”“Children’s lives can be as busy and pressured as the adult world they share. Crowded curriculums, family challenges, mobiles/cyberspace connection and crammed after school schedules, can create a sense of life being ‘claustrophobic’. Mindfulness offers the precious gift of space to children. Space is created for paying attention to the present moment.Source: Janet-Etty Leal, the pioneer of mindfulness in Australian schools
How can you help your kids become more focused, confident, emotionally stable, and able to manage their frequent outbursts of bubbling emotions?
Can mindfulness meditation be a successful and reliable technique for kids? How exactly can mindfulness provide the much needed ”precious gift of space”?
Is it possible to develop these types of practices with young, energetic children?
We need to admit that in today’s world filled with one click-away irresistible distractions, our children’s lives are busier and more hectic than ever.
You have surely heard about mindfulness and meditation tools for young kids. However, you might feel hesitant and have some concerns related to its realistic use and benefits.
So, first, let us explore together what research has to say about it!
This article explores these questions and common concerns. It includes plenty of free resources, practical activities, and ideas you can start using right now.
What is mindfulness?
”“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”Jon Kabat-Zinn
It was initially perceived with skepticism and dismissed, mainly because of the esoteric labels of an ancient practice rooted in Buddhism for more than 2000 years. However, mindfulness has recently become a buzzword in the Western wellness world.
Notably, this practice has gained popularity since it sparked the interest of researchers across various domains.
Thus, a growing scientific body of research demystified the concept of mindfulness and documented the multiple benefits on the human body and mind.
What are the main benefits of mindfulness?
According to Harvard Gazette, studies from neuroscience and psychiatry reported how this long-term practice could alter the brain’s grey matter and functions to improve mental conditions from stress to even serious depression.
Moreover, among numerous other benefits, research shows significant developments in essential areas such as attention, memory, the sense of self, supporting self-regulation of emotions, and empathy.
Additionally, scientific research revealed even from the mid-70s a myriad of benefits for body and mind: decreased blood pressure and heart rate, reduced levels of stress and anxiety, among others.
Why should we use mindfulness with kids?
Recent studies show that daily or regular mindfulness meditation practice has significant beneficial effects on children too. Specifically, these target mental, cognitive, social, emotional well-being as well as physical health.
”The practice of mindfulness, a systematic way of paying attention and cultivating well-being, is becoming an increasingly important tool in education, from top-level leaders to elementary schoolchildren.”Source: (Pazzanese 2013), The Harvard Gazette
Most importantly, mindfulness can equip our kids with invaluable life skills, which will help them overcome potential challenges. Particularly, they can better manage their own feelings, develop social skills, and boost their academic performance.
In a nutshell, introducing children to regular meditation practices can:
lower stress and anxiety;
prevent undesirable behavior and disruptive emotions by enhancing mental health and wellbeing (1);
enhance concentration by reducing attention problems;
alleviate the effects of bullying (2);
- maximize focus even with children with ADHD3;
- enhance their potential for creativity and learning;
- develop CREATIVITY and boost SOCIAL and EMOTIONAL LEARNING;
- reduce anxiety4, resilience and promote emotional and self-awareness5;
- develop better decision-making skills;
- develop patience, compassion, and empathy.
How can we develop mindfulness meditation habits with younger kids?
Hopefully, now you are aware of the primary advantages of exploiting mindfulness. However, you might probably wonder how it is possible to implement this practice with young, energetic kids? If you are interested in some effective strategies to overcome anxiety, you can read our article here.
Fortunately, there is an increasing number of books, apps, and videos to determine how the process works. However, it might be overwhelming for someone unfamiliar with this topic. Hence, to help you establish a routine and introduce daily practices, we have curated some of the best mindfulness activities and techniques for kids.
Buiding blocks of mindfulness. Fun execises to start your children's mindfulness journey
Square breathing exercise
This video can help you introduce kids to mindfulness through a simple exercise. It can be a great start until they learn this method. Essentially, it allows you to follow the four lines of a square while performing a breathing exercise. You breathe in along the ascending vertical line, holding your breath along the horizontal one. Of course, you breathe out along the descending vertical line, and the process resumes.
We selected the following set of exercises from Sarah Sherman’s (2020) recent mindfulness workbook for kids. We love this resource because it offers an engaging set of practical, necessary tools to help your kids or students to begin their mindfulness journey.
The workbook starts from the building blocks of mindfulness like breathing-work, body scans, and tuning to their senses. Additionally, it includes exercises to help them face their worries, find their focus, and foster a connection with themselves and the world around them.
