Wellness, wellbeing, and mental health are all buzz words these days, but that is by no means a negative thing. But do we know what these words really mean? Do we know how to correctly implement them in our day-to-day lives, and do we know how these topics affect our children?
Thankfully, wellness is becoming a lot more mainstream among the general population.
Children need to be given guidance and knowledge in these areas. But we shouldn’t wait until it may be occasionally touched on at school. We have a responsibility to take action.
I always encourage children to speak honestly and openly with their role models and mentors at home. Because parents or guardians are only children of other children, our children should learn from our mistakes. They should know we have already walked through the difficult paths that may lay ahead of them – and understand what they are going through.
As the saying goes, “A smart person learns from their mistakes, but an intelligent person learns from the mistakes of others.”
While it’s vital that we help guide our children through our own experiences and help them develop their emotional intelligence, we should avoid pressing our beliefs on them.
Our beliefs, although well-intentioned, can have a massive effect on our children’s wellbeing as they grow up. Most of the limiting beliefs we hold as adults are unfortunately passed down from our parents and the mentors we had growing up.
Just because you want your child to be the next Cristiano Ronaldo, Elon Musk, or Angela Merkel does not mean they do. Our best intentions may cause distress to our children, and constantly pushing them towards our own goals rather than their own can cause long-term damage. “Comparison is the thief of joy”, and if so, to teach happiness and contentment to our children, we need to teach them to focus on themselves and on the moment. We need to teach them mindfulness.
Staying calm and focused
Mindfulness is a technique for staying focused on the present and not letting thoughts, emotions, or trouble with self-control get in the way. It helps kids put the brakes on negative thoughts and concentrate on what’s in front of them.
Mindfulness is often defined as living in the moment without judgment. But many of us don’t naturally function that way. We live in a fast-paced lifestyle of technology and assets. We give so much of our energy to external things, and we often overlook checking in on ourselves. Our brain can be a very deceiving place because of this. Our thinking patterns are usually guided by the past, or what we think might happen in future. Even if the thought isn’t accurate, we are wired to react to it as if it were.
The practice of mindfulness can help people stay focused on the here and now. It can teach children to view their thoughts more neutrally and keep their emotions in check. Doing those things can help them respond to challenges and stressful situations in a more thoughtful way. The benefits of helping children be mindful have been getting more attention, with studies revealing mindfulness can help kids improve their behaviour and focus.
Some schools have even started doing mindfulness training in the classroom. SISD is at the forefront of this in Dubai, with dedicated staff trained in counselling, positive psychology and wellness coaching – a sure cocktail for success and happiness. Improved behaviour and focus deliver huge benefits among children. Mindfulness can be even more valuable for those who learn and think differently and is especially true for anxious or impulsive children.
Kids who struggle in school may have negative experiences that can lead to negative thinking. Those experiences can decrease their motivation and make them feel defeated. Being able to recognize those negative thoughts and block them can help kids stay focused and positive. It can also bring a sense of calm through some grounding techniques. Mindfulness is not something that just comes naturally to children, nor should it. However, it is something we can practice and learn, and, like any habit, we can make it second nature. This is true for both children and adults. There are countless books, podcasts, classes, platforms, and other resources you can use if you wish to.
Breathe into bliss
Breathwork is one of the key pillars of practising mindfulness. The aim is to bring attention to the breath with each inhale and exhale and relax. In a class setting, the teacher may prompt kids to notice when their mind wanders and gently remind them to bring their thoughts back to the sensations of their breath. Younger children may be given a stuffed animal to place on their bellies. Watching it rise and fall makes focusing on breathing more concrete. Older children and adults are encouraged to put their hands on their bellies for the same reason.
An important point to note is that children do not need classes to learn about mindfulness; these exercises are easy to implement at home. But keep in mind that focusing on your breath can be harder than it sounds, especially for children who struggle with attention. There are ways to practice mindfulness outside of breathing exercises, though. For example, kids can try noticing how their body feels, or how their feet connect with the floor and their seats to the chairs. You can also practice being mindful while moving; kids don’t have to sit still.
There are several techniques that can easily be practiced at home or outside of school.
- Model mindfulness for your child. Point out times when you use mindfulness to control anxiety, stress or emotions. For example, when kids seem anxious, encourage them to stop what they’re doing for a minute and notice what they’re feeling.
- Look for children’s books on what it means to focus on the present and how to practice quiet breathing. Choose a book that’s appropriate for your child’s age to share.
- I recommend encouraging and modelling the use of a diary or journal for children. Have them look forward to looking back. It is a tool that can levitate their worries in a very effective way.
- Practice breathing exercises together in the morning, or before bed
- Focus on ‘quiet time’; perhaps out walking together, or on the way somewhere in the car. A guided mindfulness podcast is useful in the car or on a walk.
- Encourage mindful activities like drawing, painting, colouring or other crafts
- Encourage your children to discuss their feelings after any assigned period of mindfulness, making sure to explain it’s ok to openly discuss feelings, whatever they may be.
Mindfulness doesn’t help kids only in the short term. It can also help them build long-term strengths.
When kids notice their thoughts drifting and then bring their attention back to the breath, it can help them build focus. Every time they catch themselves before reacting to a thought, it can help build self-control.
Mindfulness can also help kids become more self-aware and gain confidence. The more strategies kids have for handling emotions, the more equipped they will be to tackle challenges.
With so many adults suffering from mental health-related issues these days, we have the opportunity to give our children the tools and techniques we didn’t have access to.
Hopefully, implementing these practices will ensure our children are not looking for articles like this to share with their own children in future.
The practices they learn today will help shape their future tomorrow.
Jonathan Harkin https://www.instagram.com/jonathan_harkin/?hl=en
Swiss International School in Dubai
Global in outlook, bilingual in approach, Swiss in culture, and yet firmly rooted in the local community of Dubai – that’s Swiss International School in Dubai, or SISD, Dubai’s first bilingual International Baccalaureate School, opened in 2015, and is the largest Swiss school outside Switzerland. The school is a leading international day and boarding school where future generations are inspired to become confident and enthusiastic lifelong learners, properly prepared to embrace all the opportunities and challenges life presents.
Offering day school, weekly or full-term boarding options, this leading educational institution offers state-of-the-art STEAM education, and has world-class sporting facilities, too.
The school has laid out its B.E.S.T. Values, as follows:
A unique international and multilingual environment provides students with authentic exposure to English, French, German and Arabic.
SISD staff believes in maintaining high standards and aspire to be the best they can be. A spirit of enquiry, encouraging both creative and critical thinking is fostered.
The school campus is eco-friendly, winning international acclaim and awards for using less energy to create a comfortable and healthy environment.
We view active participation in the community, from the most local to the most global, as the foundation of a valuable life.