No one knows how to live in the moment like a kid. Evidence: The wild abandon with which your preschooler dresses up her dolls—and completely ignores her dinner. But not every day brings such single-minded fun. There’s a lot going on in your child’s life, especially in today’s busy world, and it can sometimes be hard for her to sort through it all and stay calm.
That’s where mindfulness comes in. It’s an ancient spiritual practice designed to help people (both adults and kids) focus, become more aware of their bodies and their surroundings, and shift gears to feel more positive and in control. “I describe mindfulness to parents and kids as paying attention,”says Christopher McCurry, Ph.D., a clinical child psychologist and the author of Parenting Your Anxious Child With Mindfulness and Acceptance. “It’s not getting rid of distracting thoughts, but allowing them to float on by.” Here’s how it can help your child deal with life’s frustrations and stresses:
Your upcoming business trip has morphed your preschooler into a clingy, worrying wreck.
Help her realize that thoughts are just thoughts—something to notice but not freak out about. “Very young children can understand the idea of watching a thought parade,” says Steven Hayes, Ph.D., foundation professor of psychology at University of Nevada, Reno, and author of Get Our of Your Mind and Into Your Life. Explain that some of the parade members are fears, while others are happier thoughts. “If scary thoughts come up, ask your child to notice that there will be another member of the parade walking by,” Hayes says. Then help her refocus on something everyday, like her breathing; to get the hang out it, you can have her blow bubbles (or just pretend to). Sure, anxious thoughts will keep popping up, but they’ll have less power to stress her out.
Your high-energy gradeschooler struggles to sit still and pay attention in class.
Tell your child to try pretending his feet are super-glued to the floor; he can move them only a tiny bit, with great effort. Or teach him to do spider push-ups by putting his fingertips together and pushing his palms toward each other, then away. Giving the muscles a job to do “frees your brain up to focus on what you need to focus on,” says McCurry, “and let’s kids be active in a way that won’t get the teacher yelling at them.”
Your daughter keeps obsessing about a fight with her BFF.
Our brains tend to get suck on difficult emotions, rubbing them like a worry stone so we miss what’s actually happening now. Teach your child to derail negative thoughts by putting them in perspective. “Whenever you get angry or upset, register it and then quickly think of three things that you are grateful for,” suggests Susan Kaiser Greenland, author of The Mindful Child: How to Help Your Kid Manage Stress and Become Happier, Kinder, and More Compassionate. This may also take some sting out of the fight, making it easier to make amends.
TV and text messages keep your middle-schooler so distracted he can’t focus on whats happening around him.
To help tweens get in the habit of noticing when they’re not living in the moment, Kaiser Greenland has them put a piece of colored tape on their cell phones. Every time they turn to the phone and see the tape, they’re reminded to stop and notice what they’re doing—and they about what they should be doing instead. No phone, but still distracted? Encourage your child to work a pause into daily tasks (the kind he might be rushing through or ignoring): By focusing on each step of something simple, like tying his shoes, he’ll be calming his mind to prepare for whatever’s coming next.