Mindfulness for kids?
Studies today clearly indicate that children of all ages can hugely benefit from mindfulness.
But first, what is mindfulness, exactly?
According to Mindful.org, “Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.”
While mindfulness has become very mainstream in recent years (some could even argue it’s the latest buzzword), it’s actually been practiced for thousands of years in both religious and secular traditions, from Buddhism to yoga and, more recently, non-religious meditation.
Research is finding that not only does mindfulness decrease stress and anxiety, it also increases attention, improves interpersonal relationships, and strengthens compassion, among a number of other benefits.
Journal of Neuroscience published study results after researchers discovered that “the rhythm of breathing creates electrical activity in the human brain that enhances emotional judgments and memory recall.”
This is particularly noteworthy for advocates of mindfulness, as one of the basic mindfulness practices is rhythmic breathing.
Schools are slowly beginning to catch on to the value of teaching mindfulness, as more educators are integrating social and emotional learning (SEL) into their classrooms.
SEL is “based on five core competencies — self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision-making. These skills can help kids in the classroom, but more importantly, they can make children and parents happier.”
A 2017 study showed that kids who have engaged in SEL in the classroom also had higher graduation rates and safer sexual behavior (even 18 years post-intervention!).
While I’m sure you would agree that it would be great if your own school system adopted SEL, the truth is that it’s just not the norm.
That said, it doesn’t mean your kids have to miss the boat! You can teach those skills in your home. Here are some ways to teach mindfulness to your kids.
Explain it to them in Simple Terms
Let’s be honest, half the adults out there don’t understand what “mindfulness” is. It’s a big word.
So keep it simple for your kids.
Simply put, mindfulness is just awareness. It’s being aware of your thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and everything around us right now.
Teach them to S.T.O.P.
Deepak Chopra encourages you to use the acronym S.T.O.P. to introduce mindfulness to your kids.
S: Stop. (This one should be easy to remember.) It simply is to stop whatever you’re doing.
T: Take three deep breaths. These should be breaths from the belly, also known as diaphragmatic breaths. Ask your kids to put one hand on their chests and one on their stomachs and notice which hand is moving as they breathe in and out.
For little kids, you can have them lay on the floor with their favorite stuffed animal sitting on their belly and notice the way the animal moves up and down. (They may have to do this a few times to truly understand what the deep breathing should look and feel like.)
O: Observe. The next step is to ask your kids to pay attention to their physical surroundings and their emotions. What do they hear, feel, taste and see? Ask them to identify their thoughts (even to themselves if they aren’t comfortable saying them out loud) and not to judge themselves.
P: Proceed. At this point they can move forward, but this time with greater awareness for their thoughts, feelings and surroundings.
Get the whole family involved by working with your kids to create S.T.O.P. signs for around the house. When the family sees one, they have to stop, breathe, and observe before moving forward. You can even move them periodically to keep your family alert and mindful.
Meditative Mindfulness Strategies
Depending on their attention span and their age, some kids will do really well with more meditative mindfulness strategies. One of those is asking kids to focus on paying attention to what they can hear.
Listen to a Bell
You can easily find a singing bowl, bell or a set of chimes on an app or on YouTube to listen play for your kids. Tell your kids that you will make the sound and that they should listen until they no longer hear it. Remember that kids have a short attention span and that you need to start slowly, so just play them for 30 seconds to a minute and slowly fade the sound till you’ve silenced it completely.
If this doesn’t appeal to them, you could have them try the Spider Man guided meditation (this is a great one for young boys!)
Make a Glitter Jar
Phyllis Fagell explains that a meditative strategy could simply be “shaking a glitter jar, which are easy to make. You can just use a jam jar and fill it with water and then glitter and they can watch the glitter settle.”
Is your child unable to sit still for the meditative mindfulness practices? Need something a little more interactive? Don’t worry, we have you covered!
Make Faces on Balloons
Fagell explains, “We have done activities where we blow up balloons and the kids will make a face on the balloon that represents their mood. Then they bat the balloon back and forth and they imagine that the balloon is their thought. And so they’re identifying the thought, they’re honoring it and acknowledging it, and then they’re letting it go. And so it’s a metaphor for letting those aside and it teaches them the concept of sitting with that discomfort.”
Ice Cube Activities
“I’ve done ice cube activities with kids where they hold an ice cube and I have them focus on the sensations of the coldness and of the melting ice cube,” Fagell says. “And the longer they hold it, the more uncomfortable it gets, but the exercise is designed to show them that they can sit with discomfort and a lot of anxiety is that fear that you can’t manage the emotion.”
Practice Mindful Eating
The act of mindfully eating is an important one as you teach your kids mindfulness. If you aren’t sure where to begin, you can use this script for a mindful eating exercise for kids.
Fagell notes, “I like to do mindful eating exercises. They can do it with a Hershey Kiss or a raisin. I have them eat it quickly just the way they would normally, and then I have them eat it mindfully where they really focus on the taste and the sensation. I walk them through the exercise and have them slow down as a way to attend to the senses and be a little bit more in the moment. Mindfulness at its root is really about being present in the moment as opposed to letting your thoughts run away into those anxious thoughts and into that ruminating.”
Start a Gratitude Practice
One of the best things you can do for your kids is to have them start a gratitude practice. Gratitude is fundamental to mindfulness, teaching your kids to appreciate what they have rather than focus on everything they want (like the newest iPhone or gaming console).
You could do this in a number of different ways.
You could have your family go around the table at dinner, naming what they’re thankful for. You could also have your kids start a gratitude journal, where each night they write down what they’re most thankful for.
Consider getting your teenagers a Kindness Journal for them to privately journal each day.
This particular one is by Doctor of Psychology, Natasha Sharma and has the following benefits:
- Increased Self-Esteem
- Reduced Anxiety, Anger and Stress
- Greater Empathy & Compassion
- Increased Optimism and Positivity
Final Thoughts on Mindfulness for Kids
Practicing mindfulness for kids has been proven to help them learn to focus, manage stress, regulate emotions, and develop a more positive outlook.
And that’s not all.
“The greatest impact I’ve seen so far with the students I have worked with has been an increase in compassion for themselves and for others,” says Danielle Mahoney, who is certified in mindfulness teaching by Mindful Schools.
So how can you teach mindfulness to kids in your own home?
- Explain it to them in Simple Terms
- Teach them to S.T.O.P.
- Teach Meditative Mindfulness
- Introduce Interactive Mindfulness
- Practice Mindful Eating
- Start a Gratitude Practice
Want more help teaching mindfulness to kids?
Take a look at Goldie Hawn’s MindUP™ organization, designed to help parents and educators teach mindfulness practices to kids, both at school and in the home.
Have you tried any of these practices in your own home?
Or has your school started teaching mindfulness?
We would love to hear from you!