We hear a lot about mindfulness, and while we understand that it’s good for us, people can rarely say exactly what mindfulness is. To put it simply, it’s the ability or a skill to be fully present at the moment and focused on one task at hand rather than letting our minds wander and multitasking. While adults find it challenging to practice mindfulness mindfully, it comes almost naturally to children. Still, they will need you to guide them and instruct them, at least at first. There’s a myriad of wonderful mindfulness activities for kids to help them stay calm and present in a moment, and here’s how you can introduce them:
It turns out that the easiest way for children to practice mindfulness is simply to try to focus on and pay attention to everything they can hear. Explain to them that they will probably be able to hear much better if they close their eyes because they won’t be distracted by the things they can see and they won’t be tempted to go on and investigate where the sounds are coming from. It can be as simple as trying to hear sounds coming from the garden or the kitchen, but you could also use different musical toys to make quiet sounds and spark their curiosity. You could just as easily use a singing bowl, a bell, a set of delicate chimes, or a simple phone app that has sounds. Instruct them to close their eyes and to listen to the sound until they can no longer hear it, and then to raise their hand or open their eyes. Keep in mind that the intervals should be somewhere between 30 seconds and a minute. The exercise is fun and calming at the same time.
When strong emotions have taken hold of your children, you can use the mindful jar to help them calm down and identify what they’re feeling. Fill a clear jar with water almost all the way, add glitter glue (or clear glue and dry glitter), and shake it to make the glitter swirl. Explain that the swirling glitter resembles their thoughts when they’re stressed and upset, and that’s why they can find it hard to think clearly. Tell them that it’s perfectly normal to feel that way and that even grownups feel like that sometimes. Show them that the water clears out after a while, and tell them that the same will happen to their thought and emotions if they simply give it time. While they’re focused on the glitter in a jar, they will calm down, and they will learn that strong emotions can sometimes cloud their thoughts, a valuable lesson that will help them in the future.
This is a wonderful activity for toddlers after they’ve spent a long time playing outside and need a change of pace, but it’s also very useful for older children who need to calm down and relax after coming from school or working very hard on an assignment. They can do this either by lying down on their bed or the floor, in which case they should place a small pillow or a cushion on their belly, or even a stuffed toy if they’re toddlers. The alternative is to do the exercise by sitting up, in which case they should keep one hand on their belly. The key is to pay close attention to the inhale and the exhale and to notice the rising and falling of the belly. You can count the inhales and the exhales together out loud, but later on, you should instruct them to count on their own, silently. You will soon notice them calming down and relaxing, even closing their eyes and drifting off to sleep.
Another lovely game you can play with your children and their friends is “smell and tell” game. Ask them to close their eyes and bring them something to smell. It can be anything, from your perfume, a piece of orange peel, candy, flower, or a spice. Ask them to try to identify what it is, but tell them not to get angry if they can’t because you’ll tell them anyway. After they’ve guessed (or tried guessing), ask them to open their eyes, tell them what they’ve been smelling and ask them to smell it again. The scent is a powerful anxiety-relief tool, and they will love learning about different things. Who knows, they might even fall in love with oregano, rosemary, and basil, and enjoy adding them to their food too.
Once again, parents of toddlers will understand that their children have probably been doing this for a while before you even remembered to suggest it to them. Toddlers are known for their sluggish pace when eating, but older children will often need to be reminded to slow down and try to enjoy the food on their plates. Meals and snacks are perfect for teaching mindfulness to kids because you can incorporate different mindfulness activities into one. You can start by simple breathing exercises, followed by an instruction to observer their food before they start eating. Tell them to focus on the feel of food in their hand if they’re eating a snack, or on the feel of the fork or a spoon if you’re having lunch. Ask them to take a single bite and to chew slowly for about 20 seconds, to notice the taste as well as the texture of the food.
This is a simple yet very effective game that you can pay with anything you have at home. The best thing is that you can play this with your children as well as their friends when they come over. Each child should get an object to touch and hold in their hand. The object can be anything: a walkie talkie, a squishy ball, a soft feather, a simple rock, twig, dry leaf, or a fluffy plush toy. Their task should be to close their eyes and describe what their object feels like to their partner, and when one of them is finished, they should switch places. As simple as this activity is, it also teaches them to isolate their senses, focus on a single sensation at the time, and make ever touch a distinct experience.