There are some interesting and practical exercises in Chapter 4 (Get to Know your Feelings) to try with your kids so they can explore their feelings. It can really make a difference in their lives by enhancing their social and emotional skills.
Colorful balloons of feelings. What color are your feelings today?
This exercise aims to help children notice and name different emotions without judging them. They can draw balloons and write the names inside them. After that, the author suggests thinking about the colour they associate with their feelings. Is it bright or pale? Dark or light? Warm or cool?
”“When you control your breathing, signals are sent to your brain and body to calm. This is helpful when you feel frustrated, anxious, or sad. For this practice, you can choose to lie down or sit in a comfortable chair.Hannah Sherman, 2020
”To begin, place your hands on your belly. Notice your breath as it is. Feel your belly rise as you inhale and lower as you exhale. For the next three breaths, inhale slowly through your nose as you feel your belly inflate like a balloon. Try to get your belly as big as you can! Exhale slowly through your mouth as you feel your belly deflate”Hannah Sherman, 2020.
Source: Activities from Mindfulness Workbook for Kids: 60+ Activities to Focus, Stay Calm, and Make Good Choices by Hannah Sherman LCSW, September 1, 2020.
What is the weather like inside you? Feelings weather report exercise.
This fun activity shows children how to be mindful of their feelings and how to explore, label, and recognize emotions and changes using weather conditions.
Basically, your child has to give you the ‘weather report’ on how they are feeling. For example: “I’m dark and cloudy with some raindrop tears coming out” (Source: Angela Pruess, 2018; more details here).
The process of revealing their emotions becomes easier and funnier by asking the question: What is the weather like inside you?
You can also find interesting ideas on how to implement this activity in a lesson plan: Forecasts of Feelings: Exploring Emotions using Weather here.
This exercise adapted from the course Overcome your Monkey Mind teaches children how to focus and control their distracting random popping thoughts. It is based on an analogy between a busy mind and a popcorn machine.
MINDFULNESS MEDITATION ACTIVITIES WITH TOYS/ PROPS
There are some great practices to help your younger kids to achieve a state of calmness and emotional stability. Here are some practical activities with toys:
This exercise (Greenland and Harris, 2017 ) will help young children relax their bodies and calm their minds. The simple idea of rocking a stuffed toy on the belly to sleep introduces kids to a useful breathing exercise: as they breathe in, the toy gently moves up. Conversely, while kids breathe out, the animal rocks down.
The authors suggest replacing the stuffed toy with a pillow or a soft object and leaving the rocking imagery out for older children. Additionally, as it is challenging to focus on your breathing, they can silently say the word up every time the animal/ pillow moves up, respectively down every time it goes down.
This game is taken from Mindful Games Activity Cards: 55 Fun Ways to Share Mindfulness with Kids and Teens.
Rocking boat on the belly sea
Place a boat on their bellies while lying on their backs! Young children will enjoy watching it rise and fall with each breath! Why not, to have more fun, they can imagine their breathing pattern embodies the rhythm of waves lifting and down the boat! My son used to enjoy this type of activity even when he was five years old!
Of course, you can improvise with any of his favorite cuddly toys. Alternatively, if you want something specifically designed, we have discovered some interesting meditation toys. For example, Omy, the interactive cuddly zen elephant.
What is interesting is that more than a soft, cute toy, it has four guided mindfulness exercises that can introduce your kid to DEEP BREATHING, how to deal with their emotions and positive thinking:
1. Daily Reset to identify emotions;
2. Sad or Mad Reset to let go of negative feelings;
3. 30 Second Reset for rest;
4. Calm Music for relaxation.
The procedure is the same: simply place Omi on your belly as he guides you through a mindful breathing exercise.
Blowing worry bubbles away!
It is a fun game based on relaxation breathing and visual imagery.
This engaging exercise helps kids gain a state of calmness in a fun way by incorporating two essential mindfulness practices: relaxation breathing and guided visualization. The author recommends a follow-up for this activity: drawing their bubbles and writing the worries they have just visualized floating away.
”“Close your eyes. Take a moment to think about any worries you may have. Now raise one hand in front of you and imagine that you’re holding a bubble wand. Put your other hand on your belly. Inhale through your nose, feeling your belly rise. Exhale through your mouth, breathing out slowly as though you’re blowing bubbles through your wand.
After you exhale, imagine that all of your bubbles you’ve just blown are filled with your worries, and they are now floating around you. Imagine all of the bubbles floating away from you as you keep breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth. After five deep breaths, gently open your eyes”Hannah Sherman, 2020.
Mindful ‘slow-motion’ style blowing
An alternative version is challenging your kids to focus on breathing deeply, slo-mo’ style, and then exhaling to fill up the bubbles as slow as possible.
