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What does mindfulness do to spark “the joy of being” that Tolle references? How can kids start benefiting from its practice?

This article delves into both of these questions and includes plenty of specific activities for you to start using today. Mindfulness can nurture inner peace, improve the quality of exercise, enhance self-confidence, and facilitate more meaningful relationships with others.

Research confirms that for children, mindfulness can:

  • Mitigate the effects of bullying 
  • Enhance focus in children with ADHD 
  • Reduce attention problems
  • Improves mental health and well being
  • Improves social skills when well taught and practiced in children and adolescents.

It’s important for caregivers and educators to provide age-appropriate mindfulness practices for children.

Mindful Posing

One easy way for children to dip their toes into mindfulness is through body poses. To get your kids excited, tell them that doing fun poses can help them feel strong, brave, and happy.

Have the kids go somewhere quiet and familiar, a place they feel safe. Next, tell them to try one of the following poses:

  1. The Superman: this pose is practiced by standing with the feet just wider than the hips, fists clenched, and arms reached out to the sky, stretching the body as tall as possible.
  2. The Wonder Woman: this pose is struck by standing tall with legs wider than hip-width apart and hands or fists placed on the hips. 

Ask the kids how they feel after a few rounds of trying either of these poses. You may be surprised.


 

Spidey-Senses

While on the subject of superheroes, this can be a related “next step” to teach kids how to stay present.

Instruct your kids to turn-on their “Spidey senses,” or the super-focused senses of smell, sight, hearing, taste, and touch that Spiderman uses to keep tabs on the world around him. This will encourage them to pause and focus their attention on the present, opening their awareness to the information their senses bring in. 

This is a classic mindfulness exercise and encourages observation and curiosity—great skills for any human to practice.

 The Mindful Jar

This activity can teach children how strong emotions can take hold, and how to find peace when these strong emotions feel overwhelming.

  • First, get a clear jar (like a Mason jar) and fill it almost all the way with water. Next, add a big spoonful of glitter glue or glue and dry glitter to the jar. Put the lid back on the jar and shake it to make the glitter swirl.
  • Finally, use the following script or take inspiration from it to form your own mini-lesson:

“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 put the jar down in front of them.]

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” 

This exercise not only helps children learn about how their emotions can cloud their thoughts, but it also facilitates the practice of mindfulness while focusing on the swirling glitter in the jar.

Try having the kids focus on one emotion at a time, such as anger, and discuss how the shaken verse settling glitter is like that emotion.

 

Safari

The Safari exercise is a great way to help kids learn mindfulness. This activity turns an average, everyday walk into an exciting new adventure.

Tell your kids that you will be going on a safari: their goal is to notice as many birds, bugs, creepy-crawlies, and any other animals as they can. Anything that walks, crawls, swims, or flies is of interest, and they’ll need to focus all of their senses to find them, especially the little ones (Karen Young, 2017).

A similar exercise for adults is the mindfulness walk. This exercise provokes the same response in children that a mindful walk elicits in adults: a state of awareness and grounding in the present.

For example, fostering mindfulness in preschoolers with tools like pictures, objects, food, simple movements, and music, can help them develop an ability to focus attention at a great level.


15 Tips for Teaching Mindfulness to Kids and Teenagers

When you are trying to teach your kids or young clients about mindfulness and its benefit, we recommend you begin with a few guidelines:

