“Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. When you're mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.”
Mindfulness has been scientifically proven to have significant health benefits, such as reducing cell damage and lengthening our lives; boosting our immune system; reducing stress; and improving concentration.
Children can learn mindfulness as early as the age at which they begin to speak, around 18 to 24 months old, and some experts say, even earlier.
It’s possible that children already practice mindfulness on their own. Have you ever seen a toddler pick up a handful of sand and stare as the grains flow through her tiny fingers? Or watched a four-year old gaze up at the stars in wonder? Children are already in touch with their hearts at a deep level.
Benefits of Mindfulness for Children
Practicing mindfulness provides a number of benefits for children:
- Increased attention span
- Helps them calm down more quickly when they are upset
- Gives them the capacity to pause before making decisions
- Enables them to stay in touch with and regulate their own emotions
- Expands imagination and creativity
- Teaches them to soothe and calm their fears
- Increased ability to feel empathy for other beings, including people, animals, plants, and the Earth
- Heightened awareness of their intuition
Schools are recognizing the benefits of mindfulness and yoga in improving children’s health, both physical and mental. Studies show that a balanced, whole foods, and organic diet also helps children to balance their emotions and improves their attention span in the classroom.
Practicing Mindfulness with Children
There are many fun ways to teach your children mindfulness at home. Spending time in nature, lying on the grass looking for shapes in the clouds, hugging a tree and feeling its energy, doing yoga together, and practicing daily gratitude are a few ways. Here are some additional creative ideas for bringing mindfulness into your child’s life:
1. "I Am A Tree" (Grounding Exercise)
Taking off our shoes and letting the soles of our feet connect with the Earth can help us to balance the flow of energy in our bodies and connect with the vibration of the Earth. This is a great practice to introduce to children because it’s fun for them to be free of the restriction of shoes, and to feel the grass or dirt between their toes.
- Find a comfortable standing position, outside if possible, but indoors is fine too.
- Close your eyes and turn your attention to your feet.
- Imagine that you have roots growing deep into the Earth.
- Connect your roots all the way down to the deep center of the Earth. Feel how deep your roots grow.
- As you are imagining your deep, deep roots, take a few slow, deep breaths. Breathe slowly in through your nose and out through your mouth. As you breath in, notice that your tummy expand out, filling with air. As you breath out, feel your tummy get flatter, pushing all the air out. Repeat this a few times.
- Now that your roots are deeply planted, pay attention to your body that is the trunk of the tree. Does it feel strong and solid? What happens if you imagine some wind right now? A big strong wind? When the wind comes, does your body feel strong? If you feel like the wind can still push your body around, then add a bigger root system to your feet. Feel your connection to the earth, how strong your body feels.
- You can open your eyes when you are ready.
- After completing this activity, ask your child to relate his/her experience and to check in with how his/her body is feeling. You can even do playful check-ins before and after the activity to note changes in the body energy. You and your child can do check-ins for each other. Before reading the script, take turns standing in front of each other and gently push on the other’s shoulder to determine how easy it is to knock off balance. Complete the activity and repeat the balance check to see if there is a difference in balance once your energy is grounded.
Your child can lie down on the floor and place a favorite stuffed animal on their belly. They can then focus their attention on the rise and fall of the stuffed animal as they breathe in and out.
3. Glitter Jar
Create a swirling jar of glitter (instructions here).
- Have the child find a comfortable position, sitting up or lying down, from which they can clearly see the jar.
- You and the child can take a deep breath, one inhale and one long exhale.
- Shake the jar and make the glitter swirl around.
- While the glitter swirls around the jar and lands, practice taking slow, deep breaths. Continue taking deep breaths for a few more minutes, or as long as the child feels comfortable continuing.
- You can shake the jar again at any time and continue the deep breaths.
- You can ask the child to practice thinking positive thoughts while the glitter swirls, such as “I am calm,” “I am loved,” “I am safe.”
- You can continue for as long as your child’s attention span allows.
4. The Fox Walk
This is great to do barefoot!
- Find a safe, clear place in nature to practice, such as a park, backyard, or forest trail.
- Explain that you are going to pay close attention to nature all around and you are going to walk like a fox.
- You and the child can both begin taking slow, mindful steps: First put down your heel, then roll the side of your foot down onto the ground, and finally let your toes touch the ground. Pay attention to each part of your foot as it connects with the ground.
- Ask the child to listen deeply to all of the nature sounds around them while they do the fox walk. Or, they can tune in carefully to one sound in particular and focus on that sound.
- When the exercise is over, ask the child to check in with his or her body and see if they feel any differently now that they have walked like a fox.
5. Mindfulness At Bedtime
- If you develop a regular mindfulness practice just before bedtime each evening, it gives you both something to look forward to, and the calming effects of the practice will help your child go to sleep more easily and clear the way for sweet dreams. Here are some ideas:
- Guided imagery books for children tell a story that leads your child through a peaceful scene or helps them to connect with their intuition, spirit guides, or a guardian angel. You can read them the book or a part of it each night before bedtime.
- Loving-kindness meditation: This can be as simple as asking your child to close his or her eyes as you say a few lines: “May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you be filled with love.” Then, “May all beings on Earth be happy. May they be healthy. May they all be filled with love.” You can ask your child to imagine love and joy radiating out from him or herself and wrapping around the whole world as you say these words.
- Have your child check in with their body at the end of the day. Talk about how they are feeling. It may be helpful to ask what their heart is feeling. This is a great way for you and your child to be fully present with one another as you explore the ups and downs they experienced throughout the day. They may enjoy expressing their emotions as weather: “Right now I feel sunny, but when I fell down at recess, I felt rainy and sad.” This practice helps them to see that their emotions move through them like weather moves over the Earth. They experience their emotions, but they are a steady being that is always present, regardless of what the “weather” may be.
- Say a blessing for your child. Have your child close their eyes and focus on the love behind your words as you say the following:
Child of Light, I bless you, I think of you, I pray for you…not in terms of what I think you need, or what I think you should do or be or express. I lift up my thoughts about you, I catch a new vision of you. I see you as a Child of Light. I see you guided and directed by an inward Spirit that leads you unerringly on to the path that is just right for you. I see you strong and whole, I see you as blessed and prospered. I see you courageous and confident. I see you capable and successful. I see you free from every limitation and all bondage of any kind. I see you as the spiritually perfect being you truly are.
Child of Light, I bless you.
Featured image: Flock of Seagulls by Ed Schipul