Mindful play with children includes being mindful of our children’s attitude. Teaching children to be mindful of their attitude allows them to self-assess and re-adjust their perspective in order to enjoy life.
A simple way to accomplish this is to predetermine an appropriate time to practice a gratitude exercise with them (but don’t tell them about your plan). That is, rather than try to force them sit still and verbalize all the things they should be grateful for (possible after they have just been sulking about not getting something), find an out of the blue (secretly planned) time to play a game together.
Children love spending time with their parents (when it’s fun!). And as long as you don’t expect to get away with doing gratitude mediation with them every second day, your child will enjoy a spontaneous ‘let’s play who’s the most grateful – I bet I win!…and then I will beat you in a game of snap!’
Once the meditation is over and you are onto the next game ask them how they are feeling and whether they think the meditation had anything to do with how they feel. By following up in this way you will teach them to self-assess their inner state and they will consciously acknowledge within themselves they can use meditation mind skills when they need to re-adjust their attitude.
Teaching children to meditate doesn’t happen overnight. It’s something that takes time and patience. By easing children into gratitude exercises without the exercise being a big deal, you will have a lot more success with teaching them to spend heart felt, quality time within themselves.
What is a gratitude meditation and how do I turn it into a game?
A gratitude exercise is simply a time where we sit and think of all the things we are grateful for. While it’s good to be grateful for everything you have in life, it’s better to focus on being grateful for the non-material things you have in life. For example, your relationships, your positive attitude, your passion for something, your ability to seek knowledge, your ability to help others, your health, your life, etc. It’s also a wonderful feeling to be mindful of your gratitude for nature: the trees and the fruit they give, the birds and the songs they sing, the waves crashing on the shore, the sun and the warmth it gives, the rain, the mud and even the bugs that help manage the cycle of life. Nature is a beautiful thing and teaching children to appreciate it will encourage a sense of wellbeing within them.
A gratitude game to play the next time you are driving in the car.
Here’s another great way to do a gratitude training exercise with your child. Rather than simply playing ‘I spy with my little eye’, simply add ‘something that I’m grateful for that starts with the letter ….’ Playing the eye spy game in this way will engage a child’s higher order thinking skills in several ways. Firstly, the child experiences an opportunity to dig deep into their own gratitude resources to find things to spy when it’s their turn. Secondly, they learn to critically think within an empathetic context when trying to guess what you chose to be grateful for. Finally, the process will engage meta-cognition (thinking about their own thinking and what someone else is thinking) without even realizing it.
Note: When you engage in mindful play with children there’s no need to correct your child for saying they are grateful for all their toys, or their favourite television show, or the ice-cream shop. It’s great to be grateful for everything. And over time as your child sees you focus on the non-material things or the beauty of nature, rather than the house, car and fancy things, they will learn to do the same.
Author Elizabeth Mulhane
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Elizabeth Mulhane B.PsySc(Hons)
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