Mindfulness activities for kids
by Janette Grant 17th December 2017
We know that mindfulness is good for our parenting skills, allowing us to choose the more mindful approach rather than a less reasoned reaction. Equally, mindfulness is good for our kids too. Research studies have shown that mindfulness can help our children to increase their ability to pay attention; to calm down when they are upset; improve social skills; and to develop problem-solving and better decision-making skills. It has also been shown to reduce the effects of bullying and improve mental-health and well-being. It does this by improving their emotional regulation and cognitive focus. We discuss this in more detail here.
So how do we teach mindfulness activities to children?
Mindful and creative, a child who has neither a past, nor examples to follow, nor value judgments, simply lives, speaks and plays in freedom – Arnaud Desjardins
Firstly, we need to practise mindfulness ourself! It shouldn’t be the old adage of ‘Don’t do as I do…do as I say!’ It would be difficult to convince our children to practise mindfulness, if we are not engaging ourself.
Secondly, we need to let go of our expectations. Practising mindfulness is not guaranteed to eliminate tantrums; make the active child calmer; or make the house quieter. Whilst feeling calmer is partly an effect of mindfulness, it is not the ultimate goal and it is unrealistic to think it will stop normal childish behaviour. Instead, the aim of teaching our children mindfulness is to give them the following skills;
- to develop their awareness of their inner and outer experiences
- to recognise their thoughts as just thoughts
- to understand what effect emotions have on their bodies
- to recognise when their attention has wandered
- to provide tools for impulse control
Finally, we cannot force it! If the children are not interested in the activity – due to tiredness, hunger etc – then we should leave it. This will be the time for us to practise our non-attachment to outcomes! And never make mindfulness a punishment!
Mindful Kids: 50 Mindfulness Activities Cards – this boxed card deck has mindfulness games, visualisations and exercises to help our children feel grounded, find calm, improve focus, practise loving-kindness and relaxation.
Mindfulness activities for children
There are many activities to engage our children in mindfulness, but here are a few suggestions:
- The Bell Listening Activity – ring a bell and ask the children to listen carefully to the vibration of the ringing. Ask them to stay silent and raise their hands when they can no longer hear the sound. Then ask them to stay silent for one more minute to pay attention to any other sounds once the ringing has stopped. After, we can go around to each child and ask them to tell us every sound they noticed during that minute. Young children love this and it helps them connect to the present moment and the sensitivity of their perceptions.
- Breathing Buddies – ask the children to bring along a stuffed animal each and if possible, have them lie down on the floor and put the stuffed animals on their stomachs. Ask them to breathe in silence for one minute and notice how their Breathing Buddy moves up and down, and any other sensations they notice. Ask them to imagine that any thoughts that come into their head turn into bubbles and float away. Having a Breathing Buddy there makes the meditation more friendly and shows the children that a playful activity doesn’t have to be noisy.
- The Squish and Relax activity – whilst the children are lying down with their eyes closed, ask them to squish and squeeze every muscle in their bodies as tight as they can. Ask them to start with their toes and feet, squish the muscles in their legs, squeeze their stomachs, then their hands into fists and raise their shoulders up to their heads. Ask them to hold themselves squished up for a few seconds and then fully release and relax.
- Smell and tell – give something fragrant to each child, such as some fresh orange peel, a flower, a mint leaf etc. Ask them to close their eyes and breathe in the scent, concentrating all their focus on the smell of their object. Scent can help with anxiety-relief as well as relaxation, stress, concentration etc.
- The Art of Touch – give an object to each child to touch, such as a ball, a feather, a soft toy, a stone, etc. Ask them to close their eyes and describe what it feels like to a partner. Then ask them to swap. This exercise and the previous one teaches children to isolate their senses and to tune into separate, clear-cut experiences.
- Mindful walks – children will love to do a ‘noticing walk’. We can walk along noticing things we haven’t seen before and then have one minute where we are completely silent and pay attention to all the sounds we can hear, such as birds singing, a lawnmower, a stream gurgling over stones etc. We can even expand it into a Safari walk by asking them to notice as many birds, bugs, creepy-crawlies etc as they can. This will turn a normal walk into an exciting adventure and teach them to focus all their senses.
- Have a daily gratitude moment – we can teach our children to appreciate the abundance in their lives, instead of focusing on all the toys eat they want. It can be as simple as sharing about one thing we are grateful for at dinner every night.
- Personal weather report – ask the children to best describe their feelings at the moment. Are they sunny, rainy, stormy, calm, windy etc? How do they know they are feeling those feelings? Where do they feel them in their bodies? Ask them which feelings they like best? Then ask them what they can do to feel better, reminding them they can always imagine their thoughts as bubbles when they’re upset; they can do the Squish and Relax activity when they need to calm down; or they can take a few moments to listen to their breath or feel their heartbeat if they want to relax. This activity shows children that they can observe their present state without over-identifying with their emotions. They understand that they can’t change their emotions any more than they can change the weather, but they can change how it affects them. They can learn to recognise that they are not the rain, but it is raining: they are not a scaredy-cat, but they can sometimes feel scared.
- The Heartbeat exercise – ask the children to jump up and down for one minute and then ask them to sit back down and put their hands on their heart. Ask them to close their eyes and feel their heartbeats, their breath and whatever else they notice about their bodies.
- The Mindful jar – this activity can teach children how strong emotions can take over and how to calm down when these emotions happen. We should put a big spoonful of glitter glue into a clear jar and fill it almost to the top with water. We then put the lid back on and shake it to make the glitter swirl. We then tell the children that the glitter is like their thoughts when they’re upset or angry and they can see how when it is whirling around it makes it hard to see clearly. And that’s why we make silly decisions when we’re upset and this happens to all of us. We then put the jar down in front of them and ask them to watch what happens when they’re still for a little while – the glitter starts to settle and the water clears. We then tell them that their mind works the same – when they’re calm for a few moments, their thoughts will settle and they will see clearer.
Teaching mindfulness activities for children will give them the skills they can use anytime; the skill to calm down, slow down and feel better when they are upset. If all the children around the world learned these skills in their childhood, our world would be unrecognisable in one generation!
These are the books I’d recommend to learn more about teaching our kids mindfulness:
Mindfulness for Kids: Create a Happier Life for your Kids by Reducing Stress, Anxiety and Depression – this book teaches us how to help our kids achieve mindfulness, with a wide range of tools to deal with the challenges they face today.
No Worries! Mindful Kids: An activity book for young people who sometimes feel anxious or stressed – this is an interactive self-care activity book for children aged 7+ to colour and doodle their way to happiness, calm and confidence.
Sitting Still Like a Frog: Mindfulness Exercises for Kids (and their Parents) – this popular book has simple mindfulness practises to help our children deal with anxiety, improve their concentration, and handle difficult emotions. It also includes a CD of guided exercises read by Myla Kabat-Zinn.
Crab and Whale: a new way to experience mindfulness for kids – this book introduces mindfulness for kids in a story that children will enjoy again and again. The heart-warming story celebrates kindness and gently introduces children to the life-changing power of mindfulness