Since one of my kids asked for a break from the sports activity she used to do until two months ago, I have been using this extra time together to go for a walk with her and our dog. This is a time with no cell phone or distractions, when I try to make the most out of our time together by being mindful while subtly showing her what mindfulness is about at the same time.
There is a lovely trail within a park very close to our house, and that’s where we head to every day. My tween daughter loves to spot animals there, so we try to be quiet and even step with mindfulness, and avoid crunchy leaves by trying to land lightly on the rocks in the gravel to make as little noise as we can. Today, she even asked to take her shoes off! For a long time in my life, even after I had a job, I have enjoyed walking barefoot. It feels… raw. If you pay enough attention, it helps you feel more connected to the earth, and eventually also to everything around you.
There was this time during our walk when we heard sounds louder than usual coming from a bush. I left my daughter in front of it holding the dog’s leash, and I went to the back of it to see if I could spot the animal or have it run away from me, consequently passing by my daughter. Neither happened; the little animal (probably a bunny, we think) managed to escape from our view. But this visit to the bush turned out to be a good idea! I ended up face to face with a big spider web, where two big bugs (bigger than the spider itself) were caught, under the proud spider’s watch. When I restarted walking through the woods with my daughter, I told her, “Can you imagine how mindful a mosquito has to be so it doesn’t end up into the first spider web on its way?” To her and her big imagination, that was the trigger needed! She made a few jokes about her being the mosquito and how careless she can be sometimes, proceeding to wonder how many times she would need to be reborn as a mosquito to learn that lesson. When she felt done with those jokes, she calmed down and watched her step, handed me the dog and walked carefully, being present with her every step; at least for a while.
All the way to a clearing we always visit, we would whisper to each other if we wanted to communicate. We did not want to disturb the creatures along the trail; we wanted to be one with that place. At that clearing, we always sit down on separate sides for a minute or two of complete silence and big awareness. We look around this beautiful place, full of vegetation and tall trees. From there, we have spotted deer, squirrels, coyotes, bunnies, owls, and other birds. So, we are always in the hope of seeing some animal. After some time in silence, we get back up and continue a bit further down the path, talking about our experiences while in silence. Then, we usually head back home, feeling renewed by this world of beauty that is nature; always so nurturing!
Even during simple walks, we can manage to fit in mindfulness. If the person with you does not want to participate, of course I will suggest you don’t force it. But, with this post, I am suggesting it is possible to open kids’ eyes for this fruitful practice depending on your approach. I am sure that if I had told my daughter, “Hey! Stop talking for five minutes so we can practice mindfulness.” The reaction would have been completely different. As parents or caregivers, we end up finding out about many things that could possibly trigger the kids’ motivation. Finding an interesting subject and mixing up mindfulness principles in it will help them try it from a fun and engaging perspective.
Before I end this post, I want to add more ideas, which were part of an article I found about teaching mindfulness to children, originally published in Parents Canada magazine, May/June 2013:
“Children can be introduced to the principles of mindfulness from a young age, says Roy Hintsa, a Toronto area stress reduction facilitator. Children of all ages can benefit from different styles of training. Younger children tend to respond more to physical activities rather than practising meditation.” Here are some exercises recommended for preschool children:
“Mindful listening: Tell your child you are going to ring a bell or a tone bar. Ask them to listen carefully to the sound of the bell and raise their hands when they can no longer hear it.
Breath awareness: Have your child lie down on a mat on the floor, or on their bed, and place their favourite stuffed animal on their belly. Have them rock the stuffed animal to sleep with the movement of their belly as they breathe in and out. This is how they can begin to pay attention to their breathing.
Mindful eating: This is a time when playing with your food is OK. Give your child a piece of fruit and ask them to pretend they are from another planet and have never seen this piece of fruit before. Ask them to describe their experience using all five senses. What does it look like? Smell like? Feel like? Taste like? Does it make a sound when you bite it?”