My Children and I Were Silent for Five Minutes. Here's What Happened When We Began to Practice Mindfulness
A house full of children is a house full of chaos. With our tablets and phones, Netflix and Minecraft, with our Amazon Echo, our radios and TVs, with a barking dog and sibling squabbles we are constantly in a state of massive over-stimulation. One day last month, it became abundantly clear to me that I had simply had ENOUGH.
Something had to change in our family.
I gathered my children together, and took them outside. I talked to them a bit about how constant noise and distraction leads to increased levels of stress and discontent, and how I desire a better life for our family. We talked a bit about this goal, and decided together that we would practice learning to be quiet, still, and present in the moment. In our family, this practice leads toward the end-goal of learning to pray, to be still before God, and to listen for His voice. Even if your family is not particularly religious, there are many benefits of practicing mindfulness with your children.
Why should children practice mindfulness?
Children these days are under increasing amounts of stress, at earlier and earlier ages. Many studies suggest that these high levels of stress lead to both immediate and long-term issues with physical and mental health. Our children are under pressure to learn more advanced concepts—at earlier ages—than ever before. Children face pressure even in early elementary school with high-stakes standardized testing, and at the same time, they are practicing how to shelter in place with active shooter drills. Our kids have to learn how to navigate safely online, and unfortunately must learn about the dangers they can face with creepy adults with nefarious intentions. Recent school-based mindfulness programs are showing great promise in decreasing symptoms of depression, stress, and anxiety, and boosting happiness amongst secondary and high school students.
Children who are diagnosed with ADD/ADHD and children on the Autism spectrum may find these mindfulness exercises difficult, but can benefit greatly from learning the self-control strategies and calming focus gained from focusing their thoughts and excluding external stimuli. Often these children are able to carry over these skills into their daily life as well.
Children who learn to practice mindfulness during their daily lives are children who learn to ultimately self-actualize, coming to realizations about life, about their relationships with others, and ultimately, about their relationship with Creation and God, the Creator.
Our progress so far toward mindfulness:
Our first day, we decided to be quiet for five whole minutes. We were outside, amongst the trees in our back garden, and I simply asked the kids to be quiet and listen carefully to see how many different sounds they could hear. I set the timer on my phone, and we all tried to quiet ourselves. I won’t lie; we had a couple of false starts. My daughter got the giggles. The kids stopped listening and started making faces at each other. I found myself surprisingly a little bit twitchy in the silence, struggling not to look at my phone. But we just reset, and tried again. Eventually, we did find ourselves able to be still, and to listen. And it was glorious.
My kids absolutely loved this mindfulness exercise, and enjoyed sharing what they had heard. I found that the calm that came over us lasted for the rest of the afternoon. My kids had kind of been arguing and picking on each other earlier in the day, but after our mindfulness exercise, they chose to play a cooperative game together without any prompting from me. Well, that was proof enough for me; I was sold. I would learn to teach my children to be mindful.
Since this first experiment, we have been working toward consistency. There are days when we get busy with sports, household duties, summer camp, and more…and we forget. But on the days when we do manage to come together for our quiet time, we all love the results. Each day, I offer them a topic to think about, or something to pray about. Sometimes, we lay on our backs in the yard and try to see what we can see in the clouds. Sometimes, we talk to God about what He would like to say to us today. Some days, we are simply silent, with no agenda whatsoever. Some days are better than others, but after our period of silence, we come back together and talk about what we have just done. The kids and I are all using a journal to record our thoughts during this time, as well, and we are looking forward to seeing how God answers our prayers, and how we are changed over time through our practice of mindfulness.
My hope with this mindfulness exercise is two-fold; I hope that my children learn some new skills and tools that they can use to calm down, slow down, and feel better when they are troubled, and I hope that they can learn to quiet themselves before God and hear His voice in their daily lives.