It’s the buzzword of the moment, appearing everywhere from magazines to school classrooms. But what does mindfulness really mean? And when practiced, what benefits can it bring to you and your family?
To debunk some of the myth surrounding mindfulness, we talked to Dr Soph, a clinical psychologist and yoga teacher, whose mission is to spread good quality psychological understanding outside of the therapy room.
What is mindfulness?
Dr Soph starts by saying it’s important to first understand what the definition of mindfulness really is. What many may not realise, is that it’s less about still meditation and clearing the mind, and more about simply ‘paying attention to the present moment, on purpose and non-judgmentally’.
- “All it means is being here in the moment, right now, noticing what is happening without trying to change it. It’s a simple idea that’s hard to do because we’re often stuck in our heads, we’re rarely here in the now”, she explains.
- “Mindfulness isn’t about clearing your mind or having no thoughts, it’s about noticing you’re drifting away but coming back to the present moment”.
Mindfulness for parenting
As Dr Soph states, there’s no manual for being a parent, and yet it’s one of the hardest things you’ll ever have to do. She sees practicing mindfulness as a great way for parents to learn how to be present, to stop with ‘knee-jerk’ responses to their child’s behaviour and to ensure they’re really listening to other members of the household.
- “Being in the moment allows you to act out of choice, not out of autopilot. When you choose how to act, you can sidestep the ‘fight or flight’ response that often comes up when we react to behaviour. With mindfulness, you give yourself the space and kindness to recognise what you or other person needs”.
The benefits of mindfulness for children
Dr Soph explains that introducing mindfulness at a young age gives children an early experience of understanding that their emotions are acceptable and temporary, and recognising the way their emotions come up in physical responses.
Studies have also shown that mindfulness can actually change the structure of the brain, by strengthening the areas of the brain that support sustained attention, decision making and learning. “Due to this kids become better able to pay attention, they’re less distractible and have better coping mechanisms. In a school environment, this means they can concentrate, have less anxiety around exams or test situations and perform better overall”, explains Dr Soph. “We’ve also seen that they become more compassionate, and able to maintain better relationships with their peers”.
Where do you start?
Making a conscious effort to bring mindfulness into everyday family activities will see it soon become an instinctive part of your child’s own behaviour.
- “As we know, children are learning constantly by looking to the adults in their environments. Therefore integrating mindfulness into family life comes down to adults modelling it to children. If you’re a caregiver doing mindful meditation, spending time checking in with your body, thoughts and breath, then kids will automatically start doing it, too”, says Dr Soph.
She recommends regularly practicing some simple mindful games that will help your child grasp the concept of mindfulness. “If you practice together when calm, it will be available to you when stressed”.
Mindfulness is purely about being here, right now. It’s about noticing what comes up in your thoughts, but deciding to just stick with what you’re doing.
To introduce this concept to your children, we asked Dr Soph to share some activities that are easy to make a part of your family life. So, keep an eye on the blog next week, where we’ll share these awesome tips with you!
Dr Soph is a registered Clinical Psychologist, Life Coach and Yoga Teacher, who offers one-on-one online therapy and coaching that fits around your lifestyle. She is skilled in many psychological models, including CBT, CFT, ACT, Mindfulness and Narrative Therapy.