Is mindfulness for young kids and adolescents? If so, how do we introduce it and what are some effective ways of teaching it?
A literature review about using mindfulness with children, published in Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry by Miles Thompson, DClinPsy and Jeremy Gauntlett-Gilbert, PhD, DClinPsy from the Royal National Hospital for Rheumatic Diseases in Bath, England looked at these questions and pointed out useful ways to incorporate mindfulness into practice with young people.
Dr. Thompson and Dr. Gauntlett-Gilbert had some helpful suggestions for tweaking common techniques to make introducing mindfulness a bit more child-friendly.
They found that unlike adults, children and teens need more of a reason “why” before getting started.
A way to explain the value of mindfulness practice is to give some examples of undesirable “mindless” situations. You might ask a child if they’ve ever eaten a meal without remembering what they ate, or gotten involved in an argument without remembering what originally made them angry. Most young people have experienced something like this before.
But then why practice mindfulness techniques? Dr. Thompson and Dr. Gauntlett-Gilbert use a powerful analogy. We practice mindfulness for the same reason an athlete practices a penalty shot: when the game is on, the player has a better chance of making the goal with the crowd watching, when it really counts.
When a young person understands “why,” the next question becomes “how?”
Dr. Thompson and Dr. Gauntlett-Gilbert emphasize the importance of practices that are both varied (to stave off boredom) and well-integrated into a young person’s daily activities.
For example, you might suggest mindful eating, mindful walking, or – my favorite – mindful texting.
Here, adolescents were encouraged to build in a “pause” before grabbing their cell phone at the sound of a text. This means taking a few moments to observe the thoughts and desires that pass through the mind when receiving a text message. Through this mindful pause, the young person rewires their habitual reaction and gains the chance to consider their response mindfully (as opposed to quickly and automatically replying to the message).
One final analogy that really gets to the heart of the matter − when introducing mindfulness to a patient of any age, having a personal mindfulness practice is essential.
As Dr. Thompson and Dr. Gauntlett-Gilbert put it – if you want to learn how to swim, would you go to the person who’s read all the books on swimming, or the person who’s actually been in the water?
Have you ever used mindfulness practices with children or adolescents? Please let us know by leaving a comment below.