Everyone can feel stressed, worried, or impatient from time to time – including children. Ups and downs are a part of life. But practicing mindfulness can help us to navigate these feelings by bringing awareness and acceptance to the present moment. Practiced regularly, mindfulness can help children learn to calm themselves in new or stressful situations, can improve concentration, memory and learning, and can give children higher self-esteem and a more positive outlook on life.
So, what exactly is mindfulness? Mindfulness is simply being aware of the present moment, including your external environment, internal thoughts and feelings, and sensations in your body. The goal of mindfulness is to accept the present moment without judging it as “good” or “bad” and simply let it be. Though it may sound contradictory, learning to accept our negative feelings can help us to change thought patterns that aren’t serving us. Practicing mindfulness is often used as part of treatment for mental health conditions like anxiety and depression, but it can be beneficial to anyone.
If you think your child would benefit from a mindfulness practice, remember to keep it simple and start small. Mindfulness can be a challenge even for adults, and your child is more likely to stick with it if they are having fun. Continue reading for some ideas to bring more awareness to your child’s day.
Making observations about our environment can help us to be more mindful. One activity you can try is to encourage your child to write or draw the things they see or do throughout the day. They can pretend to be an investigative reporter or a camera taking pictures of anything they find interesting. Each day, encourage your child to add a little more detail, and after several days, they will be looking closer at the things they see. Younger children may need help writing and may need questions to prompt them to write more. (“Then what happened?” or “What color was the butterfly?”) Once children have a basic understanding of journaling like this, they may like to write daily about their experiences, thoughts, and feelings.
Eating can be the perfect time to practice mindfulness by focusing on your 5 senses. Encourage your child to use their eyes to look at the food on their plate. What colors and shapes do they see? Next, they can think about how the food smells. Does it smell good or bad? Does it make them feel hungry? As they eat their food, they can think about not just how it tastes, but how it feels and sounds. Do the crunchy carrots make a sound when they take a bite? While it may seem kind of silly, practicing mindfulness like this can help your child to be aware of their senses during other activities.
Flower and Candle Breathing
Breathing exercises can bring your child’s awareness to the present while also having a calming effect. Flower and candle breathing is a good introductory breathing exercise for children. Have your child imagine that they are holding a flower in one hand and a candle in the other. Ask, “What color is the flower?” Then, tell your child to smell the flower by inhaling through their nose, then blow out the candle in their other hand with a long, slow breath through their mouth. They may repeat a few times until they feel calm. This kind of breathing can be helpful when your child is feeling worried or upset, or if they need to calm down for sleep or school.
Once they know how to do the flower and candle breathing, your child can try counting their breaths when they feel like they need to calm down or focus. To do this, they will breathe naturally, noticing how air enters in through the nose and exits through the mouth. You may point out that cool air is inhaled and warm air is exhaled. There are different ways to count breaths. One option is to count each breath (inhale and exhale) until they reach five, then count back down to 1. Let your child know that their mind may wander to other thoughts, and that is okay. They may notice the thought and then try to think about the numbers again. Start small so that your child doesn’t become frustrated.
Bubbles and Clouds
Visualization is a helpful way to think about our thoughts and feelings without judgement. Sitting in a comfortable position with their eyes closed and breathing naturally, encourage your child to sit quietly and wait for their thoughts to come to them. They can visualize their thoughts and feelings as bubbles floating by and then popping as the next thought comes. Another helpful image could be to imagine that their thoughts are clouds floating by. The purpose of this is to teach your child that all of their thoughts and feelings are temporary and encourage them to notice the thoughts, without judging them as good or bad, and allow them to move on.
With its focus on the breath and slow, controlled movements, yoga is a calming form of exercise that can be helpful for practicing mindfulness. You may be surprised to find that there are plenty of kid-friendly yoga poses that your child enjoys doing. Animal poses are especially fun for kids, like cat-cow or cobra pose. They may also have fun imagining that they are growing into a tall tree in tree pose or saying hello to the sun as they do a sun salutation. Check out Cosmic Kids Yoga on YouTube for themed yoga “adventures” that your child will love doing.
Give these a try and have fun with mindfulness!
Cardoza, Nicole. Mindful Moves: Kid-Friendly Yoga and Peaceful Activities for a Happy, Healthy You. Storey Publishing, 2021.
Hooker, Karen E., and Iris E. Fodor. “Teaching Mindfulness to Children.” Gestalt Review, vol. 12, no. 1, 2008, p. 75., doi:10.5325/gestaltreview.12.1.0075.
My name is John Haber. I’m a Pediatric Occupational Therapist and the founder of Nogginsland. I became a COTA in 2003, and then went back to school much later, receiving my Master’s Degree in OT from Mercy College in New York in 2016.
Over the years, I’ve worked with a variety of populations in different settings, from school districts, to developmental disability centers, to children’s hospitals.