As parents, we want the best for our children. We do our best to make them feel safe, keep them from feeling hungry, and we do our best to teach them everything we think they need to survive. But just like grown-ups children have their own stress and as parents, we aren’t always there to help them through it. For instance, homework can be a stress for children, as can divorce, moving from their friends, going to new schools, bullying, and much more. So as a parent we would want to make sure our children have the tools to cope with their stress right? Of course! One great tool for stress is mindfulness exercises for kids.
Mindfulness is as easy as it sounds, it is basically opening up your mind to the present and allowing yourself to carefully observe your thoughts and feelings. This can be achieved through meditation.
In children, mindfulness has been found to:
- improve attention
- reduce stress
- increase ones ability to regulate their own emotions and feel compassion and empathy
- helps with planning and organization skills
- improves self-regulation and optimism
- decreases incidences of bullying.
When teaching mindfulness to children it is important to choose age-appropriate exercises so below I had put together a list of exercises for different ages.
By encouraging mindfulness you can help your preschoolers develop the ability to focus attention at a greater level by using small tools such as pictures, objects, food, simple movements, and music.
A study in 2015 by Flook et al, used an activity called “Belly Buddies” which had children listen to music and pay attention to the sensation of small tones on their stomachs as it rose and fell during breathing. Activities such as these, when regularly practiced, offers children long-lasting benefits of development.
1. Counting the Breath(Before School Age)
This exercise is great for kids who have not yet started formal school. Practicing mindfulness is a great way to help children learn how to regulate their emotions and teach them how to self-soothe themselves. Exercises that use breathing techniques are one of the easiest ways to help calm children who are upset. It is also one of the best techniques adults use. So children going through their tantrum stage can really benefit from this exercise.
You simply have the child breathe in for three seconds and hold it for three seconds and then breathe out for three seconds. This technique teaches them to slow their breathing and in return, they calm their body. With more practice, this can be easily used for great coping skills.
Another technique is to have the children lie down with an animal such as a teddy bear or a rubber ducky on their tummy and watch it as it rises and falls while they breathe. This exercise helps the children to learn focusing skills,
calm down, and learn how paying attention to their bodies can help them relax.
2. Animal Breathing Exercises(Age 5-10)
The school setting requires a lot of focus and attention from our children. This pressure can cause a lot of stress especially for those who have little to no experience. By implementing mindfulness at home or into the classroom you can give your children and students the tools they need to stay focused and make it less stressful for the teacher and the student. Calming exercises can help reduce the children’s energy levels.
A great example of a calming exercise is an animal breathing exercise. One you can use is the “Bumble breath” or the “humming breath”. Begin with the children Sitting in the Mountain Pose with a tall, straight spine. Have them inhale through their nose slowly and exhale through their nose and as they exhale through their nose have them “Hummmmmm”. Have them try to exhale as long as possible.
Have them try it again, but this time with their eyes closed and make them focus on the humming sound, noticing the vibration created on their lips. Have them try it again with their eyes closed and have them block their ears with their hands. Repeat this breath several times and then discuss their experience.
The “bunny breath” is a great way to keep your children awake and alert just like bunnies. You invite your kids to pretend to be bunnies smelling flowers by sitting on their shins. Take 3 quick sniffs in through the nostrils and one long exhale through the nose. Repeat five to seven times.
3. Body Scan(Pre Teens and Teens)
Pre-teens and teens are at a time in their life when pressures in life can cause them more stress. I mean they are already dealing with changes in their body and then they have to deal with the pressures of school, other kids, all while making sure they do what is right.
The body scan exercise is one that is basic and doesn’t require your children to participate in any exercise that may make them look or feel silly but it is still easy enough to teach to your younger children.
Start by having them lie down on their back on something comfortable, relax their body and close their eyes. Then tell them to tighten every muscle in their body as much as they can. Have them squish all their body parts from their toes and their feet to their hands and their fist. Have them focus on how their body feels.
This exercise is a useful way to help them become aware of their bodies and find their own quiet headspace as they lie there and breathe.
Mindfulness in Daily Life
Mindfulness isn’t something that doesn’t have to be limited to exercises once a day. You can encourage your children to be mindful in daily activities.
There are common activities that we or our children complete throughout the day without a second thought, we simply go through them on auto-pilot. Teaching your children to be mindful of even the simplest act of brushing their teeth, or doing their homework, can be useful in dealing with stress.
This way you can help them learn to live in the moment and take it breath by breath.
Here are a few ways to help your children turn these simple task into mindful moments.
Being Mindful Brushing Your Teeth
Be mindful of how your arm feels as it moves back and forth; mindful of how the toothbrush feels against your gums and the sensation it gives your teeth; mindful of how the toothpaste taste.
Being Mindful in the Shower
Be aware of how the water feels on your skin. Notice how good the soap or body wash smells. Being mindful of how the water sounds as it hits the floor.
Apps For Mindfulness
Children nowadays are very tech savvy. Some spend a lot more time on electronics than they should. But there are a lot of ways to turn your children’s smartphone usage into something beneficial to their mind and productive with their time.
Here are some apps to help calm and relax your kids.
Headspace for Kids. This is the child’s version of the popular adult app that provides breathing exercises, visualizations, and meditations that are grouped into five categories; kindness, focus, sleep, calm, and wake-up. You can choose the one that best suits your child’s needs. 5 and under, 6 to 8, 9 to 12; The app cost $8 per month.
Mindfulness for Children. This is an audio app that offers breathing exercises that are great for your child when they are stress. The exercises are easy to follow and there are activities like a body scan to help them relax and soothing nature sounds to help them sleep. 5 and up $5 for premium.
Thrive Global. This can be used with your Amazon Echo, so when your child is feeling stressed your child can easily ask Alexa to open Thrive to ask for “meditation. Download for free.
Smiling Mind. This app offers mindfulness sessions made by a team of psychologists. They start with a series of quick questions that focus on the mind and are followed by meditation exercise. Download for free.
Inner Peace for Kids. This app offer features two meditation tracks to listen to anytime, it also lets kids create their own zen garden.5 + Download for $2.04.
Sleep Meditations for Kids. This app has four bedtime stories that are used as guided meditations which are used to promote relaxation and contentment for your children. Download for free.
There are plenty of benefits to teaching your children mindfulness. Research shows that when mindfulness is introduced into school programs there is a significant increase in academic performance. Also, children who learn mindfulness have tools to help deal with stress and have a better mental well-being.
You can start teaching mindfulness to children as young as preschool age and they can start enjoying the benefits.
If you have kids or teach kids they may benefit from these exercises.
Have you tried mindfulness with your children? I would love to hear how it worked out below.