Studies are showing that mindfulness can help kids sleep better, enhance focus and reduce anxiety – as well as depression.
The actual definition of “mindfulness” is:
1: the quality or state of being mindful
2: the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one's thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis
also : such a state of awareness
There are many ways for adults to live a life of mindfulness - whether that is through yoga, meditation, exercise, or being very intentional with their presence.
Adults, however, are not the only people who should be practicing mindfulness. We need to make sure our children also learn to start practicing this exercise because the benefits are countless, and setting them on this course early can help prevent a myriad of problem areas moving forward.
As the COVID pandemic continues to churn on, and our children’s lives seem to be growing ever more stressful because of that experience - but also the stressors of performance, coming back to schools, re-engaging “in-person” activities, and coming back in touch with neighborhood friends, there are a lot of norms to which they must reacquaint themselves.
This can be difficult, not only for adults, but especially for children because they just don’t have the ability for context that most adults do.
Mindfulness techniques give children the chance to be present, and find a way to manage the deluge of thoughts, information, and resultant emotions.
The younger we are able to help kids practice mindfulness activities, the more we give them the tools to succeed in their transition to adulthood. That is to say, mindfulness helps their mpulse control, allows them a chance to comfort their own thoughts, promotes empathy for the population writ large, and arms them with the required resilience for a world that is growing more hectic by the day.
Most importantly, though, a hectic world overloads the senses of a child, and studies are showing that is why many kids seem to act out, or act erratically. In other words, an overstimulated kid is a tired kid - and a tired kid is an overwhelmed kid.
Picture how you act when you are tired and overwhelmed - does this allow you to be the best version of yourself? Only when you calm your senses, find your center, and slow down are you able to shift into a more peaceful state.
Kids need that ability too.
Mindfulness Activities To Use For Children K-12
Starting these activities from scratch can be very difficult - especially if your child is accustomed to spending a lot of time with screens, or if they have hyperactive imaginations, or if they just haven’t taken the time to slow down.
Yes, school and homework and get in the way of mindfulness, as can sports or organized activities. It is important though to create time for being mindful, and it is up to us adults to work with them at first.
Turn off the phones, put away games, set down the books, and just be with the child. This is beneficial but not only for the kid, but for the adult as well! You can both find your center for the day - which is why it is good to do it in the morning before school, or even for 10 minutes after they come home.
After discussing what mindfulness is with the child, an stressing the importance of how it can benefit them, here is a list of ideas you can start with for mindfulness activities:
- Take A Quick Inventory Of How You Feel - despite what we may think, children can be very intuitive to how they feel. They may not know exactly how to express it, but they certainly can feel it. Find what it is they are feeling at that moment and help them put a label on it so they can understand what it is. For younger kids, start small. For older kids, graduate yourself to more emotions, and more complex emotions. This also helps with communication because both of you will be able to have the same definitions for what you are feeling.
- The Feelings Journal - For those kids who love to write, this is an excellent exercise in patience and making the feelings more real. Of course, we want to make sure that we express both good and negative emotions but it’s also important to recognize that we want to emphasize the positive associations in their lives. Go back and forth with them to discuss what they are grateful for, what makes them happy, and write a list as long as your arm to help them remember the positive nature of their lives.
- The Activities Board - Find a poster board and ask your child what makes them feel better. Whatever it is - if it’s playing with legos, or cuddling their favorite blanket, or doing jumping jacks - understand what helps them feel more positive. Then chart their emotions on the board and assign those practices to the chart. So, if they feel X-amount of negative feelings, they can play with legos. If they still feel bad, they can move onto cuddling their blanket and so on. This helps them with goals, and self soothing - and it gives them an actual chart to focus on when they feel overwhelmed and don’t know what to do.
- Repeat Their Favorite Phrase - If they have a favorite movie or TV show, what is their favorite line that makes them feel better? Do they look up to a character? What about that character makes them feel safe? If they repeat that phrase or characteristics in their brain to help them calm down, that comfort will promote the positivity they need for being centered.
- Deep Breathing Exercises With A Fun Twist - Deep breathing in and of itself is, of course, an excellent mindfulness practice. But, it’s just not all that fun. A great way to have children practice breathing is to offer an alternative to the plain exercise of deep breathing. Perhaps tell them to picture a box, and breathe in to make the box smaller and breathe out to make it bigger. Star breathing is also a great way to do this too – for every deep breath, they trace the line of a star in the air. When they have completed a full star, they can end the exercise.
- Snowglobes & Rain Sticks - Shake up a snowglobe and breathe together as the snow falls to the bottom of the globe. How many breaths can you both get in before the snow totally stops? Rain sticks are also great because you can focus on audible sound to help control the speed of the breath. One breath is how long it takes for the rain stick to make its full sound.
- What Are Five Things You See? - . This is a great exercise because it actually encompasses all of the senses. You start with five things you see, but then you move on to colors, sounds, smells, and maybe even tastes. Go through each of the sense and start applying labels to what they are experiencing. Do they taste something sour or sweet? Do they smell the fresh cut grass? What color blue is the sky today? How many blue objects are they seeing? The possibilities are endless.
Naturally, there are many other ways to help mindfulness - such as taking a walk or practicing yoga. The idea is to find what you child likes and find how that activity can benefit their mindfulness.
Do they like drawing? Get them all they paper and sharpies they can handle. Maybe they take comfort in crafting mini-buildings? Get them as many blocks, legos or Magna-Tiles as you can and let them go to town.
Think of what makes you happy and how you can get lost in a project for hours at a time, or what calms you down after a hard day of work. Now try to find the equivalent of that for you child by sitting down, having a conversation about the importance of mindfulness, and discussing what makes them feel better. You’ll be surprised at how intuitive they really are about what comforts them.