Mindfulness for Children: Fun, Effective Ways to Strengthen Mind, Body, Spirit

Mindfulness for Children: Fun, Effective Ways to Strengthen Mind, Body, Spirit

Mindfulness has an extraordinary capacity to build a strong body, mind and spirit in ourselves as adults, as well as in our children. Science has told us that it can help to protect against stress, anxiety, depression, illness and pain, ease the symptoms of autism and ADHD, improve academic performance and social relationships, as well as expand the capacity to experience positive emotions.

Mindfulness is about stepping back and seeing thoughts and feelings come and go, without judgement, but with a relaxed mind, fully focussed on the present moment. 

Children are wonderfully present in what they do, but as life picks up speed, the capacity to experience that calm, strengthening stillness can become more difficult to access. The sooner we can encourage the little people in our lives towards mindfulness, the greater their capacity for mindful presence will be. A regular mindful practice will ensure that existing neural connections are strengthened and new ones established.

Mindfulness for children generally works best it’s kept to about five minutes or less. Of course, if they’re able to go for longer, brilliant – go with that. Ready to play?

  1. Mindful Breathing.

    Get your kiddos into a comfy position and ask them to close their eyes. Next, ask how their breath feels as they draw it into themselves, and then as it leaves. If they put a hand on their belly, they’ll be able to feel the rise and the fall of their breath. Do this about five times – five inhales, five exhales. After five breaths, guide them to any thoughts and feelings they might be aware of, then invite them to let go of those thoughts and feelings. Ask them to imagine that the thoughts and feelings are bubbles, floating away, as they return to their breathing. Repeat the five breaths – five in, five out – and do this as many times as feels right.

  2. Thought Clouds.

    This is a slightly different take on the above exercise. When your mindful ones are into the rhythm of breathing in through the nose for three, and out through the mouth for three, ask them to try this: ‘As you breathe in, imagine that your thoughts are forming as little clouds above your head. Imagine the cloud floating away as you breathe out. Keep breathing slow, strong breaths and let your thoughts come, and then go.’

  3. The Mind(ful)-Body Connection.

    The way we hold our bodies has a powerful effect on the way we feel and the way other people see us. Different poses can actually change body chemistry. Nurture the awareness of the mind-body connection in your children by asking them to explore how they feel when they strike a pose. Here are some good ones to try, particularly if they’re about to do something that could make them a little anxious. In a quiet space where they feel safe and private, encourage them to strike one of these power poses and explore with them what they feel – hopefully more confident!

    •  Superman:  Stand with feet just wider than hip width apart. Clench fists, stretch both arms out, and fully lengthen the body. Expanding physical presence by stretching and opening up can increase feelings of power and pride (think of athletes who crosses the finish line first and throw their arms into the air). 

    •  Wonder woman:  Stand up tall and strong with legs apart and hands on hips.

  4. And while we’re on superheroes … 

    Ask them to switch on their super ‘Spidey-senses’ to find out what they can taste, smell, hear, see and feel in the moment.

  5. The Mindful Jar.

    A mindful jar works in a couple of ways. First, it will to help them to understand what happens when strong emotion starts to take hold of them. Second, it can help them find calm when they are feeling stressed, upset, or overwhelmed. Here’s how:

    Start with a jar and fill it almost to the top with water. Into the water, add a few big dollops of glitter glue (or school glue and dry glitter). Pop on the lid and give the jar a shake. Here are some words:

    Mindful Jars

    ‘Imagine that the glitter is like your thoughts when you’re stressed, mad or upset. See how they whirl around and make it really hard to see clearly? That’s why it’s so easy to make silly decisions when you’re upset – because you’re not thinking clearly. Don’t worry this is normal and it happens in all of us (yep, grownups too). [Now put the jar down in front of them.] Now watch what happens when you’re still for a couple of moments. Keep watching. See how the glitter starts to settle and the water clears? Your mind works the same way. When you’re calm for a little while, your thoughts start to settle and you start to see things much clearer.’

