Mindfulness moments, activities and ideas for kids
Dr. Sheila Modir, pediatric psychologist at CHOC
Mindfulness is the practice of being aware of the present moment. Research has found that mindfulness is highly beneficial for both children and adults alike, and it has become popular in schools, summer camps and daycare curriculums.
In fact, mindfulness seems to be everywhere these days! In a research study at Stanford University, they found that after eight weeks of mindfulness training, fourth through sixth graders had reductions in anxiety, were less reactive when upset, and had an improved attention span. Even children as young as two years old are practicing mini-mindful moments!
Studies have found that it can have a range of positive effects, such as helping manage big feelings, sleeping better, reducing stress and strengthening the immune system.
How does mindfulness work?
During mindfulness, your body is doing the opposite of stressing and tensing – it is in the process of relaxing. You are moving your mind away from things that get your mind and heart racing. You are engaging in the present moment and are aware of your five senses (touch, taste, hear, see, smell).
Mindfulness takes practice and it is not a quick fix to making stress magically disappear, but with practice it can be a helpful tool to improve your mood and overall health. Most importantly, starting this practice at a young age can make it easier to continue as you grow older.
What are fun ways we can teach mindfulness to children?
- Practice taking deep breaths before bedtime and make it part of the bedtime routine. You can place a stuffed animal on your child’s tummy and have them take a breath in and out and watch the stuffed animal move up and down on their belly.
- You can practice taking deep breaths together. You can model first and have them watch your belly move up and down with each inhale and exhale. Then they can practice, and you watch them and, immediately, follow it up with a praise to help reinforce them practicing it! An example of a labeled praise would be “Wow! Great job taking that deep breath to help calm your body!”
- Back-to-back breathing is an activity where you and your child are sitting with your backs pressed to each other and you are practicing your deep breaths. You can also guide your child to notice how your backs feel pressed against each other as you inhale and exhale.
- Using a chime or a singing bowl, you can create a tradition where you sit on pillows on the floor with your little one and ring the chime and listen to it until it stops. While listening, you practice inhales and exhales, or imagine a happy and calm place. Once the chime stops, you come back to focus.
- Summer is right around the corner and little ones tend to love blowing bubbles. Slow and longer breaths produce bigger bubbles! Show your little one that it is hard to blow bubbles without breathing in and out. Bubbles need breath to make it work!
- For toddlers, you can have them follow you as you do some little stretches like hands up high in the air, hands to the side, and marching and combine these mini yoga moves with deep breathing.
- Mindfulness is awareness of the present moment. It doesn’t have to be a big experience, even just eating a snack mindfully is a start. Be aware of the sensations that are brought forth – what does it feel like, taste like, smell like? Snacks like a slice of an apple, piece of chocolate, tangerine or a raisin are fun ones to eat mindfully.
- Blind snack tasting: Put out different berries in a bowl and have your child eat them slowly and mindfully. Comment on the taste and texture. Have them guess what they are eating!
- Five senses scavenger hunt: Go on a mindful walk around the neighborhood or even around your home. For little ones, make it short and sweet. You can point out a plant outside your home, touch the leaf, smell the flower and comment on the texture of the leaf between your fingers.
Outdoor mindfulness activities
- Outdoor sound activity: Bring a paper and pen outside with you and take turns with your little one listening to a sound. Then map where you think you heard the sound. Was it behind you? Did it surprise you? Was it in a tree? Is this a sound that you have heard before or is it a new sound? What did it sound like? If it sounded like an animal, have your child practice making that sound!
- If making a map is too much work, try taking turns saying the sound you hear aloud as you walk with your child. For example, “I hear a bird cawing from that tree. What do you hear?” or “I hear a bee buzzing close by. Do you hear that?”
- Walk barefoot outside in the grass and talk about how the grass feels in between your toes. Try walking in slow motion in the grass so you are extra aware of every step you take and every sensation that emerges.
- Practice being different animals or insects. Take a deep breath in and then float like a butterfly around the lawn or buzz like a bee. Afterward, comment on what it felt like to release the energy and be fully aware of the moment as you practice your insect noises!
- If your child is old enough for gardening, then engage them in the process. Together, you can both pick the flower you want to be planted and have them help with the location it should go in the garden. This can be their flower to take care of and make sure it is watered and tended to.
How often should I practice mindfulness with my kids?
- For preschool children start with a few a minutes per day.
- For elementary school children start with three to ten minutes minutes twice daily.
- Teens and adults start with five minutes and then gradually go to the daily dozen (12 minutes a day) but can go longer if they would like.
Important tips for practicing mindfulness with kids
- Consistency is important – making it part of a routine or tradition helps the child expect it and practice it more often
- Teach your child to associate deep breathing with big emotions (i.e., feeling mad or anxious), and practice deep breathing together to help regulate emotions.
- Remember that mindfulness doesn’t have to be a big production – it can be as simple as one minute in your day and it can be integrated into something you are already doing, like during dinner time (i.e., practicing being aware of tasting a part of the meal) or during bath time (i.e., practicing awareness of the sensations of the water – warmth of the water, the feel of the soap, the sound of the water, etc.)
- Model mindfulness for your child by practicing it alongside them and letting them see you doing it too!
Mindfulness resources for adults, kids and teens
- Mindfulness: How and Why to Practice with Children
- The Power of Mindfulness
- 8 Sensory Activities to Practice Mindfulness
Children’s books on mindfulness
- “Alphabreaths: The ABCs of Mindful Breathing” by Christopher Willard
- “A Handful of Quiet: Happiness in Four Pebbles” by Thich Nhat Hanh
- “I am Peace: A Book of Mindfulness” by Susan Verde
- “Mindfulness Moments for Kids: Breathe like a Bear” by Kira Willey
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The mental health team at CHOC curated the following resources on mental health topics common to kids and teens, such as depression, anxiety, suicide prevention and more.