Even if you have heard how good mindfulness is for your health, it can still be difficult to make it a regular part of your life, especially when we have lots of things pulling us in all different directions. When we are really busy, pressing the pause button can almost feel like a waste of time. For kids with lots of energy (i.e. most kids), getting them to slow down and take some time to reflect can be particularly challenging.
Through my work as a licensed clinician, I have come across many little ones who really struggle with the mere concept of slowing down and tuning in. Finding calm and managing emotions can be hard because there is just so much to do, it's all so exciting, and it feels so urgent. Tuning in is hard, especially because nowadays we are presented with so many external distractions, so it's hard to focus our attention inward. Sometimes the best you can get is a few seconds of a silly pause, just before going back to full throttle.
Mindfulness has been shown to improve the mental, emotional, social, and physical health and well-being of young people who take part in this practice. Here's how to help your kids try it out.
What is mindfulness for kids?
In its most basic sense, mindfulness means intentionally focusing your awareness on the present moment. For example, tuning in to your own internal processes and acknowledging your thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations. When you are teaching your kids mindfulness, you are essentially teaching them tactics to slow down their thoughts, reduce distractions, and become more aware of their surroundings. Mindfulness can be especially helpful for kids that have a hard time focusing in school.
The following examples are more sense focused than thought and feeling focused. However, adding in reflective questions such as, "What thoughts are coming up for you?" or "What are you feeling right now?" while engaging in the following activities is a great way to add depth if you choose.
How can I teach my kids mindfulness?
If you and your family are new to mindfulness, it may be helpful to start with the senses and then incorporate greater awareness of thoughts and feelings as your child becomes more comfortable. The good news is practicing mindfulness is easier than it sounds. Here are 10 mindfulness activities to incorporate into your family's routine:
- Mindful walk
Going on a mindful walk can be a fun and easy way to take a familiar activity and give it a mindfulness spin. As you walk, ask your child to notice what they hear, smell, and see. Tell them what you observe in the environment, ask them if they sense it too. If there are items that can be safely touched — like leaves, rocks, grass, sand, concrete, etc. — try to notice the differences in texture, temperature, or weight.
- Blow up a balloon with the least number of breaths possible
Rather than trying to blow up the balloon fast, we want to focus on using the least number of breaths. This invites kids to take deeper and slower breaths to get the maximum amount of air into the balloon with each single breath.
- Reverse I spy
Take a moment to scan your environment, try to notice everything around you. Ask your child to close their eyes and try to remember all the items around them, and then take turns! If recalling everything in your field of vision feels overwhelming, you can choose something more specific like, "all the items hanging on the wall."
- Guided tactile and/or olfactory guessing game
For the tactile practice, close your eyes and have one guide the other around the room, touching various objects. Invite each person to guess what it is they are touching. Is it a clock? A picture frame? An apple? A toy? The olfactory version of this game is best played in the kitchen because there are lots of foods that can be used for it. The bathroom can work too, as there are inedible items with strong scents, like candles, flowers, soaps, and other bath products . . . and maybe even some stinky socks!
- Mindful music
As you listen to a song together, try to notice the different sounds. Maybe you notice different instruments, backup voices, beats, or shifts in tempo. You can also find "nature sounds" or other tracks that include animals or other noises of daily life. For example, if you listen to jungle noises, see if you and your child can identify a bird, a monkey, a flowing river, or the wind.
- Draw on your back
Use your finger to draw on each others' backs. This can be very grounding, regulating, and connecting because it helps you tune into tactile input. Depending on your child's age, this game can be adapted to work for them. For the little ones, draw shapes or have them count the number of lines or dots you draw. For older kids, encourage them to use letters and numbers, or even spell out full words.
- Five sense check-in
This can be done at any time, anywhere. Go through the five senses and talk about what can be observed. Notice what you smell, hear, taste, see, and feel. For example, the taste of the strawberries you had a few minutes ago, or the taste of freshly brushed teeth. You could also invite them to notice the feeling of their clothing on their skin, the pressure from the chair against their body, or even the itch of a mosquito bite.
- Balancing on the belly
Challenge yourself to balance all different kinds of items on your belly while breathing deeply and allowing your tummy to fill fully with air. Then, let it all out. What kind of items are easiest to keep balanced on your tummy as you breathe? Maybe one bouncy ball can stay on, but what happens when you add two more!? To keep little ones engaged, you can frame it as a day at the amusement park for their stuffed animals, and you can ask them if their stuffed froggy enjoys the belly ride.
- Taste test
Use different foods to make a fun guessing game that helps you tune into your sense of taste. You can use different fruits, jelly beans, juices, crackers, or anything that your child enjoys. You can also use this as an opportunity to connect with the differences in texture in foods.
- Body scan meditation
Sit together and do what's called a body scan meditation. Start by calling mental attention to your feet and moving up to your head while scanning for sensations, thoughts, and feelings. Notice them without judgment.