    The beautiful part of this exercise is that while they are learning about their emotional selves, they are also engaging in an act of mindfulness as they watch the glitter fall to the bottom of the jar.

  6. Safari.

    Oh but not just any safari! The idea here is to guide them towards switching on their senses, turning down their thoughts, and being fully engaged in the present moment. Take them outside and explain to them that they are on safari, looking for any animal that crawls, flies or walks. Let them know that they have to be quiet and alert, with their hearing, feeling and seeing super-senses switched on so they can discover tiny wild beasts that the world may or may not have seen before.

  7. Mindful Smelling.

    Take a bunch of delicious smelling things from around home – candles, fresh herbs, flowers, fruit, vanilla, cinnamon, grass – anything – and invite them to breathe in the smell and to feel what happens in their body as they do that. (‘The cinnamon reminds me of Christmas,’ or maybe ‘The lavender makes me feel sleepy.’)

  8. A Breathing Buddy.

    Have them lie down with a soft toy on their tummy. As they breathe, guide them towards noticing the toy moving up and down. This can help them to understand what it feels like to have strong breaths, which is a powerful way to calm themselves when high emotion overwhelms them.

  9. A Mindful Walk.

    Take a short walk together to help them to learn to be mindful while they’re moving. First, ask them to focus on their breath. Then turn their attention to anything else their senses tune in to in the moment – the breeze against their skin, the sound of the trees, the smell of fresh air, the way their body feels as they move. The idea is for them to experience the sensations, rather than to become too ‘heady’ by thinking too hard about them. 

  10. The Mindful Snack.

    Next time you have a bite to eat together, try mindful eating for a few minutes. ‘Let’s try something called mindful eating. It’s where you slow things down when you eat so you can notice things you don’t usually notice. What does your food feel like to touch? What about the smell? What if you squish it a little – what does that feel like? Now take a bite but chew very slowly. Really notice your mouth moving up and down. Can you feel the food against your tongue and between your teeth. What does it taste like? What does it feel like? Keep chewing for a little while (20 to 30 seconds). When you’re ready, notice what the food feels like as it moves down your throat and towards your belly.’ 

  11. Guided Meditation.

    The Smiling Minds app has guided meditations for ages 7 to adult. It’s free, easy to use, and brilliant. 

Being ‘still’ can be hard sometimes (for all of us). If your kiddos are squirmy at first, just keep practicing in short bursts until they become more used to it. Afterwards, do something fun with them – give them your full attention with a little chat about what they did, read a story, have a cuddle – whatever works for them, so they associate it with special, fun time.

Anything you do to introduce them to a mindfulness practice will be worth it. In no time at all they’ll be doing it on their own and gearing themselves with an incredible skill that will give them a solid, sturdy foundation from which to explore and experience the world.

[irp posts=”1289″ name=”Raising Emotionally Intelligent Kids & Teens: ‘Anger & How to be the Boss of Your Brain'”]

 

37 Comments

Tanya S

Thanks. I am intending to do use mindful activities with a group of y3 and y4 children. Some of these are just what I need! Thankyou. x

Reply
Casey

Wow I love your website! Learning how to help my child through their anxiety and also learn mindfulness… Its funny as I learnt mindfulness through university to help with leadership but I could never find the right way to introduce it to my children. Now I have thank you very much

Reply
Diane

I love the Safari idea! My dad used to do almost exactly that with me and I have memories of standing very quietly and watching a butterfly or bee with him. Maybe that’s part of the reason I am a calm and patient adult! Neither of us knew what we were learning or teaching, but I did the same with my children, and my grandchildren. Makes for some wonderful days together.

Reply
Gina

I wish I had read your article years ago when my children were young. Wonderful advice.

Reply
Bev

So refreshing…… I love to read new ideas to help our children….and to help the parents first. Every bit of help is needed for our future generation. Never stop learning ?

