What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the practice of being present and fully engaged in the moment, free from distractions, judgment, and aware of our thoughts and feelings. Participating in mindfulness helps us become more aware of sensory input from the environment around us and how our body feels.
Why teach children mindfulness?
Practicing mindfulness with children can provide them with the strategies they need to help control their emotions, slow down, calm themselves and focus. Through mindfulness, children may develop greater awareness of their emotional, body and sensory experiences. Mindfulness can be a powerful tool in helping manage anxiety and impulsivity, and can improve listening, creativity and respect for self and others.
Mindfulness activities, when practiced together, can strengthen the relationship between an adult and child.
Activities that support mindfulness with children
Infants and toddlers
- Sing songs, lullabies and nursery rhymes throughout the day to your baby.
- Massage your baby gently before a nap or 45 minutes after a feeding. Start at your baby’s stomach and work your way to their head, neck, shoulders, legs and feet.
- Eye gaze with your baby while saying “I am” affirmations. For example, “I am safe”, “I am confident”, “I am loved”, “I am calm”, “I am beautiful”.
- Practice focused breathing using your child’s favourite stuffed toys as visual aids. In a relaxed position on the floor, place a toy on your abdomen and on your child’s abdomen. Take three deep breaths, breathing in and out through your nose, while saying ‘blow’ or ‘smell’ to help the child understand the actions. Show your child how the toy rises and falls as they take the breaths. Practice ‘blowing’ bubbles, pinwheels or ‘smelling’ food at other times to familiarize your child with focused breathing.
- Talk about sensory experiences with your child. Draw your child’s attention to what you and your child see, hear, smell, taste and touch in simple words. For example, when baking cookies, ask your child to ‘smell the cookies’.
- Yoga incorporated into your child’s daily routine can be enjoyable and relaxing. Teach simple yoga poses such as downward dog, rag doll, and mountain pose (select the yoga poses that match your child’s ability).
- Go on mindful walks and during the walk, talk about what you see, hear, smell and feel while in the natural environment. For example, if you pick up a smooth stone and you both feel it and talk about its smoothness and shape, you are focusing your attention to the present moment.
- Yoga balloon. Sit on the floor with your child. Cross your legs and keep your back straight. Place the palms of your hands together at the centre of your chest. Breathe in slowly and deeply through your nose, raising your arms above your head in the shape of a big balloon. Breathe out slowly through your mouth and bring your arms back down so that your palms are together again at the centre of your chest.
School age children
- Guided meditation videos are helpful when learning calming techniques, such as body scanning and muscle relaxation. Many videos are available for you to source on the internet based on your child’s ability.
- Listen to bell activity uses a bell, chime, triangle or an app that imitates the sound of a bell to focus your child’s attention on a single source of sensory input. Ring the bell in a slow, quiet, rhythmic way and ask your child to focus on the sound and keep their eyes closed until they no longer hear the sound.
- Heartbeat exercises can help your child with body awareness. Start by engaging in an activity that increases heart rate, such as jumping jacks, jumping on the spot, or running. After completing the exercise, sit together with your eyes closed and hands placed on your heart. Encourage your child to notice their heartbeat and how the rate slows down as they rest.
- Mind in a jar activity can help your child to focus and be calm. You will need a jar with a tight lid, water and glitter. Explain that the jar represents your child’s head, the water their mind and the glitter their thoughts, worries, and memories. Shake the jar and tell your child this is how your mind (water) is when you are thinking or worrying about several things. Set the jar down and watch how the glitter settles and the water becomes clear. Talk about how, while their thoughts are calm and quiet at the bottom of the jar, their mind is clear and they are focused.
- Use the acronym STOP to teach your child the core components of mindfulness: Stop what your are doing, press the pause button on your thoughts and actions, Take a few deep breaths to centre yourself and bring yourself fully into the present moment, Observe what is going on with your body, emotions and mind, and Proceed with whatever you were doing, making a conscious, intentional choice to incorporate what you just learned.
- Positive affirmation is anything good you say or think about yourself. Teach your child to describe themselves in positive ways using ‘I’ statements, such as “I am smart”, “I am focused”, “I am strong”, and “I am proud of myself.” You can make a dice game by pasting positive affirmation ‘fill in the blank’ statements, such as, “I am good at…” on a square box or large die. Take turns rolling the die and complete the sentence.
- Gratitude statements are thoughts about things for which you are grateful. Throughout the day you and your child can talk about what you are grateful for. For example, “I’m grateful for the time I spend at the park with my brother.”
- Mindful journaling helps your child reflect on their thoughts, feelings and experiences. You can help by using mindfulness journaling prompts, such as, “I remember when I used balloon breath to feel better when I couldn’t ride my bike”.
Caregivers, family members and early learning professionals share a role in helping children find ways to be present and aware of their thoughts and feelings. Working together as a team to establish common goals will have the greatest impact on your child’s development and well-being.
Remember that practicing mindfulness your self is equally important. When you understand and use mindfulness techniques, your child will learn from you.
“In today’s rush, we all think too much—seek too much—want too much—and forget about the joy of just being.”- Eckhart Tolle
References and web resource links
Ackerman, C. E., (2020). 25 Fun Mindfulness Activities for Children and Teens, Retrieved July 17, 2020 from: https://positivepsychology.com/mindfulness-for-children-kids-activities/
Clemmer, C., (2020). Ease Your Anxious Child: 6 Simple Mindfulness Exercises to Try Today, Retrieved July 17, 2020 from: https://www.mother.ly/child/ease-your-anxious-child-6-simple-mindfulness-exercises-to-try-today
Halloran, J., (2016). Simple Ways to Introduce Mindfulness and Meditation to Children, Retrieve July 17, 2020 from: https://copingskillsforkids.com/blog/simple-ways-to-introduce-mindfulness-and-meditation-to-children
Landis, J., (2020). Simple Activities to Help Toddlers Develop Mindfulness, Retrieved July 17, 2020 from: http://www.momentsaday.com/help-toddlers-develop-mindfulness/
Lyness, D., Reviewer, (2017). Mindfulness Exercises, Retrieved July 17, 2020 from: https://kidshealth.org/en/kids/mindful-exercises.html
Marcin, A., (2020). Teaching Your Child Mindfulness, Retrieved July 17, 2020 from: https://www.healthline.com/health/childrens-health/mindfulness-for-kids#infants
Newman, M., (2020). Mindfulness Practices Help Regulate You and Your Baby, Retrieved July 17, 2020 from: https://www.lamaze.org/Giving-Birth-with-Confidence/GBWC-Post/mindfulness-practices-help-regulate-you-and-your-baby-1
Rogers, S., (2017). A Mindfulness Practice for Preschoolers that Connects Preschoolers to Nature, Retrieved July 17, 2020 from: https://www.mindful.org/mindfulness-practice-preschoolers-connects-kids-nature/
Scaccia, A., (2018). Your Guide to Baby Massage, Retrieved July 17, 2020 from: https://www.healthline.com/health/parenting/baby-massage
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