Mindfulness Can Nurture Early Childhood Relationships

How Being Mindful with Your Feelings Can Help Children Manage Their Feelings

Working in the early childhood profession gives us the opportunity to get to know families and the children in our communities. We get to be an intimate part of the growing and changing families with young children go through. It is a career with a great deal of meaning and impact, but it can also be stressful. However, incorporating mindfulness practices into your own early childhood practice may be the perfect way to not only counteract the chaos, but also to help children grow.

What Is Mindfulness in Early Childhood Settings?

Implementing and practicing mindfulness provides professionals the skills to build a stable, trusting, and responsive relationship with the children who we care for, as well as their families. The practice of mindfulness centers on becoming aware and focusing on your feelings and attitudes in chaotic and disruptive moments.

Mindfulness has shown to be effective in building good relationships with others. And we know that relationships are important as children develop socially and emotionally. Practicing mindfulness can create a responsive environment that allows children to develop the social and emotional skills needed to build resiliency and prepares them to build relationships when they enter school.

Mindfulness in Everyday Moments

As early childhood professionals, we are well aware of the little moments that can disrupt a schedule or routine. We have experienced the toddler who begins to get very anxious every evening when the first child is picked up and the anticipation of 45 minutes of subsequent (and often constant) whining and tears. In that situation, you might tell yourself that you just hope his parent arrives on time. Or perhaps, you might focus on how it is difficult to get your other responsibilities met.

But with mindfulness, you can take a break from those patterns with a few mental steps. The first step in practicing mindfulness is acknowledging your feelings and attitudes in these moments. When we are reactive we go with the feelings and attitudes of stress and chaos, and then those feelings can escalate and sometimes take over. Being present in those crazy moments will allow you to identify what you’re feeling and how you are reacting. We can only change what we acknowledge. And we can only acknowledge what we notice.

Once we notice and acknowledge our feelings, attitudes and self-talk in those stressful moments, we can then give ourselves permission to have those feelings. And we can then begin to think of ways we can become responsive (rather than reactive) in the unpleasant situations. When we are mindful, we recognize and accept what is happening in the moment. Mindfulness takes the judgement out of our feelings and the experience. So, we can attend to these moments with empathy and curiosity to learn more about the other person, and we begin to value the opportunity to build a more stable relationship. Once we begin to accept and acknowledge our feelings, we can then begin to support the developing emotions of the children we care for in the moment.

Putting It in Practice

We can plan for the toddler who becomes anxious every evening at departure time by providing him a favorite activity in close proximity to you. That way, you can narrate what is happening moment to moment. This can provide the reassurance that he too will be picked up soon. Perhaps you can allow him the opportunity to tell his friends and their families’ goodbye giving him some control over the situation.

The practice of mindfulness is a change in the way we think and approach situations. Making a change like this won’t happen overnight. Some suggestions on getting started:

  • Journal for reflection: Set aside 10 minutes weekly and write down one positive experience and one stressful experience.
  • Acknowledge: Write down the feelings and self-talk you had during the beginning, middle and end in both experiences so you can compare and contrast.
  • Plan to implement: Practice the steps to being mindful such as acknowledging your feelings, taking a deep breath while recognizing a stressful situation, and then moving into being an empathetic listener and learner. Remember that all behavior teaches us something.

A reaction can be negative and is usually rooted in impulse while a response brings calmness and comes from being thoughtful. Mindfulness builds a trusting relationship with children because they can begin to count on your thoughtfulness and calmness while they struggle with developing important social-emotional skills. Naming and acknowledging a stressful situation is taking the emotion out of it and recognizing it for what it is, a moment. A moment that can be a learning and growing experience for all involved.

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