Reply
Alexandra

You are amazing. Such a insightful and helpful article. Your website is soso good.
I´m so in. I resonate with your wok personally and even professionally.
I am your follower for sure.

Thank you so much.

Reply
Paramanantham JEYAKUMAR

Thank you very much for your every efforts. Each child have different challenges so can you help me a specific needed way. Thank you

Reply
Karen

A great article. I am always trying to think of different ways to teach children to be mindful.

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Megan

These are brilliant! I love the ones that incorporate play and imagination for littler children. I also think some of these would be great for adults just learning mindfulness. Thanks for the great list. 🙂

Reply
Pepi

Thank you for introducing us to Smiling Mind, I do a short meditation from there each night with my five yr old, she loves it. Having worked with anxious teens, I Truly believe I’m setting her up with invaluable. life skills

Reply
Debbie Reber

So LOVING what you’re doing at Hey Sigmund! We are big believers in the benefits of mindfulness for kids, ESPECIALLY those who are “differently-wired.” 🙂 Wanted to share a podcast episode we did on what mindfulness can do for kids with ADHD, Asperger’s, Anxiety, and more: http://www.tiltparenting.com/session4

Reply
Marcia

Headspace is another great app that also offers guided meditations & teaches about meditation to children to adult

Reply
Bonnie Tomey

We can all practice and teach children Mindfulness* to help perpetuate a new generation of attentive, thoughtful calm, rational thinkers. I wish the Mindfulness concept will become a viral yearning that becomes a natural habit for present & future generations. Thank you for this valuable information-from which all humans can benefit!

Reply
Hey Sigmund

Thanks Bonnie. Yes, it will be a wonderful skill that the next generation will hopefully use to their full advantage. It’s a powerful thing isn’t it.

Reply
Cyd Carlson

Thank you so much for this! Now a day, with schools cutting funding, what a way to help kids deal. This is something they can take into adulthood. Thank you again!

Reply
Jamie

All 11 points are so important to practice and truly appreciated #2 thought clouds. Will definately introduce the idea to the kids I teach. I created Mindful Play Yoga and teach kids in schools and privately yoga and mindfulness. Found your blog recently and have enjoyed every article. thanks for the work you do. All best, Jamie

Reply
Helen

What a great article!
As parents, we all want the best for them, and sometimes loving your child too much can give them anxiety. The higher our support, the higher our expectations, thus creating temperamental and rebellious moments. This article offers tools for me to help my children to move past those moments, and hopefully, they will use it enough that it’ll given insight and mindfulness over their feelings and reactions.
I’m a new subscriber and I look forward to future articles.

Reply
Dr. Erlinda l. Mendozar

I am so happy to know that at young age MINDFULNESS is being introduced to school children. I believe EMOTIONAL STABILITY must be thought among young learners. If a child is emotionally, mentally and spiitually stable- his/her decisions in life will be towards success. Realm

Reply
Deb

This is the first article I’ve read, on this the first time to your website. Recommended to our staff by our school counselor…. I like it! Send more good stuff please….. 🙂

Reply
Suzen

Such a needed article, understanding children are the future, the necessity of parents and educators to teach children how to transform and live happy lives, and the importance of developing life enhancing practices young.
“If every 8 year old in the world is taught meditation, we will eliminate violence from the world within one generation.” Dalai Lama
So let’s get going!

Reply

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The temptation to fix their big feelings can be seismic. Often this is connected to needing to ease our own discomfort at their discomfort, which is so very normal.

Big feelings in them are meant to raise (sometimes big) feelings in us. This is all a healthy part of the attachment system. It happens to mobilise us to respond to their distress, or to protect them if their distress is in response to danger.

Emotion is energy in motion. We don’t want to bury it, stop it, smother it, and we don’t need to fix it. What we need to do is make a safe passage for it to move through them. 

Think of emotion like a river. Our job is to hold the ground strong and steady at the banks so the river can move safely, without bursting the banks.

However hard that river is racing, they need to know we can be with the river (the emotion), be with them, and handle it. This might feel or look like you aren’t doing anything, but actually it’s everything.

