Mindfulness for kids
It’s never too early to talk, read, or sing to your baby. But introducing the concept of mindfulness, too?
Well, it’s not as far-fetched – or as daunting – as you may think.
Mindfulness – whose roots reach deep into Buddhism – is the ability to be fully present in the moment.
Using MRI scans, scientists have been able to link practicing mindfulness to increased activity in the pre-frontal cortex. This is the part of the brain that helps a person focus, concentrate, and control emotions.
How’s that especially relevant to kids? Well, as explained by cognitive neuroscientist Bobby Azarian, Ph.D., the brain develops connections in pre-frontal circuits at its fastest rate in childhood.
“Kids are especially suited to mindfulness because the brain is developing at a rapid pace during childhood, and the habits we develop early on will stick with us throughout life,” Azarian tells us.
When can you introduce mindfulness to your child?
“I do not think any age is too early to begin with mindfulness meditation and controlled breathing exercises,” Azarian says. “In fact, the earlier the better. That being said, just like anything, it should not be overdone.”
Amy Saltzman, M.D., director of the Association for Mindfulness in Education, offered us a simple way for parents to first introduce mindfulness: practice mindfulness out loud.
“After that phone call, you could say, ‘Mommy is feeling really angry, my heart is pounding, my face is hot, and my body is tight. I am going to take some slow deep breaths/scream outside/punch a pillow – and then choose what I want to say when I call the airline back,'" says Saltzman. "Mindfulness-out-loud lets children see in real time that we experience intense thoughts and feelings, and still choose our behavior.”
Four mindfulness activities you can do with your kid
Looking to introduce mindfulness exercises to your child? Try some of these fun activities to help you get started.
- Hot chocolate breathing
Hand your child an imaginary cup of hot chocolate. Encourage them to tap into their imagination – and to feel the warmth of the cup in their hands.
Tell them to bring it toward their face, but not to drink. It’s too hot for that yet. Instead, and with their eyes closed, they should slowly breathe in through their nose and enjoy the aroma.
Then, they can breathe out, slowly, with pursed lips, to gently blow on the drink to cool it. Repeat three or four times – until it’s ready to take an imaginary sip.
- Safari adventure
Turn your next walk outside into a safari adventure. Be sure to both be as quiet as possible. Listen and watch for any and every sign of life. The goal is for your child to notice as many creatures, big or small, as they can.
“Kids are naturally mindful in how they engage with the external world – consider a kindergartner observing a ladybug,” Saltzman tells us. “We can support them in bringing this sweet natural curiosity to their inner experience, their thoughts, feelings, physical sensations, to the people and circumstance in their lives, and to their interactions.”
- Breathing buddies
This exercise teaches youngsters how paying attention to their bodies helps them relax. You’ll need to enlist the help of your child’s favorite stuffed animal for this one.
As you count to three, your child should breathe in through their nose – watching their stuffed animal rise as they do so.
Then, count to three while they breathe out. Your little one should watch their stuffed animal – and their own stomach – gently lower. Repeat the process a few times. Remember to ask your child how they feel at the end of it. This will help them to be aware of the benefits.
- Strike a pose
Does your kid dream of being a superhero? Then here’s their chance. Mindful posing is a simple way to help them experience mindfulness.
“This exercise is a great way to help your child strengthen her mind-body connection,” explains psychotherapist Rachel Cohen in an article on Advanced Psychology Services. “Ask your child to assume different poses (such as a Superman pose, Spiderman pose, ninja pose, monk pose, etc.) and then tell you how she feels while holding each pose.”
For added effect, Cohen adds, tell your child that their newfound superpowers come with heightened senses. Ask them what they can smell, see, hear, and taste.
Remember: Mindfulness starts with you
“As parents we need to be aware of our agendas,” Saltzman says. “We often want our children to practice mindfulness so our lives will be easier. If we want our children to learn to respond wisely and compassionately, then it is only fair that we walk our talk. So, when our child is melting down, this is not the time to teach them mindfulness. It is the time for us to practice mindfulness.”
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