A Guide to Mindfulness for Kids
In this article, you will learn what mindfulness is, how kids can benefit from a mindfulness practice, and how to incorporate mindfulness activities for kids into your home.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the practice of bringing one’s attention to the thoughts, feelings, and emotions of the present moment and accepting them as they are, without judgment.
Over the past couple of decades, mindfulness has surged in popularity. It resonates with many people because it is a simple practice that you can use to feel connected with yourself and others.
The two main principles of mindfulness are awareness and nonjudgment. When we bring attention to our current state, we are practicing the first half of mindfulness. This can be paying attention to our emotions, physical sensations, or feelings.
Whatever you choose to focus on is not entirely important, as long as your awareness is in the present moment.
The practice of nonjudgment is typically harder for people as many of us are our own worst critic. Sometimes, what we bring our attention to might not be that kind or compassionate, but it is our job to notice it and allow it.
This nonjudgment doesn’t mean we can never aim to grow, it’s quite the opposite. Our acceptance of every part of ourselves - the good and the bad - is what allows us to grow closer to our true selves.
Having a mindfulness practice can be immensely powerful for children as well.
Our environment impacts much of our thinking and experience in life. It is powerful, then, to raise children in an environment of acceptance, peace, and compassion.
How can mindfulness help kids?
There are many benefits to mindfulness for kids. Below are some of the reasons to consider adding a mindfulness practice to your home or school.
Mindfulness teaches commitment to practice
Mindfulness is a practice. It does not come overnight.
Habits are formed at an early age and these habits have an opportunity to inform behaviors for years to come. Teaching children the practice of mindfulness is a powerful lesson in commitment and patience.
Mindfulness teaches acceptance
As previously mentioned, one of the major tenants of mindfulness is acceptance. Mindfulness teaches us to accept ourselves as who we are, no matter what. This is a practice of self-love - to treat ourselves with compassion and love like we would a good friend.
Mindfulness teaches impermanence
The practice of mindfulness allows us to let our thoughts and feelings pass like clouds in the sky, teaching us that no feeling is permanent.
So often, especially today, children are faced with criticism, bullying, and judgment. This can be traumatizing at a young age. Mindfulness can give children the perspective that this feeling will pass. This is especially powerful coupled with the practice of self-love.
Mindfulness helps focus
Children’s minds are developing rapidly during childhood, creating connections and habits that are to be stored by the prefrontal cortex for decades to come.
According to the New York Times, “Mindfulness, which promotes skills that are controlled in the prefrontal cortex, like focus and cognitive control, can therefore have a particular impact on the development of skills including self-regulation, judgment, and patience during childhood.”
The ability to have a single-minded focus can benefit children when it comes to test-taking, homework, and other school-related tasks, setting them up for success.
How to teach mindfulness
Teach mindfulness by example
The #1 way to teach mindfulness is through example. If you are a “do as I say not as I do” parent, it’s best to check that at the door.
Life brings many stressors for adults (having children being one of them), but if you are sending your child mixed signals by living with chronic stress and then asking them to be calm and mindful, you will get nowhere fast.
Try a few of our recommendations for adding mindfulness to your day.
Allow kids to practice mindfulness in their own time, don’t force
Let’s not make mindfulness like piano lessons were for many kids. People don’t make changes to their lives unless they want to, and kids are little people.
Help them foster a mindfulness practice by making it something they want to do, not have to do.
How do you do that? Read on for some kid-friendly mindfulness activities.
Mindfulness is not a punishment
How you integrate mindfulness into your child’s day is important. It should always be practiced in a positive positive setting that feels calm and nurturing.
Imagine how your child would think of mindfulness if it is a punishment “go think about what you’ve done”. Your child will eventually resent the practice with that approach.
Instead, make sure it is something they can enjoy.
Mindfulness activities for kids
1. Breathing with stuffed animals
Breath is one of the first objects we are taught to focus on in mindfulness and meditation. That’s because it happens naturally and there are physical ways to note it. Use this to your advantage when teaching kids about mindfulness.
Have your child lay down and put a stuffed animal on their belly or chest. Then just ask them to notice when the stuffed animal goes up and notice when it goes down. This is a way to make paying attention to breath even easier.
2. Create a sensory experience
Mindfulness asks us to bring our attention to our five senses as a way of getting out of our heads and into the present moment. Kids are really receptive to this type of practice, especially when used with food!
To practice this activity, you will need some food like a tangerine slice, apple slice, or raisin. Ask your child to hold the piece of food without eating it and have them describe what they see. What color is it? How heavy is it? What is the texture like. Have them move it around in their hands to see.
Next, ask them to bring the food up to their ears and move it around a bit. Does it make any noise? What does the noise sound like?
After that, have them smell the food. Does it smell sweet? Sour?
Finally, have them put the food in their mouth, without chewing it. What happens in their mouth? Do they taste the food? Are they salivating? What is the texture like on their tongue?
Have them move the food around a bit - still without chewing or swallowing (this can be somewhat entertaining to watch!). After that, have them take a bit and describe the taste. Finally, they can eat it!
Ask some follow-up questions after the practice. Did anything surprise them? Did it taste different from when they eat the same food quickly?
Anything that gets kids away from the screen is great - especially when it involves movement. This activity revolves around walking slowly and paying attention to the feelings of the movement in your body. Make this more fun by pretending to be a slow-moving sloth or like they are a cat sneaking up on someone.
All you have to do is find a large or small space to walk around. Start by taking a slow step. Heel slowly lowering to the ground and foot flattening out. You may notice how much more coordinating this takes to do!
Keep your gaze downward as you walk around slowly with each step taking 5 or so seconds (or as long as your child can manage!). Walk around the room for a few minutes in silence.
After that, ask your child what they noticed. Was it easy? Difficult? What parts of their body worked the hardest to stay balanced?
4. Body scan before bed
So many people practice meditation in the morning instead of at night because it can make you pretty sleepy and be hard to get through an entire meditation. Use this to your advantage and have your child practice meditation as a bedtime routine so they fall asleep quickly.
A body scan meditation is a really good one for kids because it brings their attention to something physical (and they may be able to learn more parts of the body!).
Have your child lay down in bed and close their eyes. Ask them to bring their attention to their head, relaxing it with every breath. Then their eyes, mouth, jaw, ears, neck, etc. until you get down to their feet.
You can customize the length of this practice by deciding how many body parts to include (arm vs shoulder, arm, forearm, wrist, hand, and fingers for example). I recommend playing some type of soothing music to lull them to sleep.
Overall, mindfulness is an awesome practice for children. It can help them learn self-acceptance, impermanence, interconnectedness, and focus all form a very young age (and even without realizing it). Hopefully, these tips have helped give you an idea of how to incorporate mindfulness into your child’s day.