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Blissful little girl with sunflowers - Teaching mindfulness to kids

We all know how cultivating a mindful way of life can radically transform the way we work and enjoy day-to-day living, and help us form stronger connections with those around us. Chances are, you engage in a number of different activities and techniques each day to keep yourself grounded, to truly value the wonder in your life, and to keep your mind calm yet active.

But regardless of the bounteous rewards, putting an effort into mindful living takes a certain degree of maturity and discipline, so the idea of encouraging your children to follow suit may seem counterintuitive. This needn’t be the case. Maturity and discipline are self-perpetuating: if you can help your child onto the first rung of this deeper level of awareness, they’ll be better prepared to continue on that path themselves—and the rewards for children can be even more fulfilling than those for adults!

The rewards of mindful living for children

Children are particularly suited to mindful living due to the enchanting combination of curiosity and vulnerability that they possess. A mindful approach can help a child reconcile these two apparently polar-opposite personality traits. This approach will give them the courage to explore their environment and the awareness that they need to look out for themselves and others.

Studies have shown that mindful living can promote empathy and emotional control in children, characteristics that are invaluable in both school and play scenarios, and will also be advantageous throughout those bewildering teenage years that lead into young adulthood. Kids will intuit how to deal with bullying, and be less likely to default to such cruelty themselves when they feel the inevitable frustrations of youth. Teach your child mindfulness, and they’ll learn to develop their own methods through which to expand on this philosophy.

However, it isn’t just social skills that’ll improve. Researchers have also seen cognitive control and academic performance increase as a result of mindful approaches. There’s no time more valuable than childhood to ensure that a young person is equipped with the tools and mindset needed to analyze all they are taught and to pursue their curiosity in a productive manner. Of course, this doesn’t mean just getting through tests and essays, but learning to apply their knowledge to the things they find fascinating in the world and make connections between them.

Diving into the practice

If you’ve already suspected that your kids might benefit from making use of some of the mindfulness techniques you use from day to day, by now, you may be totally convinced. The question is, what’s the best way to go about explaining such a mature philosophy to young people?

If the children you wish to teach these skills to are very young, you really don’t need to be concerned with explaining all the whys and wherefores. Rather, leap straight into the practice, and worry about the theory later. Look at the way your children spend their time and suggest tweaks that’ll broaden their experience of the simplest daily pursuits. Make things with them, play with them, and encourage them to pay attention to the minutiae of what you’re doing—the smell of the grass, the way Plasticine feels between their fingers, the explosion of flavours that the food on their plates ignites inside of their mouths.

For older kids, or younger ones who have begun to get used to the practice, you can start applying more discipline. Find them an app such as Headspace, a tool with which they can improve their own practice independently. Set time aside on the weekend for mindful walks, and get the whole family involved so it feels like second nature to participate.

Need more guidance?

If you’d like more tips, be sure to check out the infographic below, which runs through 15 techniques for instilling a mindful outlook in your youngsters. Take a look, see what works for your family and friends, and remember that the best way to teach kids is to lead by example!

Infographic - Teaching mindfulness to kids

Screen reader version:

As parents, we want our kids to be relaxed, creative and alert. Yet, finding focus and space to think in this high-speed world can be tricky. Mindfulness teaches our kids to tune into their feelings and thoughts. Fostering this skill early on can help them better handle stress in the years to come.

6 reasons why mindfulness is good for kids

Studies suggest mindfulness can:

  • Boost children’s mood and self-esteem ¹
  • Encourage positive behaviour such as empathy, emotional control and optimism ²
  • Aid academic learning and improve cognitive control in the classroom ²
  • Reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression and improve mental health ³
  • Reduce peer aggression and promote conflict resolution ²

“There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children.
One of these is roots, the other, wings.” – Hodding Carter

How to teach mindfulness to kids

There are many ways to teach mindfulness to kids. Different methods suit different ages and temperaments.

1. Start with yourself. If mindfulness is part of your schedule, then your children are more likely to pick up the habit.

2. Encourage short bursts of mindfulness and build it up. A few minutes’ focus on awareness is a good start.

3. Keep it simple. Rather than overwhelming young children with ‘mindfulness’, talk about being ‘aware’ of surroundings and ‘noticing’ sensations.

4. Commit the whole family. Practice dinnertime gratitude with the entire family, asking everyone to share one thing they’re thankful for.

