When we teach mindfulness to kids, we equip them with tools to build self-esteem, self-compassion, openness, manage stress, and skillfully approach challenges.
Mindfulness meditation, at its simplest, is paying attention to what is happening in the present moment. It may be what you’re feeling, hearing, or anything else you notice. There’s no special place of calm you have to reach and it’s not about clearing your mind, it’s just an honest and kind look at what you’re experiencing at this moment.
Why mindfulness for children is important?
When we teach mindfulness to kids, we give them the tools they need to build confidence, cope with stress, and relate to uncomfortable or challenging moments. The earlier we do so in their young lives, the greater the opportunity to help them cultivate resilience and develop and refine their mindfulness practice as they mature.
Teaching mindfulness to kids can also help shape three critical skills developed in early childhood:
- paying attention and remembering information,
- shifting back and forth between tasks,
- and behaving appropriately with others.
These abilities are known as executive functions and they are essential for more advanced tasks like:
- and positive social relationships.
Mindfulness is a powerful tool that can empower students to deal with upcoming exam-related stress and anxiety. It helps them decenter from difficult emotions, feel calmer, and see the exam as a less threatening experience.
Helping Kids Cope with Stress by Mindfulness
Mindfulness practice can offer your child stress management strategies to calm their nervous system. Below are a few kid-friendly breathing techniques you can demonstrate and do with them.
5 Mindful Breath Practices for Children
1. Mindful Breathing
Simply notice the breath and feel it move in the body. You can add visuals and words to make the practice more engaging. For example, on the in-breath ask your child to repeat the phrase, I am a lake and on the out-breath, I am calm. This technique can be adapted to use any visual and taps into the power of imagination.
2. Teddy Bear Breath
This is a great variation of the belly-breathing practice for little ones. Have them lie down with a teddy or stuffed animal on their belly, and let them watch as it moves up and down while they breathe as if they are rocking it to sleep.
3. Four Square Breathing
This practice is a useful tool for older children. Breathe in for a count of four. Hold your breath for a count of four. Breathe out for a count of four. Hold your breath for a count of four. Do several rounds and return to normal breathing.
4. Basic Breath Ball Practice
You can use a Hoberman sphere—a geodesic dome that can be folded and unfolded—to teach your child basic breath awareness. The toy can be referred to as a breath ball because the dome’s movements mimic the movements of breathing: as the dome folds inward, we imagine the out-breath contracting; as the dome expands, we imagine the lungs expanding on the in-breath.
1. Using both hands, gently hold the breathing ball in front of your belly.
2. Hold one square on opposite sides of the sphere’s surface.
3. Take a deep breath in. As your belly expands, let the ball expand with it.
4. Breathe in fairly slowly, maybe holding momentarily at the top of the breath as you fully expand the ball.
5. As you breathe out, allow the sphere to contract to its smallest size.
6. Repeat a few times. You might even count along in a rhythm.
5. Loving-Kindness Meditation
This meditation can be done after the regular practice of the Mindfulness of breathing. Turn your attention to yourself and repeat phrases like “May I be well”, “May I be peaceful and at ease”, May I be happy”. You may as well choose:
- May I be calm
- May I be protected from dangers
- May my mind be free from hatred
- May my heart be filled with love
One by one, think of someone you love first, someone you have neutral feelings towards, and then someone you dislike, wishing each of these people well.
7 Things Mindful Families Do Differently (Source: Mindful.org)
1. Embrace Imperfection
You are going to make mistakes, you are going to hurt your children’s feelings, and you are not going to be able to show up in all the ways you want to or the ways your children want you to, but none of that makes you a bad parent—it only makes you a human one. When you can move into a place of acceptance of this you are able to shift into greater ease and grace within yourself.
2. Listen with Curiosity
When we pause and listen to each other more in our lives, we can engage the experiences in our family with a growth mindset. We can see the struggles and triumphs as opportunities for learning and growth. Instead of judging each other, we can get better at recognizing when we don’t understand where the other person is coming from, lean in with curiosity, and say, “tell me more.” Or we might try and stand in their shoes to understand their perspective by asking ourselves, “why might they be acting this way?”
3. Communicate Courageously
Being clear and honest with each other about what you need and how you feel is ultimately an act of kindness that creates trust and connection. This means showing up with our partners and kids with an open heart and an open mind. It builds on listening with curiosity and creates space for everyone to feel comfortable sharing how they feel and what they need.
4. Practice Positive Affirmations and Gratitude
While words of affirmation may or may not be your primary love language, we all want to be seen and appreciated and there’s a surprisingly simple way of doing this that can have huge benefits—intentionally practicing being appreciative and expressing gratitude to one another. By taking the time to acknowledge our kids or our partner when they empty the dishwasher or are ready on time, we can shift the culture of the household from demanding and frustrated to cooperative and grateful.
5. Forgive Ourselves and Each Other
In practicing mindfulness we come to understand that our mistakes aren’t signs of failing at being a human. Instead, they are opportunities for learning about the inevitable pitfalls of life, what gets in our way, and understanding the optimal route to get back into a space of balance and connection.
The simple phrase “forgive, investigate and invite” can be enormously helpful. If we have transgressed, we can set the intention to “forgive” ourselves for this wrongdoing, understanding that we can’t change the past, remembering that we aren’t perfect, and realizing that we often make mistakes out of ignorance, confusion, or upset feelings.
6. Practice Support and Generosity
Our kids are always watching us, learning how to be in the world, and modeling our behaviors. So it’s important that we model this way of being in the world and include them in these acts as often as possible. Want some ideas? You can consider getting involved in service projects at a local school or organization. You can encourage your kids to take pictures or cards for their grandparents or someone who is ill. These small or large acts are the essential healing agent within the family system, our culture, and the world. Ultimately, the connection is the cornerstone of well-being and it starts in the family.
7. Remember to Play and Have Fun
It seems silly to say that any of us would forget to have fun and enjoy each other but it’s more common than you think. Raising children is probably the most important job you will ever be tasked with and the pressure of raising good humans can be weighty. So much so that we can fall into a pattern of taking things too seriously and being overly focused on tasks (chores, homework, activities, etc.) that we lose the enjoyment of being together.
Visit also Mindful.org for more information and articles regarding mindfulness.
A 30-day Gratitude Journal for you and your child
We have included a 30-day Gratitude Journal as an extra resource to help your child learn more about living in the moment and being grateful for what they have in their life.
Each day, has an intention for the day, an inspiring quote, and a suggested affirmation or subject to focus on for gratitude. You can either use the suggested affirmations or create your own affirmation, making it specific towards a certain goal or desire.
Taking time each and every day, even if only for a few minutes, can help you to live more joyfully and peacefully.