Millions of children are practicing mindfulness all over the world, and while it’s a very simple process of training the mind to be always in the present moment, without judgement, there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye. It can be useful if a parent or teacher has some creative ways to explain the essence of this practice without getting too wordy or abstract.
One great metaphor that some trainers have used to explain this process is the ”thought parade.” As we focus on our mindful breathing (or walking, eating, or stretching), it’s normal to get distracted by different thoughts that wander through our brains. Research actually says that our minds wander 47% of the time. So, we can tell our children or students that they have a parade of thoughts that moves through their minds, and that when we practice mindfulness, we can watch these thoughts as they walk or march by.
A good question to ask them is: are you part of the parade (e.g. are you lost in your thoughts), or are you a bystander looking at the parade (e.g. are you observing your thoughts in a dispassionate, nonjudgmental way)? Also, it can be fruitful to ask kids or teens about the nature of the thoughts that parade across the screen of their consciousness. Are there scary paraders? Happy paraders? Mean paraders? Angry paraders? Using this metaphorical language provides children or adolescents with an opportunity to talk about their feelings in a safe way, and to understand that when they are watching the parade from the sidelines, they don’t have to interact with the paraders (e.g. don’t have to identify with being angry, or scared, or mean), just calmly watch them pass by.
For other explanations, and more about the process of using mindfulness in an educational setting, get my book: Thomas Armstrong, Mindfulness in the Classroom: Strategies for Promoting Concentration, Compassion, and Calm.
Sources: Video: Iowa State Fair Parade; Strategy: Salzman, A., and Goldin, P. (2008). Mindfulness-based stress reduction for school-aged children. In Greco, L.A. and Hayes, S.C. (eds.). Acceptance and Mindfulness Treatments for Children and Adolescents: A Practitioner’s Guide, Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, p. 150.