5 Best Ways to Introduce Mindfulness for Kids
It probably comes as no surprise to most people that, as a therapist, I’m a huge fan of mindfulness. What may come as a surprise, however, is that I’m even more of a fan of mindfulness as a mom. And while I could go on and on about the beneficial ways mindfulness practices help adults cultivate more peace and less stress in our lives, I’m really excited to share five ways you can practice mindfulness for kids. Because, let’s be honest, it’s stressful being a parent during these crazy times. But you know what? It’s also still super stressful to be a kid right now.
More and more of my child and adolescent clients are coming into my office anxious and burnt out. Our kids have had to make adjustments to just about everything in their lives the past couple of years. And while there was little we could have done to truly prepare ourselves (and our kids) for what just happened, we now have the opportunity to teach them how to be more emotionally resilient. And one of the best ways to do that is through mindfulness practices.
Here are the top five mindfulness practices I teach my clients (both adults and children alike) – as well as ways you can incorporate them into your daily life as a family.
When most people hear the word mindfulness, they think of meditation, and for good reason. A regular meditation practice is one of the best ways to reap the brain-changing benefits of mindfulness. For kids, it’s easiest to start with short, guided meditations. Many popular meditation apps (such as Calm and Headspace) offer meditations made especially for kids. Check with your healthcare plan; some insurance companies provide free access to apps like these. You can also find a ton of great made-for-kids meditations on YouTube.
Choose a time when your child is calm and ready to listen (bedtime works best for many families). Stay close to them and let them know that you’re going to listen to a meditation exercise to help you both relax your body and mind. Remember that the goal of this mindfulness practice for kids isn’t to put your child to sleep, or to clear all the thoughts out of their mind – rather, it is simply to focus on their breathing and learn to stay in the present moment. If your child does fall asleep, well that’s ok, too! There’s no right or wrong way to mediate.
Stillness is another good mindfulness practice to teach your kids, especially in the fast-paced, high-tech world they’re growing up in. To teach your kids stillness, start with just five minutes a couple times a week and let them know that you’re going to teach them a technique to help them feel relaxed and calm. Take your child outside (if possible), or even just to a window and set a timer for 5 minutes. Explain that you’re going to be quiet and still for just a few minutes until the timer goes off and just use your senses to notice what’s around you. When the timer goes off, talk to each other about what you saw, heard, felt, etc. Point out the similarities and differences in what you saw. Ask them how they felt while they were sitting and observing, and tell them how it made you feel. Let your child know this is something that they can do anytime they want to feel more focused and calm, and that the more they practice stillness over time, the more calm and focused they will feel.
3. Listening to their inner wisdom
There are so many voices in our kids’ worlds, even from a young age. Mindfulness for kids can help them tune into their inner wisdom, gut instinct, or conscience. Even from a young age, kids intuitively know right from wrong, and they know what will make them feel best. Encourage them to tune into that inner wisdom whenever you notice them struggling to make a decision. Ask them guiding questions like “what would feel best to you right now?” or “what feels like a full body yes to you?” Help them to become aware that many times, their first instinct is the one that is best. Empower your child to think for themselves and encourage them that they can trust their inner voice to lead them. This is a skill that will serve them for years to come, especially if they learn it well before adolescence.
4. Mindful eating
Mealtimes are a great time to teach your kids to eat mindfully. Instead of rushing through a meal to get on to the next activity, encourage your whole family to stay present with what they are feeling and experiencing during the meal. Choose a meal where everyone will be together and explain that you’re going to try an activity to help you pay attention to every detail of the meal. Encourage everyone to really look at everything on their plate before they start eating. Ask questions and try to engage your kids in conversation about the colors, textures, and shapes they notice. Ask your kids to use their senses and describe what they smell and taste as they eat. If your kids are having trouble slowing down enough to practice mindful eating, see if they would be willing to put their fork or spoon down after each bite to bring focused awareness to just what they are tasting in that particular moment. Over time, mindful eating can help kids (and adults!) notice when they start to become full, and can make intuitive eating a way of life.
Last but not least, encourage your kids to practice non-attachment. In case you aren’t familiar with the term, non-attachment is the practice of becoming less attached to your expectations for how life should be, and simply experiencing life just as it is, exactly as it is happening. Don’t worry — the point of non-attachment isn’t to rid anyone of hopes and dreams for the future; rather, it is simply a way of recognizing how little control any of us actually has over the things that happen to us, and being ok with whatever outcomes occur so that disappointments don’t cause us to suffer. For example, if your child practices soccer all week long, only to lose their game on Saturday, you can say something like, “I know you practiced really hard and it’s not fun to lose. You did your best, and this is one of those times in life when we get to say ‘it is what it is,’ and move on with our day.”
This might not come easily at first, especially when big feelings are involved, but the point isn’t to change the way your child feels about an outcome; it is merely to help them become less attached to the outcome they were hoping for and be able to more quickly move on with their life, without having to linger in frustration, sadness, or anger for longer than is necessary.
I hope you find these mindfulness practices helpful for your kids and for yourself. As with any new way of thinking or being, it will take time and practice for your kids to experience the benefits of mindfulness, but if you are willing to be patient with them as they learn, you will both reap the rewards of a more peaceful and present family.
This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for medical advice. Please consult with your healthcare provider for professional mental health guidance.