I’ve learned from both girls that parents can introduce children to mindfulness as young as infants. While these itty bitty children may not fully understand how to use it in practice, the early exposure can help children feel compassion, help them stay calm and become accustomed to mindfulness techniques and language.
Most of the activities I post on this site are with my older daughter because my younger daughter is just 2. And while she is too young to actively participate in many of our experiments, in many ways just her presence during our activities has helped her already. I’ve also been deliberately trying some practices with her which I’ve listed below:
- Have her be the “healer”: Even a 2-year old can feel empowered to help others in need especially siblings or friends. If my older daughter is hurt or upset, I often ask my toddler to check on her sister and give her a hug. I get the ice, but then have my toddler apply it on her sister’s boo-boo; or I have my toddler get the bandaid. Now when her older sister is upset, she immediately goes to the freezer to ask for ice or asks me if she can bring her a bandaid.
- Role-Play & Name Emotions: We do role-play to act out and name certain emotions. My 2-year old already knows how to name sad, mad, scared, happy, love and expresses these now when she feels them. Often times in our role-play I’ll pretend I’m her little crying baby, and she then asks me what is wrong and says…”baby sad?” She rubs my face and then starts kissing me to make me feel better. Even at such a young age, she already shows an incredible capacity to empathize.
- Work with Fears: In Dan Siegel’s book, The Whole-Brain Child, he discusses how we shouldn’t dismiss children’s fears and instead should recount the stories that are causing these fears with them to help them work through it. My toddler started preschool this year, and the first few weeks of drop-off were rough. Every time I left her she would cry her eyes out. So we started talking about our drop-off routine regularly. We would talk about driving over, and walking to class with her Elmo backpack and Elmo lunch-pail , then I would pause and ask her how she felt when mommy was leaving. She said she would feel sad. And I asked her if it was scary to be at the new classroom and she would say yes. And then we talked about how she would play with her new friends and do songs and books, which would make her chuckle but that mommy always came back after lunch. I repeated this story each week. She eventually did adjust to her wonderful preschool, and I don’t know if my storytelling had anything to do with it. However, I do know that by having a habit of acknowledging fears, over time we will help her resolve them.
- Give Massages: I posted how foot massages can be deeply relaxing for children, but truly any massage can be relaxing. And especially for infants and toddlers, a massage can be a way to not only bond with your child but to use the power of touch to help them calm down and relax. This can be done any time, but after baths or before bedtime are an awesome time for this soothing routine.
- Take deep breaths together: I’ve taught my toddler how to do a deep breath. It does not work as a technique to calm her down yet, but her priceless facial expressions make the practice worth it. Right now we mostly do deep breaths together when she isn’t upset and when we are just hanging out. But as she gets older, she will have a deep breath in her arsenal of tools to help her calm down and relax.
- Include her in Mindfulness Activities: I try to include my younger daughter in any mindfulness activities that she can join from “Rainbow Walk” to “Mini-Singing Bowl Breaks” as well as other activities. In many cases, she mainly just mimics her sister or me, but she already knows how to respond in many of them. During our singing bowl breaks, she closes her eyes and gives us a thumbs up. When we do the game “Guess the Letter/Shape on my Back” game, she also closes her eyes and then randomly says a letter. I know she is already connecting the dots, which will only help her as she gets older.