Inside: Teaching mindfulness to kids in an appealing way can be tricky, here are 25 fun mindfulness practices they’ll jump right on board with.
The more I learn about mindfulness the more I am in complete and total awe of its vast power for transformation.
The research-backed benefit’s of mindfulness read like a parent wishlist.
Power to promote kindness, patience, and compassion for others.
If you’d like your child to calm down more easily, stop himself before he kicks his little brother and listen the first time, raise your hand!
*all hands go up*
Mindfulness isn’t a miracle worker for a child, but it may be as close as anything comes to one.
Mindfulness has actually been found to change brain structure and function in the areas of the amygdala (emotions), hippocampus (learning and memory) and prefrontal cortex (self-regulation). These areas are of prime importance for a child’s growth and well-being cognitively, socially and emotionally. There is no question of if teaching a child mindfulness is worth it.
There’s still the problem though of getting your child invested. If only research and good intentions were enough.
The Problem with Teaching Mindfulness to Kids
Mindfulness means becoming more aware of our inner self through the act of paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, in a non-judgemental way.
Any adult with a mindfulness practice will tell you it’s a journey and not a destination. Finding quiet moments for reflection is hard and sitting still for a 5-minute meditation feels even harder during busy days with kids.
Thankfully, straight-up meditation is not the only way to practice mindfulness.
Kids are designed to be on the move- playing, running, learning, exploring. The areas of their brain which regulate self-control and focus are still developing which can make the combination of sitting still, listening and attending feel challenging at best and torturous at worst (especially after a long day at school).
I’ve had the chance to teach mindfulness to many children in my therapy practice. Some have taken to it easily, but many haven’t because I came at it from my own adult viewpoint and not the child’s.
I also bombed by initial attempts in teaching my own children mindfulness, by approaching them more like a drill sergeant and less like a fun person doing something interesting and inviting.
“Get down and give me criss-cross applesauce!” (or some similar version of this).
Introducing your child to mindfulness
While certain kids, of the laidback kind, would immediately follow their parents lead in plopping down on a yoga mat, my older daughter’s did not appreciate being ordered around.
Nor do they take well to controlling and overwhelming statements from me like, “We’re going to learn about the concept of mindfulness right now!”
Learn from my mistakes and take a more natural (aka mindful) approach. Here are some examples but use what feels natural for you.
“Sometimes it feels really good to stop and pay attention to what’s around me.”
“Sometimes I like to press pause and check in with my body to see how it’s feeling.”
“I wonder if you’d like to learn about a new trick I learned that helps to clear your head so you can think straight and feel good.”
The following are good general tips for introducing the idea of mindfulness to a child.
1| Try to separate yourself from any outcome, and approach them with an open mind. If they are not accepting, trust another time will present itself more effectively.
2| Be genuinely engaged and dedicated to your own journey of mindfulness however far along you may be. Going through the motions just for your child’s benefit won’t fly.
3| Accept that it likely won’t look as neat and tidy as you’d like it to and that it’s the shared experience, not control that’s important.
4| Follow your child’s mood, making it fun and engaging.
Here are 25 small things you can do with your child to discover and enjoy small moments of mindfulness together.
25 Small Mindfulness Practices for Kids
- Practice kind thoughts by prompting your child to think of 5 people they’d like to send kind wishes to
- Bang on a pot/pan and invite your child to signal to you when they no longer hear the sound ‘hanging’ the air
- Blow bubbles ‘slo-mo’ style, emphasizing a big deep breath in through the nose to fill the bubble… and out through the mouth as slow as possible
- Squeeze and let go, tensing different muscles in the body for 5 seconds and then slowing releasing
- Tune into the body by getting down on your child’s level and feeling each other’s heartbeats
- Focus on breathing by building ‘Elsa’ ice sculptures’ by taking in a deep breath (don’t forget to smell the ‘chocolate fountain on coronation day!) and then slowly blowing out to create amazing ice creations
- Have a ‘mindful’ snack by describing the smell, texture and taste of the food
- Try this ‘Rainbow’ guided meditation to wind down at bedtime
- Explore textures in nature, take a walk to collect several different objects and observe/describe how each feels
- Have your child give you the ‘weather report’ on how they’re feeling, “I’m dark and cloudy with some raindrop tears coming out”
- Find shapes in the sky by laying down together and choosing different objects to search for in the clouds
- Practice noticing with art. Choose several different utensils and describe how they all feel different on the paper
- Take a mindful walk pointing out sights and sounds along the way.
- Explore touch by choosing several objects, then comparing the difference in how they feel dry vs. wet
- Slow down by having a snack in ‘slow motion’ and taking notice of the taste throughout
- Explore smell by inviting your child to help you cook a meal while taking notice of each smell present
- Try ‘buddy breathing’ and invite your child to grab a toy/stuffed animal to place on their tummy while they lay down and take slow breaths, in through the nose and out through the mouth
- Explore emotion by prompting your child to scan their body when experiencing a feeling, and describe where they feel it the most.
- Try a playful guided meditation together
- Use a happy moment to ‘soak in the good’ by pausing with your child to observe the pleasant physical and emotional feelings present
- Sit down with your child and ‘color your feelings’ together depicting each emotion with a new color
- “Press the pause button’ together during a tense moment (but not too tense) and check in with how each of you is feeling at that moment
- Listen to some music and see how many different instruments you can each hear
- Try a body scan together at bedtime
- Explore gratitude by going back and forth with your child (for as long as you can!) to name as many things possible that you are grateful for
Motivation to teach mindfulness to your kid
The benefits of mindfulness for a child are unlimited, as research is only beginning to dig into all of it’s benefits. Small moments that bring our awareness to our body, breath or current surroundings have a BIG impact on crucial life skills for our child including decision making, self-control and emotional regulation.
When we meet our child’s needs for creativity, fun and movement we are much more likely to inspire mindfulness through a shared experience, and not a forced one.
P.S. Check out some of the best resources on developing mindfulness skills with your child (including the amazing Time-in Toolkit and Peacemakers game), over at Generation Mindful.
Interested in more info on mindfulness and other ways to promote your child’s well-being? Look no further than the Parents with Confidence bi-monthly newsletter.
The research for this article is based on the 8-week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) training Angela completed with her therapy clinic. Get more information about The Mindful Academy International or mindfulness training from accredited MBSR teacher Tina Romenesko here.