Virtually every educator understands the importance of the first five years of development. Rapid brain development lays a foundation for health, wellness, and happiness. As childcare educators, the level of influence in such development is significant. You’ll work to empower children, offer tools to succeed in life and provide the skills needed to flourish.
But, what exactly is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the deliberate recognition of your environment at any point in time. It includes feelings, thoughts, and physical components of the body, accepting the present moment as experienced. Mindfulness has many notable benefits, mainly reducing anxiety, addressing stress, and promoting self-awareness. In other words, mindfulness directly connects to self-esteem and conflict management.
Why is mindfulness important in the early years?
As we continue to adapt to a life busier than ever before, children feel the pressures of the chaos. Adults occasionally struggle with busy schedules, burnout, and the constant pull of daily activities. Children similarly feel these stressors. Whether drop-offs, pick-ups, activities, childcare, playdates, or the general chaos connected to everyday life, the negative attachment can be challenging to manage.
Mindfulness provides tools to young children; it encourages confidence, stress management, and skills to develop healthy coping mechanisms. Additionally, mindfulness can help with executive functions, the core critical skills needed for advanced skillsets. These critical elementary skills include remembering information, paying attention, shifting between activities or tasks, and appropriate social interactions.
Research studies have shown three specific benefits to incorporating mindfulness in childcare centres. The first benefit includes:
- Decreased stress levels.
- Reduced disruptive behaviour levels.
- Lessened anxiety within the classroom.
- A lower probability of depression.
The second benefit consists of improved academic performance. Academic performance includes the child’s overall well-being and resolving conflict among peers. Finally, mindfulness directly correlates to increased focus, self-control, compassion, and attention within the facility.
Incorporating Mindfulness Techniques
Educators need to start with modelling the practice to teach children various mindfulness techniques. This doesn’t need to be extensive amounts of time, but a few minutes throughout the day. After all, the easiest way to show others the benefits of mindfulness is through age-appropriate demonstration. To help get you started, here are a few activities to promote mindfulness at your childcare centre:
The acronym R.A.I.N. can help everyone deal with difficult emotions, particularly young minds that struggle with big feelings. The R stands for recognising. This means putting a name on the emotion or feeling you’re currently having. The A stands for Allow or Acknowledge. To acknowledge feelings is to permit yourself to feel that specific emotion. The I in the acronym asks individuals to investigate why they’re feeling a particular emotion. This might include your mind, feelings, or body. The N in the acronym dictates that we non-identify what’s there. This helps deflate the story and helps identify the emotion as a passing state (not a permanent feeling).
This acronym helps create a space to deescalate and return from a worried state of mind. It works to bring people back into the current moment, eliminating the mind racing that comes with negative thought patterns. The S in the acronym reminds us to stop what we’re doing and to put everything down for a moment. The T reminds us to take a breath. Breathing doesn’t have to be deep or excessive; instead, focus on the normal breathing state. Using words like “in” and “out” as you’re breathing can help build the concentration of this exercise. The O encourages everyone to observe their thoughts, emotions, and feelings. Remind yourself that thoughts are not facts, nor are they permanent. During this exercise, notice the thought, acknowledge it, and move on. Feel free to give them a name if you see emotions, which can have a calming effect (according to research from U.C.L.A.). Finally, the P tells us to proceed with something nurturing and supportive in that moment. This could be emotional support from calling a friend, finding a nutritious snack, or rubbing tight areas of the body.
Shower or Bath
Instead of focusing on the never-ending tasks you’ve got going on, take a few moments to bring yourself into the sensations of the shower. Focus on your body under the warm water. Smell the soap for nothing more than the scent. Continue this mindfulness, refocusing your attention back on the shower any time another thought comes into the mind.
Walking is a simple mindfulness method throughout the day, even if this isn’t a long period of time. Make sure to focus on appreciation throughout the walk while thanking your legs and feet for all they do throughout the day. Likewise, grounding is another popular technique for mindfulness. Pay attention to the sensation of the heel as it hits the ground, followed by the base of the foot, and finally the toes. This technique keeps you in the present moment, focused exclusively on walking.
Encouraging Mindfulness Techniques with Children
Being rigid and formal with mindfulness will not encourage positive techniques; it’s liable to discourage them altogether. When introducing these methods to your children, always keep things informal and fluid. Do the activities along with the children and imitate the behaviour for demonstration.
Practice Positive Thinking
Start by having the children sit comfortably on the floor or on a mat. They should close their eyes or look at the floor, thinking of someone they truly look up to and respect. This might be a friend or a family member. Ask the children to think of how that person makes them feel. Have them consider a positive wish and imagine them mailing the wish to that person. Ask the children to do this a few times with different people they like. Then try asking the children to think of an individual that has upset or frustrated them. Continue the positive wishes for the negative person, finding something positive they want for that individual.
Focus on Breathing
One of the easiest activities for children is the connection to their breathing. This might include mindful breathing, which consists of the visual or word connection with breath to make it engaging. Try using phrases like “I am a lake” on inhale with an emotion attached to the exhale, for example, “I am calm” or “I am strong.” Have children lay on the floor with a stuffed toy on their belly for younger children. Encourage children to push the bear up slowly with their inhale and lower the teddy by exhaling.
A Method of Appreciation
Teaching mindfulness when upset, stressed, or angry isn’t about pretending they’re not feeling those emotions. It’s focusing attention on feeling two things at once. Start by asking the child if they feel disappointed by someone or something. Ask them how it makes them feel while acknowledging their feelings. Talk about their feelings, if appropriate. Encourage positive influence simultaneously by stating, “I’m sure that even when you’re feeling disappointed, other good things are happening in your life too. Why don’t we name three good things?”
If the children have difficulty thinking of three things, help them brainstorm to discover more. Help the children understand that the game isn’t trying to sweep feelings under the rug; it’s a leading opportunity to recognise good and bad feelings. Implement the “Three Good Things” game throughout the centre’s daily schedule to encourage the habit.
Mindfulness Encourages Healthy Self Reflection
Mindfulness is an essential component of the growth and development of young minds, particularly within the first five years. With proper practice, these skills can shape self-esteem, communication, and a growth mindset. These methods start with leaders, caretakers, and teachers within the facility; they need to come naturally within the centre instead of forcing the lesson. By shaping emotions and feelings as natural components, children can accept positive and negative attributes within themselves.
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