Encourage them to examine the bubbles attentively. They should notice how balloons change shapes and colours as they form, detach, and finally pop or float away.
This activity can teach children how to control the storms of bubbling, often overwhelming emotions. More than that, they will be able to achieve balance and a state of calm.
All you need is a transparent jar filled with water and some glitter. Put the lid back and shake the jar energetically. Now while gazing at the glitter scattered in all directions in the water, you can use ideas from the following script:
”“Imagine that the glitter is like your thoughts when you’re stressed, mad or upset. See how they whirl around and make it really hard to see clearly? That’s why it’s so easy to make silly decisions when you’re upset – because you’re not thinking clearly. Don’t worry this is normal and it happens in all of us (yep, grownups too).[Now place the jar down in front of them and help them become aware and reflect on what has just happened.]
”Now watch what happens when you’re still for a couple of moments. Keep watching. See how the glitter starts to settle and the water clears? Your mind works the same way. When you’re calm for a little while, your thoughts start to settle and you start to see things much clearer. Deep breaths during this calming process can help us settle when we feel a lot of emotions”Karen Young, 2017.
You can see this fun activity to practice mindfulness demonstrated by Karen Young in this video.
If you do not have the resources at hand, an interesting alternative is to exploit the power of a creative visualization exercise.
Glitter Gazing in the Mind Jar
This is a variation of the previous activity. You don’t need a jar or real glitter as here you will work with creative visualization and the power of imagination.
Basically, you project on the mental screen of your child the imagery of the previous hands-on activity. It is a very powerful tool to help your child calm down. Plus, they can do it easily no matter where they are.
”“Begin by imagining a jar filled with water, with a layer of glitter resting on the bottom. Now imagine giving the jar a good shake. See the glitter scatter all through the water, moving quickly in different directions. This might remind you of your mind when it’s busy – with many thoughts going in all directions!Karen Young, 2017.
”Take in a breath. As you exhale, imagine the glitter slowing down a little. As you keep breathing, inhaling and exhaling, imagine the glitter gently falling to the bottom of the jar.
Once all the glitter has settled at the bottom, imagine looking through the water. It’s clear now, isn’t it? Slowly open your eyes.
Notice if anything has shifted or changed. How do your body and mind fee?”Karen Young, 2017.
Free mindfulness meditation apps for kids
Insight timer app provides an impressive collection of free guided meditations for kids (more than 800) targeted for a variety of needs:
Guided practice for deep sleep
Mindful breathing with anchor words
If you are curious to learn more about age-appropriate mindfulness games to engage children, a great resource to start with is this practical book Mindful Games: Sharing Mindfulness and Meditation with Children, Teens, and Families by Susan Kaiser Greenland.
It contains a wide range of entertaining games that bring mindfulness into children’s daily activities. For example, anchor games for concentration, visualization games that support kindness and focus, analytical games to develop clarity in thinking, games for sensory awareness, and self-regulating emotions. Plus, these activities aim to develop what the author calls the “A, B, C’s”—Attention, Balance, and Compassion for your child’s successful and happy life.
The same author has designed a deck of 55 mindfulness games, great to develop life skills.
We hope that you enjoyed the topic and found this article helpful. If so, why not start using some of the tools and resources today?
1 Crescentini, C., Capurso, V., Furlan, S., & Fabbro, F. (2016). Mindfulness-oriented meditation for primary school children: Effects on attention and psychological well-being. Frontiers in Psychology, 7, 805.
2 Zhou, Z., Liu, Q., Niu, G., Sun, X., & Fan, C. (2017). Bullying victimization and depression in Chinese children: A moderated mediation model of resilience and mindfulness. Personality and Individual Differences, 104, 137-142.
3 Zhang, D., Chan, S. K. C., Lo, H. H. M., Chan, C. Y. H., Chan, J. C. Y., Ting, K. T., Gao, T. T., Lai, K. Y. C., Bögels, S. M., & Wong, S. Y. S. (2016). Mindfulness-based intervention for Chinese children with ADHD and their parents: A pilot mixed-method study. Mindfulness, 8, 1-14.
4 Bamber, M. D., & Morpeth, E. (2019). Effects of mindfulness meditation on college student anxiety: A meta-analysis. Mindfulness, 10(2), 203-214.
5 Cheang, R., Gillions, A., & Sparkes, E. (2019). Do mindfulness-based interventions increase empathy and compassion in children and adolescents: A systematic review. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 1-15.
Karen Young. (2017). Mindfulness for Children: Fun, effective ways to strengthen mind, body, spirit. Retrieved from www.heysigmund.com.