I was thinking recently about the Mindfulness exercises that I use to help me cope with life’s ups and downs. How can we nurture that sense of inner peace in our children so that it becomes a part of their core being as they grow up? The benefits would be amazing for the child (and the parent).
The biggest challenge would be; How do you get active, easily distracted children, with short attention spans to practice Mindfulness? Mission Impossible? Maybe not…
The first thing we need to appreciate is that children need ‘age appropriate’ mindfulness techniques to help keep them engaged with the process. What works with a 6 year old is going to be different for a 9 year old.
When done the right way, mindfulness exercises for children will help them to improve in skills like paying attention; to calm down when they are upset and think more when they feel impulsive. They are learning to recognize and identify their own emotions.
Before we look at some of the techniques we can use, lets set 3 ground rules around what to expect from this exercise.
1. Please let go of expectations. It is not going to go perfectly in the beginning, so don’t let any initial frustration make you drop out of the process. It is a Process… not a quick fix.
2. Understand that the aim of mindfulness exercises for children is to give them the skills to develop their awareness of their inner and outer self. To recognize how emotions affect their bodies. The byproduct may be a calmer child, but that’s not the main aim.
3. Don’t force the process. If they are not interested, or not ready to join in the activity, then please remind yourself of Rule #1.
Mindfulness Exercises For Children:
1. Mindful Walks. This can be a fun exercise for kids. Turn a walk outside into an awareness safari. Tell them that the goal is to notice as many birds and animals or bugs as possible. During the walk ask them to stop, close their eyes and tell you what they can hear and feel. Help them to use their senses to find the creatures. The aim is to promote their sense of awareness of the world around them and give them grounding in the present.
2. Mindful Bedtime. A simple exercise at bedtime is to do a ‘body scan’. Get them to close their eyes and then tell them to bring their attention to their toes (and only their toes) for about 15 seconds. They will probably wiggle them, but that’s OK! Next, bring their attention to their feet only for 15 seconds. Next, their legs for 15 seconds and so forth up their body. It’s a very calming way to get them to focus on their body rather than any upsetting thoughts going on in their head.
3. Mindful Breathing. This exercise works best when your child can use a favorite stuffed toy. They lie on their back with their toy on their belly. You then ask them to focus their attention on the rise and fall of the toy as they breath in and out. Make sure they are learning to slow their breathing. In though their nose and out through their mouth. When they are comfortable doing the exercise, ask them to do it with their eyes closed. Ask them to think about each breath going in and out slowly.
4. Mindful Listening. Focusing attention on what they can hear is a great mindfulness exercise for children. The aim is to get the child to pay attention to a single sound for a length of time. This will help to promote the skill of paying attention to their surroundings. Ask your kids to listen to a bell or chime; listening carefully until they can no longer hear it (usually about 30 to 60 seconds). Gradually reduce the volume each time you perform the exercise. That way they will need to concentrate harder to hear the bell each time.
5. Mindful Gratitude. I personally find that this is one of the most important exercises we can do with our children. We should be getting them into the habit (each day) of appreciating all the abundance in their lives. The love of family and those around them that care for them. Ask them to share one thing they are grateful for each day. No matter how trivial it may seem, this habit is powerful. Over the long term, it creates kids with a positive “glass half full” view of their world, rather than a more negative expectation of the world and their future.
Mindfulness By Example:
If practicing mindfulness is something relatively new to you, then it will help for your child to see you practicing mindfulness. Kids love to mimic and we have to expect they will interrupt your train of thought… Always Expect Distractions! But do it anyway, because they will be watching you…
Below are some basic steps for performing a Mindful Breathing exercise.
1. Sit in a relaxed comfortable position. Lift your shoulders up and tense them, then slowly roll them back and down again. Do this 3 to 4 times.
2. Close your eyes and focus your attention on your breathing. Breathe normally and just pay attention to your breath. As you breathe in and out, just pay attention to each breath as you inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth. You are paying attention on purpose, but not in a forced way.
3. Take notice of when your mind starts to wander away from your attention to your breathing. Your mind is going to start to interject. ‘What have you planned for lunch’; ‘What someone said to you’ etc. That is your mind wandering off and getting distracted. It’s natural.
4. Whenever you notice your mind wandering, gently remind yourself to pay attention to your breathing again. This is how you train your attention to do what you want.
5. Keep relaxed and maintain the process of just paying attention to your breathing. Feel your lungs fill and your chest rise and fall as you breathe. Keep bringing your attention back to the breathing every time your mind wanders off.
Try this exercise for 5 minutes each day and after a few days, try to increase it to 10 minutes. In time, you will feel yourself becoming more relaxed and less anxious day by day.
I hope you enjoyed reading this article on mindfulness exercises for children. There is more on Mindfulness Exercises in other posts on this site.