Pay Attention

How many times do you think your children have heard some version of “pay attention?” Now ask yourself how many times anyone has actually tried to explain to your child HOW to pay attention.

One of my favorite ways of introducing mindfulness to kids is with the promise that someone, finally, is going to teach them what it means when we ask them to pay attention.

So, what do we mean?

Paying attention means that our body is alert and in a posture that is appropriate for the activity we are engaging in. It might mean sitting up straight and still if we are in class, but on the other hand, if we are playing in the outfield, it might mean standing with our hands on slightly bent knees while our weight slowly shifts from one foot to the other.

Paying attention means that all our senses are intentionally focused on one thing. Teachers of young children like to say “1-2-3. Eyes on me.” And eye contact is important. But so is listening and using all our other senses. You can bet that a firefighter trying to clear a burning building is going to need to rely on all her senses – sight, sound, smell, feel – if she is going to get everyone out safely.

Paying attention also means that we care enough to keep our mind present to whatever is happening in the moment. That our thoughts are here, now. That we are not busy remembering the past or fantasizing about the future.

Mindfulness cultivates all of these skills. Whether we are practicing mindful breathing, listening, walking, etc. . ., we are essentially  cultivating our brain’s capacity to maintain purposeful focus for extended periods of time. We are learning to recognize when we are distracted and we are strengthening our ability to gently and compassionately, bring our awareness back to the present moment over and over again.

So the next time you find yourself about to tell your kids for the umpteenth time to “Pay Attention” try instead reminding them to”Be Mindful” and see what happens.

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