These days, when you google the word you will find its lofty concept inherently connected to mental health and psychological therapy.
That alone can make the idea a little intimidating to implement for adults. How could you ever explain or teach it to your children?
It’s actually not quite as complicated as it may seem.
Easy and Fun Ways to Help Children Apply Mindfulness
While the dictionary definition of mindfulness may seem somewhat high-sounding to children, you can explain it by simply saying that mindfulness is noticing your thoughts, how you’re feeling, and what is happening around you right then.
Once your children get a hang of what mindfulness looks like in practice, they’ll probably end up teaching you more than you’ve taught them. That’s because children have an innate ability to come up with fun activities that help them explore.
Consider a few easy and fun ways to start with:
1. Checking in with their thoughts and feelings
It’s important to ask children about their feelings in a casual and comfortable setting. One way to achieve that is to relate their feelings to an “inner weather report.” Ask them to describe their feelings as sunny, calm, rainy, stormy, etc. This will allow them to notice their feelings but realize that their feelings don’t make them who they are (i.e. “I’m scared, but that doesn’t make me a wimp”).
Then ask them where in their body they feel these emotions and which ones they like best and which they like least. At the end, talk about what they could do when they don’t feel good, when they feel upset, anxious, or tense (see some suggestions of how to counteract those feelings below).
2. Paying attention to their breathing and body sensations
In order to help children understand how to pay attention to their breathing and body sensations, you could employ two opposing exercises—one that excites and one that calms.
For the first one, have your children jump up and down or run in place for a minute. Then direct them to sit down and put their hand on their heart. Ask them to close their eyes, feel their heartbeat and notice their breathing, and have them tell you what they notice.
For the second exercise, give your children a toy, have them lie down, and place the toy on their belly. Direct them to silently and calmly breathe in and out. Ask them to notice how the toy moves up and down and how this kind of calm breathing makes their body feel. To emphasize the calming effects of this exercise, you can also ask them to imagine that every time they breathe in, their thoughts and feelings turn into bubbles, and every time they breathe out, those bubbles just float away.
3. Practicing relaxation
To teach your children how to body scan and do muscle relaxation, have them lie down and close their eyes (this is great for a bedtime ritual). Talk them through paying attention to different body parts and what they feel like, starting from the toes to their feet, legs, belly, hands, arms, etc. Then, starting at the toes again, ask them to tighten or squeeze the muscles in each body part as much as they can. Have them hold that squeeze for a few seconds and then release and relax the muscles. Ask them how those body parts feel after the exercise.
4. Isolating-their-senses activities
Helping your children connect to the present moment and their senses is not hard. Try some of the following activities, all of which require them to close their eyes.
Sound exercise – Ask your children to listen closely and silently to the vibrating ring of a bell. Tell them to continue listening in silence for another minute even when the bell stops. Then ask them to describe what other sounds they hear during that minute of silence.
Touch activity – Give your children various objects to touch—soft things, hard things, rough things, fragile things, etc. Ask them to describe what the objects feel like.
Smell lesson – Hand your children something fragrant—the peel of an orange, an aromatic flower, etc. Ask them to focus their attention on the smell of the item and describe it the best they can. Which ones do they like, which ones don’t they like? Why? How do they make them feel?
Taste study – Pass out some little treats—a little piece of chocolate, a juicy raisin, a salty nut, etc. Ask them to savor the morsel, to pay attention to how it feels when they chew it, how it tastes, and in which parts of their mouths they can feel the taste.
5. Practicing awareness in everyday surroundings
The best thing about having fun practicing mindfulness with your children is that you can do it almost anywhere, in any kind of weather. Why not take advantage of everyday surroundings and situations to help call your children’s attention to the present.
For example, when you take a walk outside, ask them to notice the sounds and smells—the frogs croaking, the smell of fresh cut grass, the sweetness of the flowering bushes, the humming of insects, or the smoky smell of a fire. Tell them to describe the things they haven’t noticed before—perhaps that subtle color change of a leaf, the tiny bugs swarming over the water, the strange markings on a tree. Encourage them to touch the rough bark of a tree, the soft flower’s petal, or the hard stones by the river. Ask them to describe the sensation of the sun’s rays on their skin or the way the wind tousles their hair.
Beyond all the fun, mindfulness can increase your children’s optimism, happiness, compassion, and empathy. Those qualities will help them not only at home but in the classroom as well—assisting to resolve problems and diminishing aggression and bullying.
Yes, having fun by teaching your children mindfulness now can have long-term benefits!