You probably know that children just love superheroes, which is why you can incorporate them straight into mindfulness activities for kids you practice every day or every week. Kids are particularly fond of Spiderman and his “Spidey-senses”, and you can spark their curiosity by offering to train their own spidey-senses with them. Children’s senses are activated when they focus on them: have them focus only on their sense of touch, smell, taste, or hearing and nothing else. Very soon, they will be able to willingly concentrate on one of their senses at the time, and all because of their wish to be like Spiderman.
Hugging is very important for children; it’s a way to feel close to you, protected and safe, but it’s also a way to express the overwhelming feeling of joy and love you feel for each other. Make it a rule to have at least one mindful hug every day, and when you do so, practice breathing together in unison. When you hug your child, take three deliberate and very deep breaths together, and try to be synchronized. It might be tricky at first, but you will notice how your child reacts to this. Hugs and deep breaths will help you relax any muscles that might feel tight and calm you down. The moment you let go of each other, you will notice that the tension melts away. This is the perfect way to start a day and to say goodbye to each other in the morning. What is more, this is great for defusing tension when you notice that your kids are stressed and could use a calming hug.
We mentioned several times that children are naturally more mindful than adults, and you can easily notice this simply by watching them going from point A to point B: they stop to look at the ants and the grass, they turn around to listen to birds, they touch the hedge, smell flowers, and pet dogs, and they notice the strange shapes of clouds up in the sky. While we know it’s frustrating for you, try letting them explore the world in their own pace whenever possible. Take them outside and let them roam the park or your backyard for as long as they want; answer their questions, and try to learn from them how to be more present in the moment and how to look at the world with an open mind.
Speaking of exploring the world, you can also make an exercise out of this: take them outside and ask them to bring you the most interesting rock, the softest feather, or the most peculiar dry leaf they can find. This simple task will make them focus on one thing at the time: leaves, rocks, feathers, insects, flowers, etc. and they will concentrate and practice being mindful without even realizing it. You can also play this game with them: you can look for leaves while they are looking for rocks and vice versa. Not only will this help you both practice mindfulness, but you’ll also be spending quality time together.
On a side note, walks can be a wonderful mindfulness exercise for kids because you can do it literally any time you are walking together, or they are walking on their own. What is more, mindful walks will show them that mindfulness is much more than sitting still and breathing deeply, a lesson they will likely remember. While walking, have them pay attention to their breathing, how it changes when they change their pace. Ask them to notice how the ground beneath their feet feels, and if you have a garden, have them walk barefoot over grass, pebbles, and/or sand. They could also try to pay close attention to the way their entire body moves when they’re walking: their head, neck, as well as arms.
Sit at the table or on the floor so that you’re facing each other and practice paying mindful attention to your bodies. At first, you can help by guiding them and asking them insightful questions: draw their attention to the fluttering of their eyelids, the beat of their heart, the stiffness of their shoulders and back, and the way their feet touch the floor. Notice thoughts and emotions and ask them to describe what they are feeling at the moment: “My chest feels very warm right now and I am so happy when the two of us are playing together like this”, or you can tell them that you’ve noticed they feel nervous or sad about something and ask them to describe how their bodies feel. This simple exercise will allow them to have better insight into their inner world and allow them to learn to notice signs of stress, anger, and happiness.
Bedtime is a great time for introducing simple mindfulness activities for kids because this will help them calm down and relax, and perhaps even help them have nice and peaceful dreams. A simple body-scan meditation is perfect for this because it makes the children focus on separate body parts and help them willingly relax their entire body before falling asleep. Have them close their eyes and, in a soft voice, instruct them to bring attention to their toes, soles of their feet, their feet, calves, knees, legs, stomach, etc. Finish by asking them to breathe deeply and release any tension they might feel. As they grow, they will be able to do it on their own, but while they’re young and still learning mindful exercises, it’s a good idea to be there to guide them and help them out.
Deliberately paying attention to yourself, your body, your emotions, and your actions might seem easy, but as soon as you start practicing mindfulness you’ll understand how tricky and challenging it can be. While it can be easy for children to pay attention to these things, teaching them to keep their attention on their bodies, breathing, and actions can be quite a challenge. They say that practice makes perfect, yet mindfulness isn’t about perfection but more about being present and grounded. Teaching mindfulness to kids is also a wonderful way to learn more about yourself too, so approach the task with an open mind and patience.