The safety that comes from you being the strong, steady presence that can lovingly contain their big feelings will let the emotional energy move through them and bring the brain back to calm.

Eventually, when they have lots of experience of us doing this with them, they will learn to do it for themselves, but that will take time and experience. The experience happens every time you hold them steady through their feelings. 

This doesn’t mean ignoring big behaviour. For them, this can feel too much like bursting through the banks, which won’t feel safe. Sometimes you might need to recall the boundary and let them know where the edges are, while at the same time letting them see that you can handle the big of the feeling. Its about loving and leading all at once. ‘It’s okay to be angry. It’s not okay to use those words at me.’

Ultimately, big feelings are a call for support. Sometimes support looks like breathing and being with. Sometimes it looks like showing them you can hold the boundary, even when they feel like they’re about to burst through it. And if they’re using spicy words to get us to back off, it might look like respecting their need for space but staying in reaching distance, ‘Ok, I’m right here whenever you need.’♥️
We all need certain things to feel safe enough to put ourselves into the world. Kids with anxiety have magic in them, every one of them, but until they have a felt sense of safety, it will often stay hidden.

‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what they feel. At school, they might have the safest, most loving teacher in the safest, most loving school. This doesn’t mean they will feel enough relational safety straight away that will make it easier for them to do hard things. They can still do those hard things, but those things are going to feel bigger for a while. This is where they’ll need us and their other anchor adult to be patient, gentle, and persistent.

Children aren’t meant to feel safe with and take the lead from every adult. It’s not the adult’s role that makes the difference, but their relationship with the child.

Children are no different to us. Just because an adult tells them they’ll be okay, it doesn’t mean they’ll feel it or believe it. What they need is to be given time to actually experience the person as being safe, supportive and ready to catch them.

Relationship is key. The need for safety through relationship isn’t an ‘anxiety thing’. It’s a ‘human thing’. When we feel closer to the people around us, we can rise above the mountains in our way. When we feel someone really caring about us, we’re more likely to open up to their influence
and learn from them.

But we have to be patient. Even for teachers with big hearts and who undertand the importance of attachment relationships, it can take time.

Any adult at school can play an important part in helping a child feel safe – as long as that adult is loving, warm, and willing to do the work to connect with that child. It might be the librarian, the counsellor, the office person, a teacher aide. It doesn’t matter who, as long as it is someone who can be available for that child at dropoff or when feelings get big during the day and do little check-ins along the way.

A teacher, or any important adult can make a lasting difference by asking, ‘How do I build my relationship with this child so s/he trusts me when I say, ‘I’ve got you, and I know you can do this.’♥️
There is a beautiful ‘everythingness’ in all of us. The key to living well is being able to live flexibly and more deliberately between our edges.

So often though, the ‘shoulds’ and ‘should nots’ we inhale in childhood and as we grow, lead us to abandon some of those precious, needed parts of us. ‘Don’t be angry/ selfish/ shy/ rude. She’s not a maths person.’ ‘Don’t argue.’ Ugh.

Let’s make sure our children don’t cancel parts of themselves. They are everything, but not always all at once. They can be anxious and brave. Strong and soft. Angry and calm. Big and small. Generous and self-ish. Some things they will find hard, and they can do hard things. None of these are wrong ways to be. What trips us up is rigidity, and only ever responding from one side of who we can be.

We all have extremes or parts we favour. This is what makes up the beautiful, complex, individuality of us. We don’t need to change this, but the more we can open our children to the possibility in them, the more options they will have in responding to challenges, the everyday, people, and the world. 

We can do this by validating their ‘is’ without needing them to be different for a while in the moment, and also speaking to the other parts of them when we can. 

‘Yes maths is hard, and I know you can do hard things. How can I help?’

‘I can see how anxious you feel. That’s so okay. I also know you have brave in you.’

