One of the wonderful things about young children is their natural curiosity about themselves, others and the world. Mindfulness perhaps like learning a language is a skill that is easy to absorb young and then carry forward as an asset into adult life. Perhaps one of the most useful aspects of mindfulness is the socratic process of self discovery, building self awareness and being at ease in your own skin.
So, how do we encourage curiosity through mindfulness?
When aiming to do an activity mindfully, ask questions about what they can see, hear, touch, taste and feel and aim to show genuine interest in their answers and also share your own perceptions. You can also draw their attention to details they might not otherwise have noticed like birds nests, squirrels darting up trees, crabs scuttling in rock pools, salmon jumping in streams and the smell of pollen in the meadow. I’ve found the effect of this on my daughter is that she has learned to ask lots of questions herself and express genuine reciprocal interest in the answers. She’s currently showing a strong interest in science and amassing facts about animals, plants and the human body.
Some recent questions from my 3 year old
Why does the sun rise?
Why do the planets spin?
Why can’t humans fly?
Why does time pass?
What do elephants eat? Is their mouth on the trunk?
How do plants have babies?
Why do people die?
Why are there viruses?
Mindfully tuning in to what your child asks about most may help to cue you into new areas of interest to explore together or offer new hooks to engage them in parenting goals you have. For example, we’re currently home educating our 3 year old due to coronavirus lockdown in the UK, so have created a weekly Science day to nurture her budding scientific curiosity. She’s got involved in making a magic wand of sodium borate crystals, making rainbows in glass jars, growing plants and making a bug hotel to peer at through her binoculars among other projects. Her dad works in science, so an added bonus of this is it gives them bonding time through shared enjoyment of science, aligns well with our parenting value of education and gives me some time to spend 1:1 with our baby son.
another facet of mindfulness as a parent is choosing to attend to what is actually happening in the present moment rather than what our minds may suggest is happening based on old stories we carry around with us, generalisations that may offer shortcuts to answers that are attractive but don’t quite fit. For example today I went out for ten minutes to collect hanging baskets from our local garden centre. I came back to find my husband annoyed that my daughter had ‘spread the food recycling round the kitchen floor’ and he’d had to clean it. She meanwhile was laughing. My mind offered the suggestion that she had been fed up of her dad working from home and had knocked over the recycling to get his attention. However I have learned that my assumptions are not always right so resisted expressing frustration at the potential attention seeking and asked her what happened. I had given her a plum to eat while I was gone and she explained she had gone to put it the food recycling but the recycling box had been moved by her dad to the top of our guinea pig cage, and she wasn’t able to reach – to avoid bothering her dad she tried anyway and knocked it over by mistake. Her dad then identified another positive in that she had been honest about the mistake straight away which gave him a chance to clear up rather than it fester. So I have learned it’s better to ask than assume, and also to consider adult mistakes contributing rather than jump to blaming a child. For example, it it possible to manage adult emotions more if we want to reduce tantrum frequency or intensity? Is the environment safe and suitable for what we expect of a child? Does the child understand what is expected of them and do they have the skills and resources to do it with the amount of help and attention we’re offering? If the same situation arose, what could be done differently?