  1. Make sure they are ready to give mindfulness a try; if they are full of energy and itching to run and play, it may not be the best time for practicing mindfulness for the first time.
  2. Explain what mindfulness is and what it is not; give examples of what seems similar to mindfulness but is not (i.e., introspection or chasing thoughts down the “rabbit hole” versus listening to our bodies).
  3. Say it in an age-appropriate way, with words they will understand.
  4. Offer to practice mindfulness with them; sometimes having a model makes all the difference.
  5. Assure them that it’s okay to get off track, and how to gently guide themselves back to mindfulness when they realize they lost focus.
  6. Finish the practice by doing something they enjoy with them to ensure they have a positive experience.
    1. Keep the purpose of mindfulness practice in mind. Be sure to engage in mindful practice with children in positive situations, and never use it as a disciplinary tool.
    2. Make sure you practice mindfulness yourself!
    3. Set a daily routine for practicing mindfulness to make sure you incorporate it.
    4. Prepare the environment for successful practice; move the furniture around or have everyone switch positions.
    5. Involve students in the process; perhaps designate a different child each day to alert the class when it’s time to practice mindfulness or help set up any tools or props.
    6. Share your own experiences with the kids; this will help them understand how mindfulness is applied and practiced in everyday life. Feel free to share how you redirect yourself when you feel distracted during a mindfulness session.
    7. Encourage the children to share their experiences as well, whether they were good experiences with mindfulness or experiences in which they got distracted. 
    8. Practice every day. The more you embed mindfulness into the daily routine, the easier it is to engage.


Relay the following instructions to your kids: 

  • “Please get into your mindful bodies–still and quiet, sitting upright, eyes closed.”
  • “Now place all your attention on the sound you are about to hear. Listen until the sound is completely gone.”
  • Ring a “mindfulness bell,” or have a student ring the bell. Use a bell with a sustained sound or a rainstick to encourage mindful listening.
  • “Please raise your hand when you can no longer hear the sound.”
  • When most or all have raised their hands, you can say, “Now slowly, mindfully, move your hand to your stomach or chest, and just feel your breathing.”
  • You can help students stay focused during the breathing with reminders like, “Just breathing in … just breathing out …”
  • Ring the bell to end.

Smiling Minds App

Another application that is popular for children as young as seven is the Smiling Mind app. This app is available through the Apple app store as well as the Google Play store. It is free to download and use.

This app offers similar features to the Mindfulness for Children app, including a body scan activity. There are dozens of modules with hundreds of sessions available, each customized for well-being, education, and the workplace (for adults).

If you’d like to check out the reviews for this app or learn more about it, visit the website.


Still Quiet Place

If you’d like to use a video to help your kids learn how to practice mindfulness, the “Mindfulness Exercises for Kids: Still Quiet Place Video” is a great resource. This animated video can help students learn how to go to a “still quiet place.”

Check out the video here, and scroll down to the link below the video to see more activities from GoZen.com.


Mindfulness Games for Kids

Several interactive games are available on the Kids Activities Blog. Here are just a few:

  1. Blowing bubbles. Have your kids focus on taking in a deep, slow breath, and exhaling steadily to fill the bubble. Encourage them to pay close attention to the bubbles as they form, detach, and pop or float away.
  2. Pinwheels. Use the same tactics from blowing bubbles to encourage mindful attention on the pinwheels.
  3. Playing with balloons. Tell your kids that the aim of this game is to keep the balloon off the ground, but have them move slowly and gently. You can tell them to pretend the balloon is very fragile if that helps.
  4. Texture bag. Place several small, interestingly shaped or textured objects in a bag. Have each child reach in and touch an object, one at a time, and describe what they are touching. Make sure they don’t take the object out of the bag, forcing them to use only their sense of touch to explore the object.
  5. Blindfolded taste tests. Use a blindfold for each child and have them experience eating a small food, like a raisin or a cranberry, as if it was their first time eating it.

If you want to know about more games you can play with children to teach them about mindfulness, check out the book Mindful Games: Sharing Mindfulness and Meditation with Children, Teens, and Families by Susan Kaiser Greenland.


The Basics: Teaching Essential Mindfulness Practices and Skills

Before you delve into the classroom, review these basic skills and you may have better success with students and clients learning mindfulness.

 

Mindful Breathing

Mindful breathing is a staple of practicing mindfulness. It is the foundation of many other exercises. To help kids learn how to engage in mindful breathing, you can use a video like the one below:

https://youtu.be/CvF9AEe-ozc


This video guides children through a breathing meditation by instructing them to imagine a sailboat that rises and falls as they breathe; with each inhale and exhale, the boat moves gently on top of the water.

They also get an opportunity to visualize their breath with a color and focus on the experience of their breath moving through their nostrils. Lastly, the video ends with the exercise of the children imagining (with their eyes closed) that they used to be a fish and paying attention to how it would feel to breathe through their lungs for the first time.

