Mindfulness is, simply put, the practice of focusing the mind on the present moment. It works well for all ages, and especially for people who have suffered from trauma and instability in their lives – making it a powerful tool for positivity amongst teens and children in foster care.
For a simple practice that’s open to anyone, mindfulness has a great impact: it improves focus, reduces stress, leads to better sleep, boosts the immune system, teaches emotional regulation, increases compassion for oneself and others, and builds inner resilience.
While mindfulness is considered a safe practice for most people, for foster teens and children who have experienced severe trauma or who may be suffering from PTSD it’s best to seek guidance from a medical professional before beginning.
5 steps for teaching mindfulness to teenagers and children
1. Be mindful together.
One of the best ways to get your foster teen to try mindfulness is to show them how mindful behaviours can help by practicing them together.
Ask your teen to help you in the garden and encourage them to engage their senses by smelling the different plants and feeling the different textures. Or try eating mindfully by setting aside any distractions (like smartphones and tablets) and take turns describing your food to each other, really paying attention to details like the smell, taste, and texture.
There are many simple ways to bring mindfulness into your daily life – even age-old activities like looking for shapes in passing clouds can encourage you and your teen to bring your focus to the present moment.
2. Use metaphors and visualisations.
For people who are new to mindfulness, some activities like meditation can be a bit hard to manage at first. Use simple metaphors to help your teen understand what’s going on in their minds, and how they can take control.
One helpful metaphor is to think of the mind like a monkey, jumping from thought-branch to thought-branch all day long. The monkey is useful when it comes to keeping track of our daily lives, but when he’s running the show, things can get a bit hectic. Learning to listen to your monkey mind without letting it take over is one of the goals of mindfulness.
Another popular visualisation technique is to picture your thoughts as clouds floating across the sky, or as boats floating by on a lake. They can be acknowledged, then left to continue drifting away.
3. Get physical.
Using physical props and movements can help easily distracted teens stay focused.
Yoga and mindfulness walks are both simple ways to combine gentle exercise with mindfulness. In yoga, keep focused on the breath and the sensations of the body, while mindfulness walks involve paying attention to the world around you – the colours, the smells, the sounds, etc.
Body scans are a type of relaxation technique that involve slowly focusing on each part of the body in turn, while prayer beads are an age-old tool for concentrating on prayer and meditation.
4. Find the right environment.
Choose the right space and the right time to minimise distractions like noise, hunger, fatigue, and other interruptions. Mindfulness doesn’t have to take long, but it is much easier to do in a calm and quiet space.
5. Give your young person the control.
Let your teen choose how and when to do mindfulness activities, and encourage them to experiment on their own using apps or videos. Mindfulness has a much greater impact when it’s something that you do for yourself – particularly for independence-seeking teens – but they’ll probably need a nudge.
Many apps, like Headspace and Calm, include prompts to remind users and will let your teen track their record for days in a row. You can even join them in your own mindfulness practice to encourage a little friendly family competition.
Are you able to give a teen a stable home? Reach out to our dedicated team at Compass Fostering to find out more about how you can become a foster parent.