When we assist children with incorporating mindfulness into their lives, they are provided with tools to deal with tough situations, build self-esteem, and manage intense levels of emotions such as stress, anxiety, and disruptive behavior. According to the article Mindfulness for Kids, mindfulness can help shape three important skills for children, including paying attention and remembering information, shifting back and forth between tasks, and behaving appropriately with others (2023). Due to these increases in executive functioning skills, mindfulness may support improved academic performance as well. Mindfulness has positive impacts on emotion regulation, allowing a child to acknowledge their emotions without judgment, and have improved tools to accept and work through those emotions. Through improved emotion regulation, a child may have increased social regulation which contributes to more positive, meaningful relationships with others.
There are many ways to help your child incorporate mindfulness into their lives. These activities can be beneficial for any age, adults included! Taking just a few moments a day to focus on the present moment in an intentional way will lead to many positive changes.
An important part of fully paying attention to the moment is paying attention to how you breathe. For a younger child, you can teach them to belly breathe by having them lay on their backs and place their favorite stuffed animal on their belly. Have your child take a deep breath in through their nose and watch the stuffed animal rise on their belly, and breathe out through their mouth and watch the stuffed animal lower back down. A child will successfully be engaged in belly breathing when the stuffed animal is steadily moving up and down. Cookie breathing is another way to make belly breathing more fun. Pretend you're breathing in the delicious smell of freshly baked cookies as the belly expands, and blow on the cookies to cool them down as the belly deflates. When first teaching this to your child, it’s fun to use real cookies!
For an older child, teach them to belly breathe by placing one hand on their heart and one hand on their belly. As they breathe in through their nose they should feel their belly expand, and as they breathe out they should feel their belly deflate. Encourage your child to count to four as they breathe in, count to four as they pause, count to four as they breathe out, and count to four before breathing in again. This is known as box-breathing and is helpful in calming the nervous system through regulating the body and reducing stress and anxiety.
As children begin to understand the importance of focusing on the present moment, it’s important they have visuals to understand how thoughts and emotions can feel chaotic, but eventually settle down. To create a mindful jar, get a clear jar such as a mason jar or empty plastic water bottle, and fill it almost to the top with water. Then add glitter glue or dry glitter to the jar. Make sure the lid is on tight and then shake it to make the glitter swirl around. When using the mindful jar, you can use the following script sourced from Karen Young (2017):
“Imagine that the glitter is like your thoughts when you’re stressed, mad or upset. See how they whirl around and make it really hard to see clearly? That’s why it’s so easy to make silly decisions when you’re upset – because you’re not thinking clearly. Don’t worry this is normal and it happens in all of us (yep, grownups too).
[Now put the jar down in front of them.]
Now watch what happens when you’re still for a couple of moments. Keep watching. See how the glitter starts to settle and the water clears? Your mind works the same way. When you’re calm for a little while, your thoughts start to settle and you start to see things much clearer. Deep breaths during this calming process can help us settle when we feel a lot of emotions” (Karen Young, 2017).
Using a script like this will help you feel more confident in your approach in explaining the mindful jar to your child. When looking at the jar, encourage your child to focus on one emotion and identify how that emotion feels in comparison to the swirling glitter versus the settling glitter. Looking at the mindful jar can be a helpful mindful reminder for adults too!
Intentionally taking the time to engage in yoga poses can be beneficial for children. To feel and understand the positive effects of yoga, a person doesn’t need to participate in a whole yoga class, just one or two mindful movements will ignite the same benefits. Practicing yoga poses can help your child feel strong, confident, and happy.
Tree pose is a fantastic yoga pose for children. Have your child balance one foot on the ground, while they place their other foot on the inside of either their ankle, knee, or thigh. Encourage your child to reach their arms up high like tree branches. This pose is not only fun, but a great way to challenge oneself through balance and focus. Another great yoga pose is forward fold. Have your child stand all the way up, and then fold their body in half, reaching for their toes. Not only is forward fold a great stretch, but it’s beneficial for calming the mind and reducing stress.
Mindful walking is a great way to engage in mindfulness with your child. Before taking the walk, ask your child what they would expect to see and hear (birds chirping, trees blowing in the wind, etc). When on the walk, pause often and take a moment to encourage your child to listen to their surroundings. After a couple of minutes, ask your child what they hear and see. Engaging in the senses helps you and your child become more aware and focused on the present moment. After the walk, ask your child how it felt for them to walk with an intention of noticing their surroundings.
One of the best ways to introduce mindfulness to a child is mindful eating. Have your child pick out a snack, and guide them through eating their snack, encouraging the use of all five senses. Have your child hold the snack and reflect on what it feels like and smells like. Have your child take a bite of the snack and encourage them to chew slowly while asking them what it tastes like and feels like. After chewing for about 20-30 seconds, have your child identify what the bite feels like moving from their mouth into their belly. This is a great, fun way for your child to practice noticing their senses.
The rainbow grounding exercise is extremely helpful in leading the mind back to the present moment. Have your child look around the room they are in and identify every color of the rainbow. Each color needs to be from a different object or item in the room. For example, the goal is not for your child to see a photo of a rainbow and use that photo to find all the colors. The goal is that your child is taking their time to identify their surroundings.
For an older child, the five senses exercise is another great way to lead the mind back to the present moment. Have your child identify five things they can see, four things they can touch, three things they can hear, two things they can smell, and one thing they can taste.
Three good things
Gratitude is an important part of mindfulness. This is a great activity to incorporate into your child’s bedtime routine. It’s extra meaningful to your child if you participate in this activity as well. The goal is simple, identifying three good things that happened throughout the day. The goal of this practice isn’t to dismiss any difficult parts of the day, but to increase identification of positive parts of the day, which can lead to increased happiness and feelings of purpose.
Incorporating just one mindful moment or activity into the day can lead to many positive changes. Your child is likely to feel more in tune with their emotions and reactions, and have increased confidence when facing obstacles or difficult moments. It’s important when integrating mindfulness into the day, that you do it during a time your child is regulated. A child first needs to feel confident in a skill through practice, before being able to implement it during a time of dysregulation.