How I Taught Mindfulness To Children
Part of my job is to help children who struggle with their feelings or behavior. One little boy I'm working with, whom I'll call Joey, was referred to me because of anger, anxiety, and difficulty sleeping.
When I met him I could see that he's fun, loving, and energetic. He was jumping around the kitchen, showing me pictures and toys, knocking things over and scaring the kittens.
His mom told me, "The trouble is, he does not have a stop button."
Over the next few months I could see what she meant. I took him to a group where there were a pile of croissants. He had eaten them all before anyone else had a chance to sit down. He runs in front of cars without looking. He grabs toys from other children. He doesn't notice when he's upset people, and quite often ends up in a fight.
I can tell afterward when I sit down with him that he doesn't mean to hurt anyone. He sits in the chair, his face red, tears streaming down his face, and he asks me, "Why does everyone always pick on me?"
One of the things I thought might help Joey is to learn some mindfulness.
Mindfulness is a way of paying attention to the present moment. It helps us become more aware of our thoughts and feelings, so that instead of being overwhelmed by them, we’re better able to manage them.
I found a plastic magnifying glass I received in a Christmas cracker, then I popped to the shop and bought some berries and some tulips. I went to meet him in school. He bounced over to me when he saw me at the classroom door and spotted the berries straight away.
'Fooooood! Gimme gimme gimme!'
We sat down on the bean bags in the quiet room and I told him that today we would be working on his "superpower senses."
"Who is your favorite superhero?" I asked him.
I told Joey that Superman has to be able to notice tiny things that no one else notices.
He has superhuman breath — he can inhale and exhale huge volumes of air.
He has superhuman vision — He can see more clearly and with more detail than anyone else.
He has superhuman hearing — Superman can hear far more sounds with far more detail than normally possible.
If we want these super senses, we have to learn something called mindfulness. First, I asked him to pick up the flower and look at it through the magnifying glass. He commented on the colors, and the little veins and the tiny details in the patterns on the leaves. When he had finished with the flower he walked around the room inspecting the paintings on the walls and the fabric on the beanbags. "I've never seen this before!" he exclaimed.
Next I asked him to sit still and quiet, and use his superhuman hearing to notice the sounds around us. He commented on a bird song, a teacher laughing, a friend of his down the other end of the corridor.
Then we went to the berries. I told him that we would eat the berries one at a time, but first we held the berry. Noticed its size, it's shape, how it smelled. Then I told him to raise it slowly to his mouth, but don't yet swallow it. Notice the feel of the berry on your tongue. And then you can eat it. And what was it like? "That one was sharp!" "That one was sweet!" "That one is soft!" "They are all so different!"
We talked about what happens when you grab handfuls of berries and shovel them into your mouth as quickly as you can. He admitted you don't really taste the berries.
Lastly I gave him the flower and asked him to close his eyes. I told him that we would be working on his superpower breath.
Sit comfortably and quietly and start by noticing your breath. First take a normal breath. Now try taking a slow, deep breath. The air coming in through your nose should move downward into your tummy. Now breathe out through your mouth. Alternate normal and deep breaths several times. Pay attention to how you feel when you inhale and exhale normally and when you breathe deeply. Breathing deeply helps you to feel more relaxed.
As you breathe in, picture the peace and calm of the flower
As you breathe out, let go of stress and worry
After the visualization I ask him how he felt. "Very, very calm," he said. After a short game of Connect 4, it was time to go back to class. He smiled and left the room quietly. The next time I saw him he gave me a picture of a yellow painted blob. "What's this?" I asked. "The calm flower!" he said. "I thought you might need it to calm down, too, sometimes!"
And he was right. I took it back to the office and stuck it above my desk.