THE POWER OF MINDFULNESS FOR CHILDREN IN THEIR EARLY YEARS

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True, these are unprecedented times and for many, it is creating havoc in their lives. But at the same time, we all know that we cannot escape it, in fact, we need to tune our minds to accept it with grace. I firmly believe in what Robert Frost’s said, “the best way out is always through.” That is exactly what mindfulness is all about -living in the present.
Yes, mindfulness is about acceptance of one’s feelings without denial and that, one is free to feel that sensation, without any judgment.
I would like to read out this very meaningful quote of Goethe
“Nothing is worth more than this day. You cannot relive yesterday. Tomorrow is still beyond your reach.”
Well, mindfulness for adults is a little different from that of children. Let us first look at it from an adult perspective, before moving on to view it from a child’s perspective.
For an adult, mindfulness is attained when there is complete assimilation of the mind, body, and spirit, which enables one, to feel the inner and outer experiences, with attention, balance, steady perception, and with kindness and compassion for oneself and for others. When we do that, what exactly happens? It allows us to live life in the present, with attention, balance, and compassion.
A brief about the history of Mindfulness:
Mindfulness is a practice involved in various religious and secular traditions—from Hinduism and Buddhism to yoga and, more recently, non-religious meditation. People have been practicing mindfulness for thousands of years, whether on their own or as part of a larger tradition.
In general, mindfulness was popularized in the East by religious and spiritual institutions, while in the West its popularity can be traced to particular people and secular institutions. Of course, even the secular tradition of mindfulness in the West owes its roots to Eastern religions and traditions.
Yet the most influential figure in the acceptance of mindfulness as a secular and scientific practice has been Jon Kabat-Zinn. Kabat-Zinn in 1979 started a stress-reduction center at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, developing an eight-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course.
There is nothing more important in this world now than teaching children mindfulness. Children should be allowed to take in all that is happening around them, without judging. Then see what happens! It helps them to steady their minds, hearts, build compassion and empathy and enable them to speak and act in a manner that is generous, kind, and for the wellbeing of everyone around them. At present most of us are living a life of chaos, we are distracted and therefore we are gripped in fear or anxiety and, are not actually living in the moment. So as adults, first we must start practicing mindfulness in a secular manner. Once we start practicing, it will show up in all aspects of our lives, and integrating it into our daily life through activity would help children at home and those who we work with, to integrate it into their lives as well. Let me give you an example: When we sit down to eat, we always say a prayer to thank the divine power, before we start. This I would not call a religious practice, but this is a simple way to bring your focus to the moment, pay attention to the food we are about to eat, taste it and feel it enrich our bodies. So many times, we see adults gulping down food, watching a movie, or in front of the television without even being aware of what and how much food they have consumed. That is a fine example of not being mindful and not paying attention to the present.
Mindfulness techniques differ for different age groups. For incredibly young children, it is more playful, short time with repetitions, and can be stretched all along the day, in small capsules. Mindfulness practices help in stabilizing their heart and mind by STOPPING, PAUSING, FEELING, and shifting their attention from what they are THINKING to how they are feeling, which is a more sensory experience. This enables the child to develop self-regulation and feel calm.
When we start mindfulness interventions, we should keep in mind two things:
That we practice it with a child when she/he is not upset and is focussed. This helps in developing attention and helps the child to self-regulate. For example: Short pauses we may insert into their everyday life to pay attention to their feelings or by merging meditation practice with other activities, such as story yoga or sports.
Secondly, in a situation where the child is upset or too excited, we need to help them STOP, PAUSE, and shift their attention from the immediate issue to a more PHYSICAL experience like breathing. Slow breathing….This can be magical.
Now coming to some techniques that may be introduced as activities with children.
Nature walks- where children go out for short walks and while walking, observe with attention all the things they come across, without thinking about them, simply observing and paying attention as they walk along
Eating one bite at a time- slowly chewing the food and experiencing the sensation of the food in their mouth.
Another remarkably interesting exercise is feeling with the feet at the bottom of the floor, this is a wonderful grounding experience-walk on the grass that has droplets of morning dew.
Blindfolded activities like touch and tell helps in developing mindfulness
Again, meditation practices are good and effective, but with small children, it is only advisable to do it if they are ready for it.
Allow children to share their experiences, involve them in discussions and the decision-making process, and share your own experiences with them. These small moments of awareness give the child a grounding and steadying effect.
If we look carefully into our Gurukul system of education, we see that mindfulness techniques were practiced from times immemorial. For instance, if we look into the training of the Pandavas by their Guru Dronacharya, from our Mahabharata epic, the princes were made to shoot with their eyes blindfolded. They needed to sense the target through the other sense organs, thereby making them pay complete attention to that moment. There are innumerable such examples that we can find in our scriptures. Mindfulness is an age-old practice and has been seen to have life-changing effects.
Well, let me quickly cite some benefits of mindfulness practices. Although research with children and young people is not yet as extensive as with adults, the results so far are promising and definitely points towards positive changes with children in their early years:
Well-conducted mindfulness interventions can improve the mental, emotional, social, and physical health and wellbeing of young people who take part.
It has been shown to reduce stress, anxiety, reactivity and bad behaviour, improve sleep and self-esteem, and bring about greater calmness, relaxation, the ability to manage behaviour and emotions, self-awareness, and empathy.
Mindfulness can contribute directly to the development of cognitive and performance skills and executive function.
It can help young people pay greater attention, be more focused, think in more innovative ways, use existing knowledge more effectively, improve working
memory, and enhance planning, problem-solving, and reasoning skills.
Let me give you a live example before I finish- In his first online exam my son was very nervous, one because he had his Chemistry paper, a subject that he dreads, and secondly coz he was, for the first time appearing for an online exam and to make things worse, his friends who probably were as jittery as him, were calling him up, none could find the joining link shared by the class educator. It looked like total chaos and he was completely freaked out. At that point, I saw him leave his laptop, PAUSE, and sit back for about 2-3 min – breathing deeply and slowly. This made him calmer, steady and he got back to his exam, with ease. At that point in time, I realized that we must have done something right with him in his early years.
It is important to practice mindfulness within the community of parents, professionals, children, and other stakeholders. Mindfulness practices should be integrated by the parents at home as much as in the school curriculum, in order to eventually make it a culture. Community practices would help in developing a community of like-minded people who bring a change to society at large, in a meaningful way. Once it is a part of our daily lives, it will be a part of our existence.
Dr. Vasavvi Acharjya
Early Childhood Educationist, Edupreneur, M.D. Inner I Foundation Pvt. Ltd. and Tender Petals, Ex-Faculty TISS Guwahati, Founder Chairperson DNA Foundation for Children and Women Welfare and Early Child Development forum, Author, Awardee.

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