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Mindfulness can help kids learn to focus, manage their impulses and cope with stress and anxiety. It can be great fun, too! Try these mindfulness activities with your little ones today.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness simply means paying attention to the present moment.
Kids are often so busy rushing around that they don’t take the time to pay attention to their surroundings. Mindfulness techniques can help them slow down and notice what’s going on around them.
Mindfulness is also brilliant for helping kids to understand and manage their own emotions. By taking time to notice how they’re feeling – body and mind – they can learn how to recognise and manage negative emotions before they get out of control.
Read on to see some great ways to help your kids to embrace mindfulness.
1. Deep breathing
Breathing exercises are a tried-and-tested way to help an overexcited or anxious child calm down.
The main thing is to encourage your child to breathe out for slightly longer than they breathe in; this encourages the body to relax.
You could ask your child to breathe in through their nose for a count of three, then out through their mouth for a count of five or six.
Your child might enjoy sitting cross-legged in a yoga pose, but this is an activity that you can try anywhere.
2. Looking at clouds
This is a great relaxing activity for older and younger kids alike (you might even enjoy it, too!). Pick a day when there are lots of fluffy clouds in the sky and plenty of breezes to move them along.
If you're stuck indoors, you could just look out the window. Otherwise, get settled with a blanket on the grass, and spend a few minutes just watching the clouds pass by.
Point out how the clouds change shape as they move. See if your child can spot any particular shapes among the clouds – animals are always a favourite!
For older kids, you can discuss how clouds in the sky are like the thoughts in our minds. When we're feeling calm, our minds are like a blue sky. Thoughts that come along are like clouds; they soon pass by.
Can you watch the thoughts in your head and let them pass by just like the clouds do?
3. What can you hear?
This is a great game to play when you're out and about, but you can also give it a go at home.
Make sure your child isn't too hyper the first time you try this. Give it a go when your little one is already fairly calm.
The aim of the game is simply to see how many different things you can hear.
Encourage your child to listen out for close-up sounds, such as the clock ticking on the wall, as well as far-away sounds, such as distant traffic or birdsong.
If you're playing this at home, try doing it at different times of the day, and asking your child to notice how the sounds around you change.
4. Muscle relaxation
This classic mindfulness technique is a great way to persuade your kids to lie still for a few minutes, whilst helping them relax.
First, make sure your child is lying down somewhere comfortable.
Next, ask them to tense up the muscles in their feet while you count to five, then relax them as you count to 10.
Move slowly up the body, asking your child to tense their legs, then their bum, and so on, until you reach the face and head.
For older kids, you could also encourage them to breathe in as they tense their muscles, and breathe out as they relax.
5. Name that emotion
The first step to helping children manage their emotions is helping them understand what they're feeling.
Taking some time to discuss different emotions is a fantastic way to help your child become a mindfulness pro.
Ask what it feels like when you're happy, sad, scared or angry. For older kids, you can talk about more abstract or complex emotions, such as frustration, excitement, or anxiety.
You could use flashcards showing different emotions, or discuss pictures in books, to see if your child can tell what the other person might be feeling.
You could also ask your child to compare feelings to other things, such as weather conditions (e.g. happy = sunny), or colours (e.g. angry = red).
This will help to expand your child's emotional vocabulary, so that when you ask them how they're feeling, they can give you - and themselves - a better answer.
6. Bubble balloons
This is similar to the classic don't-let-the-balloons-touch-the-ground game, but with a twist!
To encourage your child to be mindful of their movements, ask them to pretend that the balloons are fragile bubbles, so you can only touch them very gently.
If your little one gets overexcited, gently remind them that they should only touch the bubbles lightly. This will help them to recognise when their emotions are getting the better of them.
7. What can you feel?
This is a sensory game that's perfect for younger kids.
Take a bag or box, and fill it full of child-safe objects with different textures.
You could include soft toys, smooth balls, crinkly tin foil, rough stones, fluffy cotton wool, rubbery erasers, tickly feathers ... the options are endless!
Then ask your child to feel inside the bag. No peeking!
Encourage them to talk about the different textures, and take a guess as to what the objects could be, then bring them out for the big reveal.
8. Taste test
A lot of mindfulness activities encourage your child to think about what they can see and hear, but this one brings taste and smell into the mix!
Prepare a few different fruits and vegetables so they're ready for your child to eat (be sure to cut any small round foods in half for younger kids). If you're feeling brave, you could even try it with messier foods.
Next, have your child sit at the table, and blindfold them with a piece of fabric.
Now comes the fun part: let your child explore the foods, tasting each one in turn. Ask them to describe the smell and texture of each food, as well as how it tastes.
9. Guided meditation
While mindfulness is usually all about focusing on the present moment, sometimes a little escapism can also help your child to calm down, and relieve any anxiety they may be experiencing.
With your child sitting or lying comfortably, ask them to close their eyes. Now imagine you're both somewhere beautiful, such as a beach or forest.
Describe your surroundings to your child in great detail, as if you were really there. As well as talking about the sights, also talk about how the air and the ground feel, and all the different sounds and smells.
With a little help from you, kids can start doing some basic yoga moves from as early as six weeks old!
