I often get asked by parents, “What can we do to practice mindfulness in our family?” “Why should I even care to do so?” Many parents have told me that, with all the things in the day, it is difficult to make the time to incorporate mindfulness in their lives.
So here is a very brief explanation about mindfulness (how I see it anyway), along with some simple suggestions to help address these questions and concerns. I hope this helps you to see that incorporating mindfulness is easier than you think and doesn’t necessarily mean you have to do meditation practices. Of course if you can take some time each day to meditate or practice yoga together, that is awesome! But perhaps you’ll see below that there are many different ways to practice mindfulness as a family, and you may already be practicing in more ways than you realize 🙂
So what is mindfulness anyway?
Here is how I look at it — mindfulness is basically about “training the muscles” of the heart and mind to be present in the here and now. There is now much evidence showing how mindfulness helps us to better manage stress, worries, strong feelings, etc. – to feel more calm and peaceful, and to be kinder to ourselves, others and the planet. As well, mindfulness is being taught in schools, workplaces, hospitals, community centres, to police and firefighters, nearly everywhere.
Here’s a link to a great fact sheet created by Discover Mindfulness about mindfulness. I also recommend you check out this awesome video from New Zealand in which kids explain what mindfulness is, as well as this amazing TED Talk by Dr. Shauna Shapiro, a clinical psychologist and mindfulness expert.
Why should we practice mindfulness as a family?
Let’s talk about success for a moment — it may be time to reconsider our definition of what it means to be “successful,” as it might be too narrow. Isn’t it more important that your kids be happy and confident rather than successful? Studies from the field of emotional intelligence and looking at success in the workplace, show that, in order to be “successful”, more than achievement, kids need to learn skills to cope with challenges, have flexibility in thinking and problem-solving, and to work effectively with others. These are the characteristics that make successful employees and what employers are more and more looking for. Mindfulness helps with all of these and more.
Practicing mindfulness together as a family is not necessarily about doing more things as a family, but more about cherishing the little things and the little moments together – and sometimes doing nothing at all, but just being together as a family. This is especially important in the busyness and constant “doing” of today’s world to help kids manage the stress of today and grow into healthy, happy and confident teens and adults.
Children and adults need daily quiet, “slowing down” time in their fast-paced, over-stimulated days, in order to connect with themselves, allow their brains to reset, and to feel calm inside. When kids get this, they feel more connected to others. When they feel more connected to others, they feel more secure and confident.
When families make time to practice mindfulness together, it shows that this is important to everyone – when kids see their parents practice, they are more likely to practice themselves. Practicing mindfulness as a family helps kids to have stronger self-esteem and learn to be more conscious and kind in their day-to-day actions. Parents feel less stressed, happier, and more connected to their kids. Finally, practicing mindfulness as a family helps strengthen relationships as it’s mostly about spending quality time together.
Here are 5 super easy ways to start practicing mindfulness as a family NOW (that do not involve meditating):
- Schedule at least 15 minutes of unstructured time each day (at the start or end of day) to come together and “just be” – to sit and unwind, with no specific agenda and no technology (TV, phone, computer, etc). Play a boardgame together, hang out in the backyard, chat, cook together, draw/paint/colour, chill, etc. This is a time to let go of schedules and checklists!
- Go out into nature once a week if possible together as a family. Do a family hike. Explore the land around you. Maybe even have a picnic while you are out. Nature connection is an important way of strengthening the “mindfulness muscle,” and kids and adults need this now more than ever to support their health and well-being.
- Have an evening meal together without technology. Send wishes of kindness to people you care about before eating.
- Take time each day to reflect together on three things from the day (no matter how small) that you feel grateful for.
- Laugh and be silly together as often as possible! 🙂
For further resources, the following two websites are excellent:
Mindfulness Everyday has a resource page for parents and families, as well as for children with lots of recommendations of books:
Mindful Families (Sara Marlowe, a social worker and mindfulness teacher in downtown Toronto, has some lovely resources and tips for families on her website):
Please feel welcome to share your thoughts and your own experiences in incorporating mindfulness in your life and with your families!