s important to them.
Connect in a meaningful way
So what do I mean by connect? It means when a child is truly engaged in toy or activity get engaged with them once they are comfortable with you. Make comments about different attributes of the toy, ask open ended questions, and sometimes you just have to sit silently while they show you how to use the toy that is meaningful to them or play a certain game. When your noticing things that they are struggling to express, give them the words. Don’t correct what they are saying, simply model it. If one of my friends is trying to do something, say connect large legos, and is making noises and facial expressions that are cuing me that they are getting frustrated then I’m going to step in before they reach their boiling point. I’m not going to take the toy away and do it for them. I may say something like, “I see your mad. Do you need help?” If they cue me that they do need help then I’ll verbally guide them on how to do it, such as, “Push the blue lego down.” If they are still having a problem then I’ll ask them again if I can help, but I’ll gently hand over hand guide them to complete the task with as little assistance as I can give while having them complete the task successfully. I don’t want to do it for them, my job is to help them learn how to do it. My job is also to show them that I have a lot of faith in them and know they can do what they need to, and to help them work on their flexibility by showing them even if your stuck you can get help. This morning I sat with a friend for 15 minutes while he attempted to string a bead on a piece of yarn. I asked if he needed help, but his body language told me he was very focused on doing this on his own. So I sat and watched, giving encouragement when he’d look over at me. He didn’t get the bead on but it didn’t matter to me. He had sat and attended to an unfamiliar task for 15 minutes and didn’t give up. That is going to teach him more about himself then I ever can.
Respect where they are, and don’t rush them
“Our friends daughter is reciting the alphabet while she tap dances and paints an abstract she’s imitated from Picasso. My child is the same age and isn’t doing that!” Ok, this was a little far fetched but has a grain of truth in it. It’s natural to compare children of the same age to make sure your child is hitting all their milestones, but at what point is the comparison stopping you from enjoying the unique child you have? I get it, I’m a parent too! But I had to learn that my child (and yours!) will hit their milestones in THEIR TIME. Not yours. Read this again: They will hit their milestones in THEIR time. Theirs. Not yours. No mine. Theirs. Let’s let that fact free you to enjoy this very stage in their life because they will never be here again so let’s celebrate them now and not when they hit a certain goal or milestone. Because, guess what? Your child, and mine, will thrive because they will be sent the message from us that we love them just as they are, right where they are at. This leads to immeasurable self confidence, which turns into feeling safe enough to make mistakes and learn from them. I don’t do anything perfectly the first go around, it takes time and practice. So why should I hold someone else to a higher standard. When a child feels that it’s perfectly ok to try something and not succeed the first time, they will learn how to keep trying until they do accomplish their goal. This will help them be more receptive to try other things they might not have if they weren’t encouraged.
I hope I’ve given you a few ideas that you can incorporate in your home to encourage Mindfulness for your whole family. Mindfulness can help us become more aware of the way we think, behave, and react to situations and why. This allows us space to look at ourselves and see if what we have been doing is working, or if we need to change something in a non-judge mental way. Once you start you will be amazed at the positive changes that keep coming your way!