From Star Wars to Inside Out to Kung Fu Panda, we’ve seen mindfulness on the big screen. Characters learn the art of being present. They feel anxiety and stay with it, and their growing awareness leads to self-acceptance and a deeper understanding of themselves and the world around them.
But real life is messier than a Pixar script.
Adults find it difficult enough to calm their minds and take care of their emotional highs and lows. Is mindfulness worth trying with children? What are the potential benefits for young people?
Here are four for starters.
Imagine if you grew up knowing that you were perfectly fine, just the way you were?
Mindfulness teaches children to befriend difficult emotions instead of avoiding the emotions or numbing themselves. Instead, they approach whatever’s going on with a kind curiosity. They practice being open, without hiding ‘bad’ feelings or thoughts.
Getting to accept yourself wholly– the parts that make you burst with pride and the parts you hide in shame – creates a foundation for healthy behaviour, good boundaries, and a grounded self. It’s one of the great life lessons.
They’re going to need it. Young people today face challenges unlike any other: the barrage of media; the huge increase in vulnerability to bullying online; and technology’s ability to keep us always on and easily distracted -- a recent study showed that young people’s experience of tech was similar to addiction.
With mindfulness, young people strengthen the ability to be present and focused with clarity of thought.
Mindfulness might as easily have been called ‘bodyfulness’. It brings our awareness (often orbiting in a nebulous cloud of thoughts) deep into our bodies. Young people stay fully present, befriending their body in its imperfection and its awesomeness. This ‘tend and befriend’ process sets a great pattern of self-care.
Seeing your body as a gift, rather than a problem to fix – that’s a lesson to learn as young as possible.
By learning to notice what they feel and think, young people can start to see themselves clearly, without getting side-swiped by judgement and discursive thinking. They learn to be with themselves. In time, they become aware of habits of thought and patterns of behaviour. They see what eases suffering and what makes life worse.
Children face challenging situations: illness, loss, moving home, changes in family shape or dynamics, bullying behaviour. Through mindfulness, they can self-regulate: discover what reassures them in times of anxiety or sadness, and how to create a feeling of calm or joy. They build a toolkit to draw on in times of need.