If you think about self-care trends, mindfulness is at the top of the list. Mindfulness is the act of observing the present without judgment, but its roots go much deeper than that. The practice of mindfulness can be traced back to a number of ancient Asian philosophies, and it’s now become popular in Western culture too – for good reason. Researchers are finding, again and again, that mindfulness is really good for us. And, you can start nurturing it in your child early on – even in toddlerhood.
At this point you might be thinking to yourself: “My goal is to get my toddler to eat a vegetable, ancient philosophies can come later,” which is a very fair response! Toddlers won’t grasp the meaning behind “being present” at this stage. However, you can begin to lay the foundation. Before we get to tips for doing that, let’s explore what mindfulness is.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is our ability to be present and aware without analysis or judgment. But, what does that really mean? Basically, when we’re being mindful, we’re creating distance between ourselves and our thoughts or emotions. We’re allowing our minds and bodies to experience a moment of stillness and peace. It’s important to note that mindfulness is not about ignoring certain thoughts or emotions, it’s more about learning how to control them. Mindfulness can reduce stress, improve mood, and help us regulate our emotions.
Executive Functioning and Mindfulness
Scientists across the globe have concluded that mindfulness practices can boost executive functioning skills – the mental processes that allow us to:
- Control our impulses and emotions
- Focus and prioritize various tasks
- Make sound decisions
- Think critically
These are the skills that help children evolve into self-aware and emotionally intelligent adults. Because executive functioning skills emerge in infancy and develop rapidly after that, it makes sense that laying the foundation for mindfulness early on supports those skills.
Tips for Introducing Mindfulness to Your Child
Ok, so we’ve established that mindfulness is powerful, but how do you teach it to a toddler? Here are a few things to try:
Practice mindfulness yourself so you can model it to your little one. Easier said than done, we know. But a little bit of mindfulness goes a long way. In this article, we cover 5 simple, research-backed things parents can do to bring mindfulness into daily life. And here we explore different ways toddlers can help parents slow down and focus on being in the present moment.
Read books together that explore mindfulness. Here are a few recommendations that are suitable for toddlers:
- Crab and the Whale by Mark Pallis and Christiane Kerr
- I Yoga You by Genevieve Santos
- Puppy Mind by Andrew Jordan Nance
- Breathe Like a Bear by Kira Willey and Anni Betts
Around age 3, try mindful breathing games. A fun way to do this is to show your child how to lay on their back with a small, favorite stuffed animal on their belly. Point out how the stuffed animal rises and falls as they breathe, and that it rises and falls more slowly when they take deep, slow breaths. You can also talk about how those deep, slow breaths can help us feel calm.
Above all, keep it simple – for your child and yourself! Mindfulness isn’t easy – it takes time, practice, and patience.