Eline Snel: I led a training in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) for a group of twelve principals at my local school board. They asked me to develop a training method for children. So I did, after several tryouts in different schools and age groups.
S: How do you explain to a child what mindfulness is?
ES: I use the metaphor of a frog to help children become familiar with mindfulness as a daily attitude or lifestyle. A frog can sit very still, but can also jump very far—just like our minds do. You can see the breathing in the frog’s belly. Awareness of your own breathing helps you to concentrate and focus. And notice when the concentration is gone. Frogs are also aware of their surroundings, without constantly reacting.
S: How early in their childhood can a parent start introducing mindfulness practices to his or her child?
ES: Children can practice mindfulness from the age of 4.
S: Do children do the same sort of meditation practice we think of adults as doing? I mean, sitting silently for extended periods of time?
ES: We use the practices from the curriculum of the eight-week MBSR training—but just in shorter (4-10 minutes) and more playful versions adapted to their age.
S: What’s an example of one of the mindfulness practices you teach children?
ES: One exercise is “the weather forecast,” in which the children learn to give words to their inner “weather.” They learn that they don’t have to change the inner weather. Like the weather outside, the inner weather changes on its own. By being aware of this they learn more about acceptance of feelings.
S: What are some of the specific benefits children can get from mindfulness practices?
ES: They learn how to concentrate and how to calm down their minds. How to be in contact with their bodies instead of living in their heads. To deal with unpleasant feelings. That they have thoughts, and that they don’t have to listen to them. And they learn about (self) compassion and the secret of happiness.
Learn more about Eline’s new book, Sitting Still Like a Frog, here.