Becoming more mindful has been a long journey for me. It’s something I never thought about as a kid, and when I became more aware of it as an adult I would roll my eyes and say it was something that I didn’t need or want to do.
I mean, who has time to sit there and focus on their breath!
However, the past few years have brought a gentle shift in my thinking. As I started practicing mindfulness, I have been able to manage stress more effectively, and open myself to inspiration and new ideas.
After experiencing these benefits, I wanted to introduce this to my 4-year old son. Mindfulness is not something reserved for adults leading hectic lives. Mindfulness can have tremendous benefits for kids, too.
I am starting to incorporate more and more mindfulness techniques for kids into my son’s daily life, and I have helped my friends introduce it to their own children.
I’m now a true believer that mindfulness should start as a kid. Even toddlers can learn mindfulness!
Mindfulness for kids can help improve their abilities to pay attention, to calm down when they are upset, and to make better decisions.
First of all, let’s talk about what mindfulness is. The definition of mindfulness is: A mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.
So let’s get started – here are 7 ways to teach mindfulness to kids:
1. Practice What You Preach
First of all, you need to start becoming more mindful yourself. Even though it doesn’t look like our kids are watching us, they are. They know when we tell them one thing and do another.
You need to know what it feels like to be in the present and focusing on the now so that you can guide them, because you will need to TEACH them. It’s not going to come naturally to them.
Make sure that you are patient as well. Some days they might get it right away, while other days they will need a lot of coaching. It took my son a long time to get used to bedtime meditations, but now he asks for it every night.
Every once in a while, it will take him a few minutes to stop wiggling and go to sleep.
2. Create A Mindful Bedtime Ritual
This is the best way to start kids off with being more mindful! There are a lot of apps you can download, but I found New Horizon guided meditations for kids work the best.
They have lots of kid-friendly guided meditations to chose from so your kid doesn’t get bored. They start off calming the mind and body. Some teach you about being grounded and then they do a guided mediation through a kid-friendly story.
Their meditations are around 17-30 minutes long. That sounds like a long time, but you can always turn it off early after they fall asleep. I prefer the longer meditations as it’s easier than trying to find a second or third one to play if your child isn’t drifting off to sleep.
We do guided meditations every night after bedtime stories.
3. Establish A Gratitude Practice
Practicing gratitude is something that you can do anytime, but we usually do this at the dinner table.
My son is four so I ask him: “What made you happy today?” With older kids, you can ask what they are grateful for that day. We like to list five things that we are grateful for.
I also like to take what I call gratitude walks where we talk about what makes us happy in general. We talk about what we like about the day/week, or what we are excited about doing. We talk about the friends we are happy to see.
This is an effective “mood-changer” on days when my son is making bad decisions or if one (or both) of us is cranky and having a bad day.
4. Meditate With Your Children
This is different from the bedtime meditations. This is something you can do in the morning or throughout the day. You can do this in the car if you are in traffic. Focus on your breathing, and being in the present. Listen to the sounds around you.
Depending on the age of your child and how long they have been doing the meditations, they may not want to do them alone. Instead, do them with your child.
Again, don’t feel like you have to do this alone. There is a great app called Breathe (iOS/Android) that has short guided meditations titled, “Feeling Happy”, “Wake up with Intention”, and “Balanced Breath”.
Some of the meditations are free while some cost money.
Personally, I find it easier to do guided meditations as it keeps me on track and mentally focused on mindfulness practice.
5. Singing Bowl Listening Exercise
Ring a singing meditation bowl and have your child listen closely to the vibration of the ringing sound. Tell them to remain silent and raise their hands when they no longer hear the sound of the bell. Then tell them to remain silent for one minute and pay close attention to the other sounds they hear once the ringing has stopped.
This is a great way to help them notice more of what goes on around them around them.
6. Use A Mediation Toy With Younger Kids
This is also called a “calm down toy”. Use a toy that doesn’t make noise, but that has some movement.
Most of these toys are somewhat shaped like an hourglass, but with different colored liquids inside that move around and make interesting patterns. (You can find these on Amazon.com.)
The idea behind these toys is that it helps shift the child’s attention away from crying or continuing to have a tantrum.
Timers can also be used during “time out”. This is an easy way for the child to see low long they have left to stay in time out, and helps them calm down and reflect. Once the time is up, ask them to reflect on why there were sent to time out.
7. Talk About Good Decisions and Bad Decisions
This is a helpful thing I have learned to do to defuse negative situations with my son. The key to this is to ask him/her if they think they are making a good decision or a bad decision. This gets them thinking about their actions, and the consequences of their decisions.
Of course, being kids, you may have to remind them a few times about the different outcomes of making good vs. bad decisions, but this has been effective in getting my four-year-old to associate outcomes with his behavior/decisions in a mindful, non-threatening way.
Help guide them to what the good decision would be and make sure you praise them when they make good decisions on their own.
The important thing to remember is to have fun and keep it simple. And every kid is different. Some of these techniques will work great with your child, and some won’t. Start with a couple mindfulness techniques, and then add more.
While not a magic potion that suddenly makes your high-energy kid all zen, practicing mindfulness for kids can make both of your lives much richer, while building connection between you both!