What is Mindfulness, and why do we need it?
Mindfulness is the technique of being fully present in the moment without judgment or distraction. It involves paying attention to the current moment and being aware of your senses, thoughts, feelings and surroundings without being overwhelmed.
It's a skill that helps us cope with big emotions and challenging experiences, and, just like a muscle, it's something we can all build with practice.
Mindfulness helps us be more connected to our experiences and allows us to live more meaningfully.
Practising mindfulness regularly increases self-awareness, reduces stress, and enhances overall well-being.
Mindfulness is a valuable tool for helping children manage the potential stresses and anxieties of moving through the developmental stages from baby and toddlers through to school age and adolescence.
As well as helping children reduce levels of stress and support their self-regulation, it is also thought to help increase their focus, attention, and compassion.
Did you know your little one is a mini mindfulness master?
Engaging in mindfulness with your little one is a beautiful way to bond and promote their overall development. Even if some parents or caregivers feel their child is too young for mindfulness, it may surprise them that their child is already a natural at it. Simply observe your child immersed in play, and witness their innate mindfulness skills in action.
Children possess a natural curiosity and adaptability that helps them remain mindful. They live in the present moment, free from adult distractions and responsibilities. Joining them in play can teach us valuable mindfulness techniques.
Now encouraging mindful eating helps reinforce these innate skills children are born with, especially when adult influence starts to interfere with these natural cues.
Mindfulness at Mealtimes
Mealtime is vital for children as it provides a chance to refuel their bodies and connect with their families.
However, in today's fast-paced world, we often find ourselves rushing through meals with our children. We constantly multitask, checking our phones or thinking about the next task on our to-do list. This can negatively impact our own well-being and our children's.
In addition, mindfulness at mealtimes can be an excellent way to instil healthy eating habits and enhance the parent/caregiver-child relationship.
It is a great tool to help us slow down and thoroughly enjoy our meals, and it's never too early to start practising it with your little one.
So, how can you make mealtimes more mindful and enjoyable? Here are a few tips to get you started:
Set the Environment
Encourage your little one to help you set the table, and give them the option of what to help you with; perhaps they would like to put the cutlery or the napkins; as your little one grows, you can extend these responsibilities.
Getting them involved with preparing the environment will help your child understand and anticipate routines, making them calmer as they know what to expect.
Or, using a placemat or special plate can help encourage routine and mindfulness, allowing your little one to focus on their meal and avoid interruptions.
To help create a peaceful environment, a simple trick is to dim the lights and remove distractions like the TV and phones.
Start with gratitude
Take a moment with your little one to appreciate the delicious meal and the people who prepared it. You can express your gratitude by saying something like, "This smells amazing. Thank you, Grandma, for cooking such a lovely meal for us." Also, showing appreciation for your company is essential, so you could say, "I'm grateful for your company. Thank you for joining me for lunch."
When discussing the food, describe what it is and how it smells. Encourage your little one to think about the ingredients and where they come from. For example, you can say, "This rice pudding has milk and rice. Do you know where milk comes from? That's right, from cows. Thank you, cows, for giving us such delicious milk."
By fostering a sense of connection, gratitude and mindfulness, you create a positive mealtime experience.
Encourage all the senses
Engaging all the senses during mealtimes can be an excellent way to encourage mindfulness.
Ask your little one to describe their food using all their senses. Looking at the colours and shapes of the food, smelling the aromas, tasting the flavours, feeling the textures, and even listening to the sounds of chewing and swallowing.
Try focusing on one sense at a time when exploring food with your child to encourage curiosity and thinking skills. Start with the sense of smell by asking open-ended questions like, "What ingredients can you smell?" or "How does the food smell?"
Share your observations, such as, "I can smell lemon and coriander in my food; what else can you smell?" Once you've explored the sense of smell, move on to a different sense to encourage your child to engage their senses while eating fully.
While it's okay to let our children have toys or stories during mealtimes, it's best to avoid distractions when practising mindful eating.
It's also essential to create a screen-free zone during mealtime, as many studies have shown that screens can increase non-nutritive snacking, interfere with healthy eating habits, and decrease family bonding.
Encourage your little one to focus on the food and conversation and be fully present in the moment. Establishing this habit can be challenging, but it can make a significant difference in making mealtimes more meaningful.
Take your time to eat
It might seem obvious, but slowing down and taking time to eat is key to practising mindfulness at mealtimes.
Encourage your child to eat slowly, savour each bite, and chew thoroughly. For younger children, especially those who still eat with their hands, consider feeding them smaller, more manageable portions so they can take their time.
This habit can be challenging for little ones who tend to be in a rush, but it can become a lovely routine with time.
Enjoy each others company!
Mealtime is a lovely opportunity for building a deeper relationship between parents/caregivers and children.
Engaging in meaningful conversations, talking about their day or favourite foods, or encouraging them to try new things helps form positive memories around mealtime.
Show your little one that you care by being fully present and attentive, actively listening to what they say.
Overall, encouraging our children to be mindful of their food can make mealtime a more enjoyable experience for the whole family.
As parents and caregivers, we can create a peaceful environment for our children to develop a healthy relationship with food by adopting some simple habits. Practising mindfulness while eating is a beautiful way to promote our loved one's physical and emotional well-being in the long run, and it's never too early to start.
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