Children encounter a variety of new stressors at the beginning of the school year such as navigating friendships, managing academic demands, and following new requirements for rules and behavior. Providing children with coping skills to manage their emotions is just as critical as supplying them with the pencils, markers, and paper necessary for the classroom. Mindfulness is a beneficial tool you can practice with your children in preparation for the upcoming school year.
Mindfulness is defined as awareness of internal and external experiences in the present moment. Internal experiences are physical sensations, feelings, and thoughts while external experiences refer to the sights and sounds around us. Mindfulness exercises promote self-understanding as children begin to identify, express, and regulate emotions. For example, mindfulness helps children recognize and self-soothe their emotional experiences, such as butterflies in their stomach or sadness about a friend. Greater awareness of facial expressions and body language can promote developing empathy for others and solving interpersonal problems. Overall, mindfulness improves self-control over thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.
Mindfulness can benefit the entire family when implemented as part of your daily routine. One technique is mindful eating during a family meal. Family members can smell the aroma of the meal, observe the colors of the foods, and slowly eat bites of the meal while noticing taste and texture. Young children often do not have the language to explain their internal experiences so it is important early mindfulness practices focus on the outside world. Young children more easily understand textures and sound than describing sadness or tension in the body. One way we introduce mindfulness to children is by explaining it as the superpower their favorite superhero uses to pay attention to his/her surroundings, such as Superman using super-hearing to hear cries for help.
Mindfulness activities with young children should be short, approximately three minutes. You will need to provide clear, step-by-step instructions as you talk children through the activity. Be sure to check-in with children at the end of an activity by asking them what they noticed, such as sounds in the room, textures they felt, or thoughts in their head. Below you will find some our favorite mindfulness exercises to use with children.
Activating the Senses: Provide your child with a grape, strawberry, nut or other small food item. Instruct them through feeling the edges of the food, observing the details of the food, taking a deep sniff of the food, placing the food in their mouth and swirling it around while noticing any tastes. Have your child slowly chew and swallow the food.
News Reporter Journal: Tell your child she is a reporter and the assignment is to document her activities in her personal journal. You would start simple by having her report on a few points of the day (woke up, ate cereal, went to bus stop) with the goal to develop a more extended, detailed story (sat with Daphne on the bus, talked about ninjas, became sad when she didn’t want to come to my house).
Balloon Breathing: Have your child lie on the floor and place a blown-up balloon on his stomach. Explain he will move the balloon up-and-down only using his breath. Teach the child to breathe in slowly through his nose, filling his stomach with air to raise the balloon. Have him pause for a couple of seconds with the balloon raised. Then instruct him to breathe slowly out of his nose to return the balloon down. Again, have him take a brief pause. Continue alternating between raising and lowering the balloon for three minutes.
Guided Imagery: Instruct your child to close her eyes and imagine a very calm place, such as the beach or playground. Tell her to pay attention to what she sees in the scene like waves crashing on the shore, birds flying in the sky, roses around the garden, or kids on a swing set. She might notice if the temperature feels hot or if there is a breeze on her face. Does she hear birds chirping or a water flowing? You could also instruct her to imagine picking up a nearby object, a flower or seashell, and notice how it feels in her hand.
- Sitting Still Like a Frog by Eline Snel
- Planting Seeds: Practicing Mindfulness with Children by Thich Nhat Hanh
- Annakaharris.com – Numerous mindfulness activities to practice with children and adolescents
- KidsRelaxation.com – Check out the “Spidey Senses” activity
- Smiling Mind
- Breathe, Think, Do with Sesame
- Sleep Meditation for Kids
Hooker, K. E. & Fodor, I.E. (2008). Teaching mindfulness to children. Gestalt Review, 12, 75-91.
Thompson, M. & Gauntlett, G. (2008). Mindfulness with children and adolescents: Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 13, 395-407.