Mindfulness for kids: Learning How to Regulate Emotions, Calm Down and Improve Focus
Some benefits research suggests include helping deal with negative emotions and thoughts, and improving concentration.
After reading this article, you will learn:
- the benefits of mindfulness practice
- lots of simple and fun mindfulness activities that will help introduce this practice at home (or school).
“Mindfulness is the awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally” Kabat-Zinn
Everybody seems to be talking about mindfulness these days.
And, there are good reasons for this.
There is growing research evidence that mindfulness practice can be beneficial, not just for people suffering from a variety of clinical problems, but also for healthy individuals.
Benefits of mindfulness practice include
- Reducing stress and anxiety
- Inducing positive immune system changes
- Reducing chronic physical pain
- Helping deal with negative emotions and thoughts
- Reducing insomnia
- Increasing self-awareness
- Improving concentration
Bishop et al. (2004) propose a two-part operational definition of mindfulness:
- The self-regulation of attention maintained on immediate experience.
- An orientation toward one’s experiences in the present moment, characterized by curiosity, openness, and acceptance.
Mindfulness practice has no age limits. Adults, teenagers, school children, or toddlers. Anybody can benefit from it.
And children will be the focus of this article.
Mindfulness for Children
Mindfulness practice can be a useful tool to help kids regulate their emotions, and control their impulses and worries.
If you visualize mindfulness as a still meditation activity you may feel it won’t work with your kids.
That’s far from true.
Simple mindfulness games and activities can help you introduce and develop these skills in your children while they play and have fun.
In his book, Mindfulness for Beginners, Kabat-Zinn suggests some very useful metaphors to describe how we can find calmness deep in our minds, even if we struggle with our thoughts and emotions.
I find the ocean metaphor extremely useful:
- Our mind is like an ocean. The waves on the surface are our experiences, emotions, and thoughts (always changing, flowing, sometimes rough). We can easily mistake them for our reality, but they are just waves. If we look at the depths of the ocean, it is still and quiet. So, we can practice mindfulness and teach ourselves to look at that calm part of our minds, beyond the waves on the surface.
Fun Mindfulness Activities for Kids
Fun mindfulness activities for kids can help you introduce mindfulness to your lives while you all play or go about your everyday life routines.
I will be sharing a selection of fun activities, most of them with a special focus on sensory awareness.
These mindfulness exercises are tools that will help your kids use their senses to focus on the present moment, away from worries. It will help them let their thoughts flow away, not controlling their moods.
You will be amazed about how effective they are when trying to soothe an anxious, frustrated, or overwhelmed child.
And continuous practice will promote focus, improved mood, and emotional regulation.
5-4-3-2-1 Grounding Exercise
This is a very simple and extremely effective grounding exercise. It will distract your child from the anxiety trigger, help focus on the present moment, and relax.
Ask your child:
- Name 5 things you can SEE in the room
- Name 4 things you can FEEL
- Name 3 things you can HEAR
- Name 2 things you can SMELL right now
- Name 1 thing you can TASTE.
⇒ Grab your free 5 4 3 2 1 Grounding Exercise Poster, and read some useful tips.
Eating a Raisin Mindfully
This is a very popular mindfulness activity, part of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) intervention.
It can also be a fun activity to try with your kids.
This sensory awareness activity teaches us a mindful approach to our everyday life activities, in this case, eating.
If your kids are not into raisins (our case!) you may choose any other small portion food.
An adapted script could read as follows:
- Take a few raisins, and look at them as if you had never seen them before
- Select one of them. Look at it. Hold it between your fingers against the light. Observe it
- Put it close to your ear and press it between your fingers. Does it make any noise?
- Smell it. Do you feel any smells?
- Move it close to your mouth but don’t take it yet. Is your mouth watering?
- Put in inside your mouth, but don’t bite it yet. How does it feel in your mouth?
- After some time, you may start chewing. What is the flavor? Does it change as you chew?
You may then discuss and reflect on raisins, how they grow, and nourish us.
In the original exercise, you would repeat this with the rest of the raisins, but it may be too much for a kid.
Mindfulness Adventure Walk
This is a fun mindfulness activity to practice when you take your kids or students for a walk to the park.
- Ask your kids to count every bird, insect, or any animal they see or hear on their way. This enhances their senses and directs their attention to the present.
- Take a flower and let them smell it.
- Ask them to grab a stone, close their eyes and feel the smooth parts, the sharp edges, rough areas, chipped parts
- Let them sit on a bench, close their eyes and listen to the sounds of nature
Mindfulness Guessing Game
This can be a really fun activity. We often use this one with the sense of smell because my child absolutely loves smell sensory inputs.
Ask your child to close their eyes or cover them with an eye mask (if they feel comfortable with that).
Present different stimuli:
- Objects to touch and feel textures
- Different smells (spices from the kitchen, creams or oils)
- Produce sounds
- Select a few bite-size foods
Ask them to guess what their senses are processing.
Mindfulness in our Everyday Life Activities
We can also practice mindfulness while performing daily activities, for example, brushing teeth, walking, eating, playing with their pet, etc:
- Teach your child to focus on the toothbrush strokes and how the bristles feel, or
- Ask them to carefully observe the touch sensation felt while running their hands over their pet along with the response given by the pet.
These little moments of mindfulness are a way to help them stay in the present.
Fun Kids Activities Turned into a Mindfulness Activity
- Balloon Fun
Play with balloons and ask them to keep the balloon in the air, not letting it touch the ground. Their attention will be 100% focus on the balloons.
- Blowing Bubbles Ask your child to blow bubbles, noticing how they float away. See them go and disappear. Likewise, another activity that your child can be engaged in is to blow bubbles and then note how and where they go. Staying attentive, while this happens is crucial. Hence mindfulness prevails.
- Sensory Play
Play with mud or slime. Touch it. Feel the texture. Hide some objects like beads in the mud, and ask your child to dig out as many as they can find.
Mindfulness Imaginary Trip
You don’t need to leave your home for this fun mindfulness exercise.
Take them down their memory lane or to a place they desire to visit (the galaxy, your family beach house, a lakeside, any place your child chooses)
Then guide them through this journey by pointing out the sounds of nature, the smell of the grass, create fanciful sights allowing your child to utilize his/her senses to be aware of the surroundings.
Breathing exercises are a great tool to help kids calm down.
The objective of mindful breathing is not relaxation but to notice and be aware of your own breath.
The good news is that relaxation is very likely to happen as a consequence.
Ask your child to focus on his/her breathing pattern, concentrate on the inward and outward movement of the tummy.
If you need more ideas to make breathing exercises fun -> fun breathing exercises ideas.
Yoga Exercises for Kids
Yoga exercises for kids also have an instrumental role in ingraining mindfulness into children.
The postures adopted during yoga exercises need a level of attentiveness depending on their complexity to maintain that position. Thus, their concentrating power is amplified.
Breathing is also an important part of yoga, and we have already mentioned the role breathing can play in our mindfulness practice.
Related: Yoga breathing for Kids
Body Scan for Kids
This is another very popular mindfulness practice that helps develop focus, calm, and awareness.
You usually start this exercise with a breathing exercise.
Then you guide your child through a body scan from their feet to their head, focusing on one body part at a time till you slowly move to the next one.
This is a nice audio script for a body scan for kids from Mindful.org
Ready to start practicing some mindfulness activities with your kid?
“The challenge of mindfulness is to be present for your experience as it is rather than immediately jumping in to change it or try to force it to be different… Thinking seems to constitute our “default setting” rather than awareness.” Kabat-Zinn