Of course, young babies and toddlers will need your help to get them into the right positions. Even older children will benefit from being shown what to do, especially at first.
Yoga is brilliant for relieving stress and worries, and a powerful mindfulness tool for helping kids stay in the moment and focus on their bodies and breathing.
There are tons of videos on YouTube to show you the exact moves to try.
11. Glitter jar
Not only does a glitter jar look gorgeous, it can also keep your child occupied for a surprising amount of time!
Show your child how to shake the jar to make the glitter swirl, then put it down and watch as the glitter slowly settles.
You can even use this as a way to talk about emotions. Thoughts and feelings can feel like they're swirling around in your head, but if you sit quietly for a while, the emotions can settle.
12. Meditation apps
There are loads of fab meditation apps with guided meditations designed specially for kids.
Here are some of our favourites:
13. Blowing bubbles
Blowing bubbles is a timeless favourite, but it's also a great chance to practice mindfulness.
Ask your child to focus all their attention on taking a nice big, deep breath, then blowing out slowly to fill the bubble steadily.
Encourage them to watch the bubbles carefully as they form, then watch to see where they go.
14. Counting heartbeats
This is a great way to show kids how their body responds to different situations.
First, choose a time when they're relatively calm. Show them how to put their hand on their heart, and encourage them to count their heartbeats.
Older kids can count how many times their heart beats in a minute, while younger kids can just notice the general rhythm of their heart.
Next, get them running around or doing jumping jacks to get their heart pumping. Then repeat the exercise, noting how much faster their heart is beating now.
Once your child is familiar with their resting heartbeat, you can also get them to check it when they're feeling excited or anxious, to see how it changes.
15. Writing kind messages
Another way to get your child out of their head and thinking about the wider world, is to encourage kindness to others.
Ask them to think of three people who they'd like to say something kind to. Then help them write messages - or even handwritten notes - to their chosen recipients.
16. Play with gloop
This is a great sensory activity that's perfect for younger kids.
Made from cornflour and water, gloop is a magical substance that acts like both a solid and a liquid.
Make some with your child, then show them how to squeeze it between their fingers. Ask them to talk about how it feels, and the strange way gloop behaves when they play with it.
17. Sensational scents
Gather a selection of things from around your home that have strong smells. This could be food, perfume, deodorant, laundry detergent, flowers - anything with a distinctive smell will do.
Now ask your child to close their eyes, and present each object in turn. Ask your child to describe the smell, and take a guess at exactly what it is you're wafting under their nose.
18. Bathtime mindfulness
For younger kids, bathtime is a great opportunity to experiment with mindfulness.
Encourage your child to focus on the way the water feels on their skin. Is it warm or cold? Does it feel different if you move your arm through the air vs. moving it through the water?
Bath toys like stacking cups and strainers will let your child play with the water, exploring how it flows and splashes.
19. Colouring in
Most kids we know love colouring in, but did you know that it can also help with mindfulness?
Colouring a simple pattern can induce a lovely state of zen, where the outside world simply melts away. It's a great way to help your child calm down and quieten their mind.
Be sure to let your child know that it's fine to colour outside the lines, and you're not expecting a masterpiece. That way, they can let loose and just go with the flow.
What are the benefits of mindfulness for kids?
According to family therapist Marilyn Wedge, writing in Psychology Today , mindfulness can have the following benefits for children:
- It gives kids the habit of focusing on the present moment and ignoring distractions.
- It teaches them to stay calm in the face of life’s stressful times.
- It creates good habits for the future. When faced with life’s challenges, they know they can find peace by taking a few moments to meditate.
- It promotes happiness by lowering social anxiety and stress.
- It promotes patience.
- It can improve executive functions in their brain like cognitive control, working memory, cognitive flexibility and better grades.
- It can improve attentiveness and impulse control.
Some experts have suggested that mindfulness has even greater benefits for kids than for adults, because their brains are still developing.
Mindful Kids by Whitney Stewart (Barefoot Books, £10) gives 50 different mindfulness activities that little ones can do. You can see more details here at Amazon.
How do I introduce my child to the idea of mindfulness?
- Keep things light and playful. Choose activities that you think your child will enjoy, and introduce them as fun new games.
- Be realistic: your three-year-old isn’t going to sit calmly and meditate for 20 minutes. Keep activities short, but practice them regularly. Don't expect any particular outcome; just keep going with them and see what happens.
- Choose your timing with care. When your child is bouncing off the walls, it’s probably not the best time to introduce them to a brand-new technique. Instead, you could encourage them to do something energetic to burn off steam, and try the new technique when they’re calmer.
- You are your child’s greatest role model, so you can also demonstrate mindfulness activities by doing them yourself, or talking lots about what you can see, hear, smell, taste, touch and feel.
- Check in with your child to see what they’re getting from the techniques they’ve tried. Some kids can be prone to letting their thoughts run away with them, instead of noticing the world around them. If this happens to your child, gently guide them back towards paying attention to the present moment.
No Worries! by Dr Sharie Coombes is an activity book for children when they're feeling anxious or stressed. You can see more details here at Amazon.
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