Introducing mindful games

5. Be crafty. Encourage children to draw, knit, sew and make things. Ask them what thread, fabric or Lego feel like. What does paper smell of?

6. Be active. Ask children to jump up and down then place their hands on their hearts. What do their heartbeats feel like? How fast are they breathing?

7. Listen! Ring a bell, ask kids to listen and raise their hands when they no longer hear the sound. Pay attention to other sounds for a minute and, afterwards, discuss what they heard.

Day-to-day mindfulness at home

8. Touch! Talk about everyday objects that youngsters take for granted. What does their favourite toy feel like? Try activities such as finger painting and sand drawing.

9. Eating a raisin in 30 seconds. Before eating the raisin, ask your kids to explore its shape, colour, smell and texture. Encourage them to notice the taste and sensations while chewing.

10. Check out Headspace for Kids. This app offers simple exercises to help teach mindfulness to children based on five themes: calm, focus, kindness, sleep, and wake up.

Mindful moments outside

11. Smell! Ask kids what the grass, flowers and outdoor spaces smell like. What smells good and what doesn’t? Encourage them to think about how they feel as they breathe in each one.

12. Go for a mindful stroll. On your walks, designate short periods of time to zoning into your senses. Spend one quiet minute listening to sounds, noticing sights, smells or feelings.

13. Use mindfulness to calm upset kids. Let them know it’s okay to be angry or sad. Ask them to close their eyes and tell you where in their body they’re feeling the emotions.

Prepare for sleep with mindfulness

14. Try ‘buddy breathing’. Get young children to lie down and put a favourite teddy on their belly.  Ask them to watch the teddy rise and fall as they breathe. See if they can ‘slow teddy down’ by breathing slower.

15. Squeeze and relax! Lie down with your youngsters and all close your eyes. Starting with your toes, tighten every muscle your body—right up to your lips and fists. Then relax. What does it feel like?

There are plenty of ways to incorporate mindfulness into daily life—even in the digital age. By doing so, kids can become calmer, happier and more alert. Their social interactions, mental health and learning can also benefit from increased awareness of the present and of their feelings and emotions.

Sources

Drabble, E. 2013.  How to Teach…Mindfulness. theguardian.com

Headspace. 2016. Headspace For Kids. headspace.com

Rudell Beach, S. 2014. 8 Ways to Teach Mindfulness to Kidshuffingtonpost.com

Rudell Beach, S. 2013. Mindful Parenting: Practicing Mindfulness with Your Childrenleftbrainbuddha.com

Roman, K. 2015. 7 Fun Ways To Teach Your Kids Mindfulness. mindbodygreen.com

Semple, R. J. et al. 2005. Treating Anxiety With Mindfulness: An Open Trial of Mindfulness Training for Anxious Children. Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy. 19: 4 (379–392.) researchgate.net

Schonert-Reichl, K. et al. 2015. Enhancing cognitive and social–emotional development through a simple-to-administer mindfulness-based school program for elementary school children: A randomized controlled trial. Developmental Psychology, Vol 51(1) American Psychological Association. apa.org

Weare, K. 2013. Developing mindfulness with children and young people: a review of the evidence and policy context. Journal of Children’s Services. 8: 2 (141–153) researchgate.net

West Virginia University. 2007. Eating One Raisin: A First Taste of Mindfulness. wvu.edu

1 Semple, R. J. et al. 2005. Treating Anxiety With Mindfulness: An Open Trial of Mindfulness Training for Anxious Children. Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy. 19: 4 (379–392.) researchgate.net

² Schonert-Reichl, K. et al. 2015. Enhancing cognitive and social–emotional development through a simple-to-administer mindfulness-based school program for elementary school children: A randomized controlled trial. Developmental Psychology, Vol 51(1) American Psychological Association. apa.org

³ Semple, R. J. et al. 2005. Treating Anxiety With Mindfulness: An Open Trial of Mindfulness Training for Anxious Children. Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy. 19: 4 (379–392.) researchgate.net

To access a funny fiction story that may help you teach the basics of mindfulness to a child or a group of children, visit THE MINDFUL MONSTER: A children’s story about dealing with fear and anxiety»

image 1: Happy child having fun via Shutterstock; image 2: infographic via Ozicare (Creative Commons BY-SA)

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