Mindful children – the answer to the future

Imagine having a child that is learning to be more mindful of others, at one with their natural environment and able to calm and regulate their emotions?  This is just some of the benefits of teaching your child about mindfulness.  If you’re not sure what mindfulness is about, you can get a quick induction by reading my previous post ‘Are you a mindful parent?’.  Now we can apply this to children.

Children are more in touch with their senses than us adults are.  They use these to learn from their world whilst us grown ups are busy thinking, thinking, thinking, but not necessarily feeling.  Without realising, our children might be a step further along their mindfulness practice than we are.  They just need us to guide them.  And this is why it is important to have a think about how mindful you are and start to become a role model of this.

The following list of activities is just a small start to get you thinking about the types of situations that are ideal for encouraging mindfulness with your children.

  • Eat outside.  This can be any meal or snack of the day.  Breakfast outside? Why not.  After school snack outside? Why not.  Eating itself is a great mindfulness activity.  Talk about the foods you are eating, the colours, the textures, the smell and even the sounds while you are crunching capsicum or snapping beans.  By eating outside, you can help your children to take in the sights, sounds and smells around them.

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  • Have a sing-a-long or blow some bubbles.  Singing and bubble blowing (letting the kids blow, that is!) involves using diaphragmatic breathing.  This encourages relaxation straight away, not to mention focussing on an engaging task.
  • Practice kids yoga.  The ultimate in breathing, body awareness, relaxation and enjoying the outdoors!  ‘Let the children show you how yoga is done’ gives you a run-down of how to get started.

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  • Get the kids washing each other’s hair!  Receiving a massage from a sibling is a great mindful activity.  Using a shampoo with essential oils also makes this an enticing olfactory exercise too.
  • Read books that focus on the child or their body.  ‘From Head to Toe’ by Eric Carle encourages your child to do animal actions.  ‘I Grow in Grandad’s Garden’ by Brian Andrew is a wonderful aide to help your child talk about their worries, feelings, dreams and gratitude.
  • Take the time to appreciate life and each other.  This could be as simple as encouraging the kids to thank the earth and farmers for the veggies they are eating, imagining how empty life would be without each other and appreciating the small actions of love they have received that day (for example, another child sharing with them, a sibling singing them a song or a hug from Daddy).
  • Study nature together.  Whether it’s talking about the weather, noticing the shapes of leaves or checking out the stars, this helps your child to look past their worries and to use their senses.
I wonder what the clouds are telling us today..

I wonder what the clouds are telling us today..

As you can see, these ideas are mostly activities that involve being outdoors (and taking conscious note of it), using the senses (and taking conscious note of it) or requiring children to move their bodies (and taking conscious note of it!).  This all helps your child to achieve more mindfulness.  And hopefully inspires you too!

What ideas can you come up with?

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Do I get on this ‘baby sign’ bandwagon or not?…

Baby sign has become quite popular lately and is certain to be a topic at mother’s groups.

The trouble is, you don’t have to be qualified in early language development or signing to teach it.  Hence, ‘baby sign’ can thus vary and be very expensive to learn.

What is key concept signing?

The ‘real’ baby sign is called ‘key concept signing’.  Here are some features:

  • it uses individual signs from Auslan (Australian sign language) along with gestures, pointing and facial expression
  • just the key concepts (or words) are signed, not the whole sentence – for example, ‘come get your hat or ‘more or finished?
  • words are always spoken as you sign
  • you might find key concept signing at childcare centres (if they use any)and also by Sofya, the hearing impaired Play School presenter

What are the benefits of signing?

Research indicates that all babies, not just those with hearing difficulties or language delays, benefit from being signed to.  Whilst many parents can only dream of teaching their baby a second language, signing allows your child to experience the same language opportunities of learning an extra language. These benefits include increased neural pathways in the brain and thus enhancing the language areas of your child’s brain.

Just like teaching another language, teaching your baby a sign for a word is teaching it that we can give more than one symbol to the same meaning (eg. flower), that is, a spoken word (‘flower’ or even a hand movement (the sign for ‘flower’).  This develops ‘symbolic thought’, which is the crux of language.

On top of having a ‘second language’, signing to your child gives more information than just saying a word verbally, which teaches them more about that concept.  For example:

  • the sign for ‘cow’, showing horns above your head, teaches the child a feature of a cow
  • the sign for ‘duck’, showing the duck’s bill with your hand, also teaches a feature of that animal
  • the sign for ‘book’, opening two palms outwards, shows that a book is something to be opened
  • the sign for ‘bath’, rubbing fists up and down in front of body, teaches your child the action that takes place in the bath

This all sounds very simple, but is literally building pathways in your baby’s brain and helping them to remember the word for next time, as it would be easier for you to learn a word in another language with someone reminding you with natural gestures (think ‘hat’, ‘come’, ‘stop’).  The sooner your child starts communicating to you, the sooner they get more interaction which is like a snowball effect for their development.

Keyword signing has been shown to promote quicker language development and definitely not hinder speech!  Here are a few reasons:

  • The adult is forced to speak slower and use simpler phrases, whilst they learn the signs.  This allows extra processing time for the child to understand the message.
  • Signing encourages establishing more eye contact and using more hand movements and facial expression.
  • A sign lasts in the child’s visual field until you take it away, whereas a verbal word comes and goes.  Think about someone talking to you in another language.  You would stay ‘with’ someone longer if they were using some gestures, rather than someone just talking.
  • You virtually only need to know a handful of signs at first, and repeat them.  This repetition of early words/concepts, thus helps your baby to learn language much quicker.
  • A baby starts to understand words well before they begin to speak.  They also start to use their hands before their lips and tongue can produce speech.   Hence a child can start to use their hands for signs, before their lips and tongue can produce speech.   Giving them signs is a way to help them express what they want to say much sooner.
  • Signing can help to decrease frustration not only now but also down the track when your one or even two-year-old hasn’t developed clear speech.
  • An example would be being at the shops  and with no context, your child says ‘doo’.  It could be ‘two’, ‘do’, ‘zoo’ – but then they sign ‘zoo’ … Some children develop clear speech quickly, others do not.  Some children don’t mind if you don’t understand them, others do.  Having signs is a good back up, just in case!

Remember, the early years count.  The sooner you get your child understanding and then expressing their thoughts, the more they can interact with you, which builds up the social and language areas of the brain and of course the cognitive areas.

So can you see the benefits of signing to your child?  It is quite easy and quick to get started.  See post Getting Started With Signs for more information.

🙂 Heidi

Declan working out his hands! Signing 'finished' using both!

Declan working out his hands! Signing ‘finished’ using both (his brain hadn’t yet worked out how to only use one)!

My sister and I signing the alphabet song to Hayden when he was about 7 months old.

My sister and I signing the alphabet song to Hayden when he was about 7 months old. Fun!