‘I love your ‘big’ and the way you make us laugh. You light up the room.’ And then at other times: ‘It can be hard being in a room with new people can’t it. It’s okay to be quiet. I could see you taking it all in.’

‘It’s okay to want space from people. Sometimes you just want your things and yourself for yourself, hey. I feel like that sometimes too. I love the way you know when you need this.’ And then at other times, ‘You looked like you loved being with your friends today. I loved watching you share.’

The are everything, but not all at once. Our job is to help them live flexibly and more deliberately between the full range of who they are and who they can be: anxious/brave; kind/self-ish; focussed inward/outward; angry/calm. This will take time, and there is no hurry.♥️
For our kids and teens, the new year will bring new adults into their orbit. With this, comes new opportunities to be brave and grow their courage - but it will also bring anxiety. For some kiddos, this anxiety will feel so big, but we can help them feel bigger.

The antidote to a felt sense of threat is a felt sense of safety. As long as they are actually safe, we can facilitate this by nurturing their relationship with the important adults who will be caring for them, whether that’s a co-parent, a stepparent, a teacher, a coach. 

There are a number of ways we can facilitate this:

- Use the name of their other adult (such as a teacher) regularly, and let it sound loving and playful on your voice.
- Let them see that you have an open, willing heart in relation to the other adult.
- Show them you trust the other adult to care for them (‘I know Mrs Smith is going to take such good care of you.’)
- Facilitate familiarity. As much as you can, hand your child to the same person when you drop them off.

It’s about helping expand their village of loving adults. The wider this village, the bigger their world in which they can feel brave enough. 

For centuries before us, it was the village that raised children. Parenting was never meant to be done by one or two adults on their own, yet our modern world means that this is how it is for so many of us. 

We can bring the village back though - and we must - by helping our kiddos feel safe, known, and held by the adults around them. We need this for each other too.

The need for safety through relationship isn’t an ‘anxiety thing’. It’s a ‘human thing’. When we feel closer to the people around us, we can rise above the mountains that block our way.♥️

That power of felt safety matters for all relationships - parent and child; other adult and child; parent and other adult. It all matters. 

A teacher, or any important adult in the life of a child, can make a lasting difference by asking, ‘How do I build my relationship with this child (and their parent) so s/he trusts me when I say, ‘I’ve got you, I care about you, and I know you can do this.’♥️
Approval, independence, autonomy, are valid needs for all of us. When a need is hungry enough we will be driven to meet it however we can. For our children, this might look like turning away from us and towards others who might be more ready to meet the need, or just taking.

If they don’t feel they can rest in our love, leadership, approval, they will seek this more from peers. There is no problem with this, but we don’t want them solely reliant on peers for these. It can make them vulnerable to making bad decisions, so as not to lose the approval or ‘everythingness’ of those peers.

If we don’t give enough freedom, they might take that freedom through defiance, secrecy, the forbidden. If we control them, they might seek more to control others, or to let others make the decisions that should be theirs.

All kids will mess up, take risks, keep secrets, and do things that baffle us sometimes. What’s important is, ‘Do they turn to us when they need to, enough?’ The ‘turning to’ starts with trusting that we are interested in supporting all their needs, not just the ones that suit us. Of course this doesn’t mean we will meet every need. It means we’ve shown them that their needs are important to us too, even though sometimes ours will be bigger (such as our need to keep them safe).

They will learn safe and healthy ways to meet their needs, by first having them met by us. This doesn’t mean granting full independence, full freedom, and full approval. What it means is holding them safely while also letting them feel enough of our approval, our willingness to support their independence, freedom, autonomy, and be heard on things that matter to them.

There’s no clear line with this. Some days they’ll want independence. Some days they won’t. Some days they’ll seek our approval. Some days they won’t care for it at all, especially if it means compromising the approval of peers. The challenge for us is knowing when to hold them closer and when to give space, when to hold the boundary and when to release it a little, when to collide and when to step out of the way. If we watch and listen, they will show us. And just like them, we won’t need to get it right all the time.♥️

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