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

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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

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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.

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Gina

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

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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 ?

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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.

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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

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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. 🙂

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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

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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

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Marcia

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

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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.

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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!

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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

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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

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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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Anxiety is a sign that the brain has registered threat and is mobilising the body to get to safety. One of the ways it does this is by organising the body for movement - to fight the danger or flee the danger. 

If there is no need or no opportunity for movement, that fight or flight fuel will still be looking for expression. This can come out as wriggly, fidgety, hyperactive behaviour. This is why any of us might pace or struggle to sit still when we’re anxious. 

If kids or teens are bouncing around, wriggling in their chairs, or having trouble sitting still, it could be anxiety. Remember with anxiety, it’s not about what is actually safe but about what the brain perceives. New or challenging work, doing something unfamiliar, too much going on, a tired or hungry body, anything that comes with any chance of judgement, failure, humiliation can all throw the brain into fight or flight.

When this happens, the body might feel busy, activated, restless. This in itself can drive even more anxiety in kids or teens. Any of us can struggle when we don’t feel comfortable in our own bodies. 

Anxiety is energy with nowhere to go. To move through anxiety, give the energy somewhere to go - a fast walk, a run, a whole-body shake, hula hooping, kicking a ball - any movement that spends the energy will help bring the brain and body back to calm.♥️
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#parenting #anxietyinkids #childanxiety #parenting #parent
This is not bad behaviour. It’s big behaviour a from a brain that has registered threat and is working hard to feel safe again. 

‘Threat’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what the brain perceives. The brain can perceive threat when there is any chance missing out on or messing up something important, anything that feels unfamiliar, hard, or challenging, feeling misunderstood, thinking you might be angry or disappointed with them, being separated from you, being hungry or tired, anything that pushes against their sensory needs - so many things. 

During anxiety, the amygdala in the brain is switched to high volume, so other big feelings will be too. This might look like tears, sadness, or anger. 

Big feelings have a good reason for being there. The amygdala has the very important job of keeping us safe, and it does this beautifully, but not always with grace. One of the ways the amygdala keeps us safe is by calling on big feelings to recruit social support. When big feelings happen, people notice. They might not always notice the way we want to be noticed, but we are noticed. This increases our chances of safety. 

Of course, kids and teens still need our guidance and leadership and the conversations that grow them, but not during the emotional storm. They just won’t hear you anyway because their brain is too busy trying to get back to safety. In that moment, they don’t want to be fixed or ‘grown’. They want to feel seen, safe and heard. 

During the storm, preserve your connection with them as much as you can. You might not always be able to do this, and that’s okay. None of this is about perfection. If you have a rupture, repair it as soon as you can. Then, when their brains and bodies come back to calm, this is the time for the conversations that will grow them. 

Rather than, ‘What consequences do they need to do better?’, shift to, ‘What support do they need to do better?’ The greatest support will come from you in a way they can receive: ‘What happened?’ ‘What can you do differently next time?’ ‘You’re the most wonderful kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen. How can you put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
Big behaviour is a sign of a nervous system in distress. Before anything, that vulnerable nervous system needs to be brought back home to felt safety. 

This will happen most powerfully with relationship and connection. Breathe and be with. Let them know you get it. This can happen with words or nonverbals. It’s about feeling what they feel, but staying regulated.

If they want space, give them space but stay in emotional proximity, ‘Ok I’m just going to stay over here. I’m right here if you need.’

If they’re using spicy words to make sure there is no confusion about how they feel about you right now, flag the behaviour, then make your intent clear, ‘I know how upset you are and I want to understand more about what’s happening for you. I’m not going to do this while you’re speaking to me like this. You can still be mad, but you need to be respectful. I’m here for you.’

Think of how you would respond if a friend was telling you about something that upset her. You wouldn’t tell her to calm down, or try to fix her (she’s not broken), or talk to her about her behaviour. You would just be there. You would ‘drop an anchor’ and steady those rough seas around her until she feels okay enough again. Along the way you would be doing things that let her know your intent to support her. You’d do this with you facial expressions, your voice, your body, your posture. You’d feel her feels, and she’d feel you ‘getting her’. It’s about letting her know that you understand what she’s feeling, even if you don’t understand why (or agree with why). 

It’s the same for our children. As their important big people, they also need leadership. The time for this is after the storm has passed, when their brains and bodies feel safe and calm. Because of your relationship, connection and their felt sense of safety, you will have access to their ‘thinking brain’. This is the time for those meaningful conversations: 
- ‘What happened?’
- ‘What did I do that helped/ didn’t help?’
- ‘What can you do differently next time?’
- ‘You’re a great kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen, but here we are. What can you do to put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
As children grow, and especially by adolescence, we have the illusion of control but whether or not we have any real influence will be up to them. The temptation to control our children will always come from a place of love. Fear will likely have a heavy hand in there too. When they fall, we’ll feel it. Sometimes it will feel like an ache in our core. Sometimes it will feel like failure or guilt, or anger. We might wish we could have stopped them, pushed a little harder, warned a little bigger, stood a little closer. We’re parents and we’re human and it’s what this parenting thing does. It makes fear and anxiety billow around us like lost smoke, too easily.

Remember, they want you to be proud of them, and they want to do the right thing. When they feel your curiosity over judgement, and the safety of you over shame, it will be easier for them to open up to you. Nobody will guide them better than you because nobody will care more about where they land. They know this, but the magic happens when they also know that you are safe and that you will hold them, their needs, their opinions and feelings with strong, gentle, loving hands, no matter what.♥️
Anger is the ‘fight’ part of the fight or flight response. It has important work to do. Anger never exists on its own. It exists to hold other more vulnerable emotions in a way that feels safer. It’s sometimes feels easier, safer, more acceptable, stronger to feel the ‘big’ that comes with anger, than the vulnerability that comes with anxiety, sadness, loneliness. This isn’t deliberate. It’s just another way our bodies and brains try to keep us safe. 

The problem isn’t the anger. The problem is the behaviour that can come with the anger. Let there be no limits on thoughts and feelings, only behaviour. When children are angry, as long as they are safe and others are safe, we don’t need to fix their anger. They aren’t broken. Instead, drop the anchor: as much as you can - and this won’t always be easy - be a calm, steadying, loving presence to help bring their nervous systems back home to calm. 

Then, when they are truly calm, and with love and leadership, have the conversations that will grow them - 
- What happened? 
- What can you do differently next time?
- You’re a really great kid. I know you didn’t want this to happen but here we are. How can you make things right. Would you like some ideas? Do you need some help with that?
- What did I do that helped? What did I do that didn’t help? Is there something that might feel more helpful next time?

When their behaviour falls short of ‘adorable’, rather than asking ‘What consequences they need to do better?’ let the question be, ‘What support do they need to do better.’ Often, the biggest support will be a conversation with you, and that will be enough.♥️
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#parenting #positiveparenting #mindfulparenting #anxietyinkids

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