This video guides children through a breathing meditation by instructing them to imagine a sailboat that rises and falls as they breathe; with each inhale and exhale, the boat moves gently on top of the water.

They also get an opportunity to visualize their breath with a color and focus on the experience of their breath moving through their nostrils. Lastly, the video ends with the exercise of the children imagining (with their eyes closed) that they used to be a fish and paying attention to how it would feel to breathe through their lungs for the first time.

 

Body Scan

The body scan is a key practice in mindfulness, and an easy one to teach to children.

  • Have your kids lie down on their back on a comfortable surface and close their eyes;
  • Then tell them to squeeze every muscle in their body as tight as they can. Tell them to squish their toes and feet, squeeze their hands into fists, and make their legs and arms as hard as stone;
  • After a few seconds, have them release all their muscles and relax for a few minutes;
  • Encourage them to think about how their body is feeling throughout the activity
  • This simple exercise gets kids to be more aware of their bodies and helps them find a way to be present in the moment.


Heartbeat Exercise

Paying attention to one’s heartbeat has a role in many mindfulness exercises and activities. To begin, tell your kids to jump up and down in place or do jumping jacks for one minute.

When they have finished, have them sit down and put a hand over their heart. Instruct them to close their eyes and pay attention only to their heartbeat and, perhaps, their breath as well (Roman, 2015).

This exercise teaches children to notice their heartbeat, and use it as a tool to help their focus. These skills will come in handy as they start engaging in more advanced mindfulness activities.

Mindfulness Meditation for Very Young Children


You might be thinking that these tips and exercises are great for elementary or middle school students, but less realistic for young children. This section focuses on children who are toddlers through kindergarten graduates.

One mother explained laid out her five strategies for teaching young children mindfulness—starting with her three-year-old child learning mindfulness.

Her strategies are:

  • Teach kids to recognize and identify their own emotions. Children need to associate the word or term for an emotion with the actual experience of feeling that emotion. Encourage them to think about how each emotion feels in their body. Does anger feel like they’ve got steam coming out of their ears? Does love make them feel like their heart is going to burst open?

  • Validate their emotions. Children often respond with frustration or sadness when told that their pain, however trivial it seems to us, is “not a big deal.” When teaching mindfulness, let kids feel their feelings without fear of judgment. Focus instead on teaching them tools to listen to their emotions.

  • Teach kids mindful breathing strategies. As we noted above, mindful breathing is a building block in all mindfulness practices. Children benefit from focusing on their breathing when confronted with emotions that are hard to manage.

The author of the blog laid out three techniques she has put to use with her children:

1. Noticing the breath: this involves simply paying attention to what breathing actually feels like.


2. Five-finger starfish meditation: this breathing technique has kids holding up one hand in a starfish position (fingers spread wide) while they gently trace up and down each finger with the other hand, focusing on regular breathing at the same time.


3. Counting the breath: this technique is what it sounds like: have your children pause and count their breaths. One breath in is “1”, the next breath out is “2,” etc. You can have them count to 10 if they’re very young, or slightly higher depending on their abilities.

  • Lead them in a guided meditation. Use a script or an exercise or app like the ones described above for this meditation.

  • Practice what you preach. As we mentioned earlier, it is so important to actually “do as you say.” Kids are intuitive and human nature encourages mimicry, two advantages we can harness when trying to teach (Beach, “Baby Buddhas.”)

Guide your kids every step of the way, but make sure you are taking those steps yourself as well. It will make everyone’s practice richer.


A Take-Home Message

Research confirms that mindfulness can improve mental health by aiding well-being, attention, self-regulation, and social competency. It just needs to be practiced—and encouraged.

Mindfulness-based programs in schools can have a life-long impact on the psychological, social, and cognitive well-being of children and teens. Even at home or with clients, how can you incorporate mindfulness into your teachings and own schedule?

Do you have kids or work with kids on a regular basis? Try these tips and activities out, and let us know how they worked in the comments section below.

Good luck, and remember this old saying:

Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.

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