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What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, nonjudgmentally.  -Jon Kabat-Zinn

Engaging in mindfulness is a way to prevent challenging behavior by creating a setting event that reduces the likelihood of the ABC (Antecedent-Behavior-Consequence) event that produces problem behavior will occur.


So how do you 'get mindful?'

And, how do you help children be mindful?

tips for fostering mindful behavior

Below you will find a list of ideas, suggestions, and considerations for developing mindfulness among adults and children alike.

General Tips for Cultivating Mindfulness

  • Do you 'buy in' to mindfulness?  It will be hard to develop this skill without an open-minded approach.  Consider reading some background research on the science of mindfulness and its psychological and physical benefits.  More importantly, approach the experience with willingness.  Like your mom used to say, "Try it.  You might like it."

  • Be patient.  Developing mindful practices is like building a muscle - it takes time.

  • Consider each component in the definition of mindfulness: awareness, attention to the present moment, and nonjudgmental observation.  What do each of those components mean to you?  How do you 'do' them?

  • Awareness means being open to experiencing things - both internally and externally - as they are happening.  If you have the tendency to anticipate what you will notice or control what you attend to,  try to let go.  Simply notice your world as it is.

  • Present moment refers to limiting your awareness to the current environment - be aware of what is happening right NOW.  If you have the tendency to think about things that happened in the past or what might happen in the future, learn to notice those drifts away from the present and gently bring your attention back to present.

  • Nonjudgemental observation refers to awareness of things as they are, without attempting to evaluate or appraising your thoughts and sensations.  Do you have the tendency to judge your own thoughts or experiences?   Try to notice when you making evaluations and let them go.  Let those thoughts pass you by without interacting with them.

  • Try different approaches to mindfulness: formal meditative practices and informal mindful awareness of daily living.  There are many different forms of engaging in mindful awareness; you may like some more than others.

  • If you are learning to meditate, look into various kinds of meditation, such as concentration meditation and mindfulness meditation.  Are you bringing your awareness to a specific object of attention or to the larger environment? 

  • Keep in mind that different meditative and mindful practices aren't mutually exclusive!  You can sit to formally meditate and practice mindfulness when you are brushing your teeth, depending on what suits your needs at that time.

  • Think of various ways to be mindful all the time - maintain awareness of your posture, tension in your body, rate of breathing, and the constant flow of thoughts you have throughout the day.

  • Are there specific daily practices you can commit to?  Can you begin your day with a ten-minute mindful breathing exercise before you get out of bed?  Could your day end with a guided meditation or progressive muscle relaxation activity?

  • How can you incorporate mindfulness into your daily routines?  Can you practice mindful eating each day during breakfast or lunch?  Perhaps exercising the dog can become a daily mindful walk or your morning shower is a time to focus on awareness of physical sensations.  Get creative with how you can be mindful.

  • Have compassion for yourself.  Being open to and accepting of all of your thoughts and experiences isn't easy, and a loving, forgiving attitude toward yourself will go a long way.

Considerations for Mindful Children

  • Children may experience the same kinds of "psychological noise" that adults do - worries, fears, distractions may effect their behavior.  Likewise, developing mindfulness with children can present some similar challenges to adults, as well as some unique to youngsters.

  • "Buy in" may be difficult initially for kids - understanding why open awareness could help them is not easy.  It is even more important for a child to CONTACT the positive outcomes of mindfulness than to understand them.

  • Create specific connections between mindfulness and good outcomes.  Praise children for engaging in mindful behavior (even small instances of mindfulness) and link that to a positive outcome.  For example - "I noticed you focused on your breathing right before you took that free throw.  I bet it felt good when it was nothing but net!"

  • Start small.  Children do not need to start off with sitting meditation for ten minutes at a time.  That's overwhelming to most adults.  One minute of mindfulness is plenty to start with.  Notice one thought.  Bring awareness to one breath.  Build stamina slowly over time.

  • Make it concrete.  Create structure in mindful practices for children just learning these skills.  Mindful walks, videos, and other activity-based exercises may engage children more easily when they are just starting out.

  • Use tools.  Children like to interact with objects, so incorporate them into mindfulness activities.  Bring in bubbles, bells, mats, music, or whatever else you can think of to enhance mindful practice.  Just be sure there is a clear mindfulness component to these activities.

  • Make mindfulness fun!  You don't want mindfulness to feel like another chore children are required to do at home, school, or therapy.  There are many ways to make mindfulness entertaining, even game-like, which may help to foster "buy in" and help children learn to want to be mindful.

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