“Mindfulness” is a psychological approach that is growing in popularity with those managing chronic diseases. It involves becoming more aware of our thoughts, feelings and physical sensations at the very moment they occur, and not reacting to them out of habit—rather, practitioners try to choose how to respond to those experiences. Mindfulness almost always involves some form of quiet meditation or relaxation.
By Dr. Christine Chambers
Kids can be taught to be mindful. There is a growing body of research that shows that mindfulness can help children pay attention, calm down when they are upset and make better decisions. It can also help children to cope with the pain and distress of having a medical condition such as IBD.
Mindfulness needs regular practise. Find five to 10 minutes each day for you and your child to start with some meditation. Try to incorporate mindfulness into your daily activities. For example, focus on the taste and texture when eating a grape, instead of just gobbling it up; or concentrate on the sights and sounds around you when walking home, rather than moving on autopilot.
Keep it simple
Keep it simple with your children. Mindfulness is a big concept for kids to understand. However, mindfulness is really just awareness—awareness of thoughts, feelings and sensations; in fact, anything that is happening around you right now. Don’t force it. Not all kids are interested in the concept. Some will prefer to distract themselves rather than to be aware, especially during times of stress.
You can try lots of activities to introduce and encourage mindfulness with your children. For example, encourage your children to use their superhero powers (e.g., their “Spidey-senses”) to pay attention to sights and sounds that they wouldn’t normally notice. Encourage your children to give you a personal “weather report” to help describe their feelings in the moment—are they feeling sunny, rainy or foggy? To help your children focus on deep breathing, have them imagine that their tummy is a beachball that they have to gradually inflate and deflate.
Remember, children model what they see. So if you would like to encourage mindfulness in your children, show them how you are practicing mindfulness in your day-to-day life and parenting. Mindfulness is a skill and, like any skill, it requires patience and practise. But it can also provide a lot of opportunities for creativity and self-discovery, for children and parents alike.
Dr. Christine Chambers is a clinical psychologist and professor in the Departments of Pediatrics and Psychology & Neuroscience at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She is based in the Centre for Pediatric Pain Research at the IWK Health Centre. She is interested in helping children with chronic illness and pain. You can follow her on Twitter at @drcchambers and using the hashtag #itdoesnthavetohurt. Reprinted with permission from You, Me and IBD.