Mindfulness Activities for Kids

By now, most of us have heard of “mindfulness,” the practice of focusing attention on the present moment without any judgment. Many adults practice it through meditation, yoga, walking or simply sitting still.

But mindfulness is not just for adults. According to mental health experts, it can also be good for children.

“Mindfulness helps kids cope with the daily stresses we all face,” says Michael Crowley, an associate professor at Yale Child Study Center and advisor for the Yale-Scholastic Collaborative for Child & Family Resilience. “Mindfulness skills offer a simple but profound way to be present, manage one’s thoughts and emotions, and get more out of life. These are healthy ways of thinking that are incredibly helpful in childhood and adulthood.”

Experts say that mindfulness can help children sleep better, enhance focus and reduce anxiety and depression.

“Since mindfulness is vital to a healthy lifestyle, it’s good practice to lay the foundation as young as possible,” says Bridgit Dengel Gaspard, a therapist and author. Mindfulness activities “help with impulse control, self-soothing, empathy and resilience. They bypass your current operating system, such as being overstimulated or tired, and shift you into a more peaceful state.”

[READ: Create a Better Morning Routine for School.]

How Mindfulness Helps Children

Eva Petruzziello, an elementary school teacher and yoga instructor, says she has been teaching children mindfulness throughout the pandemic.

“We have seen a huge difference in the resilience of elementary school children in dealing with difficult social-emotional issues,” she says. “Mindfulness allows them time to respond to stimulus, to feel safe in the moment and to calm down when overwhelmed.”

In a world filled with video games, social media and screens large and small, experts say it is not always easy for children to slow down.

“In some ways, it is harder for kids today to find that mindfulness,” says Nadine Levitt, an author and founder of WURRLYedu, a music education platform. “Our modern lives offer so many distractions that offer quick dopamine hits. It’s easy to get hijacked by those distractions and live a very unconscious life.”

[READ: Process Art for Kids: What Parents Should Know.]

Mindfulness Activities You Can Use

Proponents say it is possible, albeit challenging, for kids to step away from screens and homework and take some time for mindfulness activities. We asked a variety of educators and other experts to email us their best ideas for practices you can use at home. Here are some of those suggestions:

Try a “mindful minute.” “It is one minute where kids take a deep breath and check in with themselves — how are they really feeling?” Levitt says. “For younger kids, we focus on just one aspect, but you can take it further with more reflective questions or by tapping into their five senses.”

Keep a gratitude journal. “Writing what they are grateful for allows them to be mindful of the good that they have in their lives, and focus on the positive,” Petruzziello says. If your child isn’t into writing, go back and forth to make the list as long as possible, says Lauren Mosback, an author and licensed professional counselor and behavior specialist.

Create a chart of mindful activities. Diana Lee Santamaria, an early childhood educator and author, does this in the classroom. “When they are experiencing heavy emotions, the students become aware and select the best technique to get through it on their own or with help from a teacher,” she says. Some of these activities include hugging a stuffed animal, thinking a happy thought or singing a favorite song.

Use a mantra. “My favorite mindfulness practice is ‘peace begins with me,'” says Brooke Blankenship, a certified educator and school librarian who founded Yogi Squad, which teaches yoga to children in Fort Worth, Texas. “Repeating a mantra naturally assists us in calming the mind and body. … Repeat these words over and over, maybe allowing your eyes to close. Repeat the mantra until you feel peaceful inside.”

Teach deep breathing in a fun way. Exhale longer than you inhale. Breathe like a lion: breathe in and then breathe out with a roar. Breathe like a bee: breathe in and then breathe out with a buzz. Breathe like a snake: breathe in and then breathe out with a long hiss. “Have fun and let kids come up with their own creative ways of making deep breathing fun and relaxing,” says Shahin Najak, an author and mindfulness meditation teacher.

Try a glitter ball. Jessica Speer, an author who is certified to teach mindfulness to kids, suggests shaking up a ball or bottle filled with glitter, which gives an effect similar to that of a snow globe. “I would set it down, and we would take slow, deep breaths until the glitter settled,” she says. “We counted our breaths to see how many breaths we took. The kids noticed a shift when they took deep breaths and focused on breathing and counting. A sense of calm rippled through the classroom, too.”

Use all five senses at mealtime. “Ask, what do they see?” says Nicole Stefanow, a dietician nutritionist. “Is the food brightly colored? Are there any familiar shapes? Is it smooth or bumpy, heavy or light, hard or soft? When you take a bite, is it sticky or smooth? … What about smell? Is it fresh and herbaceous? Does the smell remind you of anything? And finally, what does it taste like? Is it sweet? Is it spicy? Salty or sour? Does it taste like you expected it to based on your other senses? Eventually, these thoughts come naturally and help pace a mealtime.”

Of course, there are many other ideas, from outdoor walks that focus on what you see, hear, and smell to meditation apps such as Headspace and Calm.

Many experts recommend that parents start by simply practicing mindfulness themselves. “Mindfulness is about being in control of our emotions no matter the challenges that come our way,” says Varda Meyers Epstein, editor of Kars4Kids Parenting. “When we take a breath and visibly calm our minds and bodies during challenging times, we serve as an example to our children.”

Searching for a school? Explore our K-12 directory.

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Mindfulness Activities for Kids originally appeared on usnews.com

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