about mindfulness and meditation
Q. DO YOU HAVE AN ELEVATOR PITCH THAT DESCRIBES MINDFULNESS?
A. The best-known shorthand definition of mindfulness comes from Jon Kabat-Zinn’s MBSR: Paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, without judgment.
Q. HOW DO KIDS PAY ATTENTION TO THEIR THOUGHTS AND FEELINGS WITHOUT JUDGMENT?
A. When children notice how they feel, we hope they'll use a kind inner voice that sounds something like this: “It’s really hard to sit still right now, and that’s okay. Everyone feels this way sometimes. I can sit here, feeling my body and all the energy I have—my breath moving fast, my heart beating quickly— I can take a breath, listen to sounds, become aware of how I feel, and be okay.”
Q. WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN MINDFULNESS AND MEDITATION?
A. In the ancient languages Sanskrit and Pali the word mindfulness is defined as “remembering,” as in remembering our object of attention. The word meditation is defined in different ways among contemplative traditions, but in the Tibetan language the word for meditation means “familiarization,” as in familiarizing ourselves with the activity in our minds. Here’s a shorthand way to differentiate between the two: Meditation is a method through which we familiarize ourselves with our minds by working with them directly and mindfulness is knowing where our mind is, and our state of mind, in the present moment.
Q. WILL MINDFULNESS HELP KIDS CALM DOWN?
A. We want children to notice how they’re feeling in the moment, not to change the way they feel. When approached in this way, mindfulness often helps children feel calmer and more relaxed, but not always.
Q. WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN “FEELING YOUR BREATHING” AND “NOTICING YOUR BREATHING”?
A. Encouraging kids to feel their breathing (rather than to notice it) is one way to orient a mindful game away from thinking and toward sensory experiences.
how to start playing mindful games with kids
Q. i don’t have much time and am new to meditation, how do i get started?
A. If you’re short on time, spend the time you have on your own mindfulness and meditation practice. Start with brief and frequent moments of awareness – like Stopping and Feeling Your Breathing or Resting and Noticing - where you gently look at life experiences with the intention to understand them, not to judge or change them. Brief and frequent moments of awareness like these can create meaningful shifts in your behavior and mind-set relatively quickly. These shifts make it easier to lead mindful games, and to understand the themes and life skills woven through them.
Q. i have some experience with mindfulness and meditation but not a lot of it, how do i get started?
A. Kids have an uncanny ability to sniff out what’s real and discount what’s fake, but you’ll be okay if you teach what’s real for you. For instance, if stopping and feeling your breathing helps steady your mind and heart, share that strategy with children. If shifting your attention to a sensory experience in the present moment helps dampen your worries and anxieties, share that strategy with children.
how to lead mindful games
Q. HOW LONG AND HOW OFTEN IS ENOUGH?
A. Children don’t need to practice mindfulness for a long time for it to be helpful; they just need to be consistent. Frequently integrate brief moments of awareness into daily life, and don’t forget that repetition is important.
Q. SHOULD CHILDREN MEDITATE EVERY DAY?
A. It’s fantastic when kids practice formal, sitting meditation everyday. Encourage kids to give it a try but never insist that they meditate.
Q. HOW CAN I HELP KIDS INTEGRATE MINDFULNESS INTO THEIR DAILY LIVES?
A. Frequently interrupt children’s routines to pause for a brief moment of awareness. For instance, ask a child to notice what the doorknob feels like against his hand when he opens the door, or to put his socks on in slow motion. Instead of hollering “Watch where you’re going!” when a child bumps into someone or something, ask her to "Stop and feel her breathing for a moment" or to "Move slowly like a sloth"
Q. HOW CAN I GET KIDS TO TALK ABOUT MINDFULNESS AND MEDITATION?
A. It’s helpful to check-in with kids after they play a mindful game so they can tell you about their experience and how they feel. As a rule of thumb, put as few words as possible between the game and children’s opportunity to describe how they feel.
Q. WHAT ARE TALKING POINTS?
A. Talking Points are included in the instructions for many of the games. They’re designed to jumpstart a conversation about the themes and life skills children explore when they play the games, and how those themes and life skills can be helpful in kids’ daily lives. You don't need to ask and answer all of the Talking Points that are listed in the instructions, and feel free to replace our Talking Points with your own.
how to navigate obstacles
Q. HOW DO I GET KIDS TO BUY-INTO MINDFULNESS?
A. Invite young children to lead more active mindful games - like Zip-Up, Slowly, Slowly, or Balloon Arms. Besides helping with buy-in, leading a game can help children build confidence and, if they’re playing with other children, leading gives kids a chance to practice speaking in front of a group.
Encourage older children and teens to practice brief and frequent moments of awareness by playing games like Feeling My Feet, Mindful Waiting, and One Bite at a Time.
Q. WHAT DO I SAY TO CHILDREN WHO FEEL FRUSTRATED AND THAT MINDFULNESS "ISN'T WORKING"?
A. It’s often helpful to tell children stories about your own challenges with mindfulness and meditation (we’ve all had them). Make sure you share only basic, relatively minor, challenges and stay away from talking to children about larger, more serious problems. This is an important point because we don’t want to inadvertently send kids a message that we want them to take care of us, rather than the other way around.
Q. WHAT IF CHILDREN ARE DISRUPTIVE?
A. When it’s hard for children to control their bodies and/or voices, ask them to take a break until they’re able to speak and act respectfully. Remind them that they’re welcome to participate again when they’re ready. Some games and activities, especially those that require concentration, can be frustrating and it makes sense that every now and again kids will need a break.
Q. WHAT IF A CHILD RAISES A SENSITIVE TOPIC AT AN INAPPROPRIATE TIME OR PLACE?
A. Acknowledge the child’s concern then shift the tone and the subject matter of the conversation. Be sure to revisit the topic with the child privately later.