We know mindfulness is good for us and it’s also great for our kids. In fact, there’s a lot of new research that shows how mindfulness can actually help children improve their attention span, have more compassion, make better decisions, be calmer and improve cognitive focus. Teaching and practicing some mindfulness strategies with your child will be extremely valuable and give them some skills for life. It’s important they can also see the benefits of trying them out on their own when they start to feel overwhelmed or stressed. Here are seven simple mindfulness tools that even young children can practice successfully.
1. Notice Five Things
Try playing the ‘five things’ game with your child when they need to practice some mindfulness. Ask them to tell you five things they can either see, hear, feel or touch. You can then look around and tell them the five things you notice, taking it in turns until your child feels calmer. Consciously noticing the world around can help bring you back to the present, especially when you’re feeling overwhelmed by stress or emotion.
2. Take Deep Breaths
Practicing mindful breathing is a simple and effective way to help children calm their bodies and mind. Try taking 10 deep breaths together. Ask your child to close their eyes and put their hand on their tummy. Then get them to breathe in so deeply that the air fills their tummy and ask them to release the air very slowly. Focusing on their breathing in this way provides a calm state of mind, where kids can start to relax if they have felt stressed or overwhelmed.
3. Drawing Emotions
Children sometimes find it difficult naming their emotions, but drawing emotions can be a great way for a child to express what they’re feeling without saying it verbally. Sit down together and ask your child to think about how they’re feeling. Then providing pens, pencils, crayons or paint, ask them to put their emotions into drawings/paintings/posters - whatever they want to create really. This self-expression will be a therapeutic mental process for your child, as they can start to recognise and embrace their thoughts, as well as process perhaps why they are feeling that way too.
Getting your kids to journal is a wonderful way for them to explore who they are now and who they want to be. Your children can write about their thoughts, feelings, memories, stories, lists, goals, ideas or a problem they are having. Getting these thoughts out of their head and down on paper helps with self-reflection as well as provides insights about themselves they might have not seen. It’s important to encourage your child to use their journal as an expression of who they are, let them use nice pens, stickers and glitter if they want. They should see their journal as a place where they can draw, glue and paste, write freely or just make lists. This 'no rules' approach will provide the most benefits.
5. Create a Gratitude Jar
Gratitude is an essential part of mindfulness and all children should be encouraged to practice it daily. Not only does it remind us of what we should be thankful for, but helps us appreciate all the good things that happen we should take more notice of. A great way to incorporate gratitude into your child’s everyday lives is to create a gratitude jar. Each day ask your kids to write down 3 things they’re grateful for on some paper, fold it up and pop it into the jar. It’s wonderful to see it fill up and you can even get them to read them out a few at the end of every month. Just taking five minutes each day to be grateful will also help your kids develop a positive attitude and outlook on life.
6. Take a Nature Walk
Going on a mindful nature walk with your kids not only gives them a chance to get some fresh air and a bit of exercise, but helps them to just enjoy the present moment. Get your child to walk in the quiet asking them to listen out to all the sounds of nature. After a few minutes talk about what they heard- you could even ask them what sound they liked the most. Next try and get them to spot certain things such as a bird or specific type of tree. Just being immersed in nature and connecting to the surroundings is a fun and calming activity away from the routine of everyday life.
Getting your child to take a few minutes to sit in silence every now and then is a fantastic way for them to focus on their thoughts and take time to reflect on what’s happening in their life. Doing this when your child is feeling overwhelmed or worried will be hugely beneficial and often provide mental clarity. Many kids don’t know where to start with how they’re feeling or how to deal with a situation because their mind feels like it’s a washing machine. Sitting in silence reduces distractions and provides uninterrupted time for mental reflection.