Six Ways to Teach Mindfulness to Children – Melli O’Brien
Whether you’re an educator, a parent or a caregiver, you can teach mindfulness to the children in your life.
Here are six simple ways to do just that.
Oh, and before you begin your mindfulness exercise, make sure to turn off any distractions, such as television or video games, and be sure cell phones are silenced.
1. Mindful Breathing
Ask children to sit comfortably and then close their eyes. Draw their attention to their breathing, telling them to feel the sensation of breath coming into and out of the body.
You can have them put their hands on their stomach to feel the gentle rise and fall with each breath, as this will help them keep focused. Alternatively, you may ask them to repeat the word “in” and “out” as they inhale and exhale, or you may say it for them.
Do this for about five breath cycles (five inhales and exhales). At the end of the five breaths, guide their attention to any thoughts and feelings that may be present (and any possible differences in how they feel now compared with how they felt before the practice).
Ask them to then let those thoughts and feelings go as they return their focus to their breath, then repeat the breathing cycle (as many times as feels appropriate).
2. Mindfulness Sound Game
Have the child or children begin by focusing on their breathing (as above) . After about five breath cycles, tell the children they’re going to hear a sound, and that they should focus on this sound as it gets softer and softer.
Instruct them to raise their hand when they no longer hear the sound. Play a sound for the children. This sound can be a bell, Tingsha (Tibetan meditation chimes), a “singing” bowl, a rain stick, or you can strike a note on a piano… any sound that will resonate and gradually evanesce will do.
Return to five breathing cycles. You can repeat this exercise a couple of times if you like, if the children are receptive to continue.
3. Mindful Eating Game
If you’re sharing a meal or a snack with children, tell them you’re going to make it an exercise in mindfulness.
Start with the breathing exercises. Invite children to be mindful of their food— of the aroma, of the feel of the food (or the feel of the spoon in their hand).
Tell them to take a bite of food and chew slowly. If they’re holding a utensil, ask them to put it down until they finish chewing and swallowing. Have them chew slowly for 20 or 30 seconds, asking them to notice the taste and the texture.
Repeat five cycles of breathing, then repeat with another bite if desired.
4. Walking Mindfully
Eventually you’ll want to show the kiddies that mindfulness is not just for sitting still. Go for a short walk with them and teach them to be mindful while in motion. Have them start with focusing on the breath, then as you begin walking invite them to notice how the ground feels under their feet as they walk, what the movement of the body feels like when in motion.
You could draw their attention to feeling other associated sensations of walking like the clothing moving against their skin or the breeze moving through their hair. Aim to guide them to feel these sensations and not to get into labeling them or thinking about them. Every now and then you can suggest they return their attention to their breathing to help keep them in focus.
5. Mindful Play
Put out some finger paints, a water or sand table or any kind of fun activity into which kids can really get their hands into. You can have them begin the exercise with their breathing cycles.
As they play, guide them to be fully present in the moment whenever they get distracted. You can focus on their senses— what they see, hear, feel and smell. Invite them to notice how the water slips through their fingers or runs down their arm, how sand shifts and pours out of the hand or how the colours of finger paints swirl together to blend into new colours.
Allow them to go for as long as they’re engaged in the activity and see how long they focus on it. You can end the play session with five breathing cycles.
6. The Hunting Game
When I was little I would often go out into the back yard and pretend that I was hunting. I wasn’t really after a particular ‘target’ but rather, I just loved the feeling of ‘hunting’. I would walk between the trees slowly and deliberately with zen-like focus listening out for every sound and watching for the slightest movements in my environment.
In this way I was totally immersed in my senses and fully engrossed in the present moment. Not thinking at all – just sensing. Every now and then I would see a small animal and maybe stop to study it closely in silence.
I didn’t realize it at the time but it was a practice of mindfulness. What is the state of a hunter? Highly alert, but not thinking. That’s mindfulness! So you could play the hunting game with your child to get them into a state of mindfulness.
Perhaps go out into the garden or yard together (or play inside) and tell them they have to be very quiet and slow as you go on your hunt. Guide them to be highly alert and use their senses fully. You can tell them to be very ‘quiet inside’ so that they can ‘listen’ to the world around them so they can discover a creature or what ever you go on a hunt for.
You could deepen this practice by getting your child to practice the mindful breathing exercise first. This activity may be a particularly good one for boys and for children who are highly active.
Mindfulness sessions are best, for many children, when kept short (five minutes or less) but you may find some children are able to do longer sessions depending on age and temperament.
If children are fidgety at first, or uncomfortable with sitting quietly and being mindful, encourage them gently to keep trying and praise their efforts. Keep introducing it and practicing in short bursts until the child becomes more accustomed. To encourage their cooperation, make it a pleasant experience— spend time afterwards sharing your perceptions during the practice, cuddling or doing something they enjoy.
With regular practice, you’ll find kids not only getting better at the techniques, but using them of their own accord. Their ability to be mindful can help them with challenges they may encounter into adulthood.
Mindfulness For Mums
One thing thats worth mentioning, is that kids really learn best by example. They watch and learn form their caregivers and especially their mums. I would say the single best way to teach mindfulness to your child is to practice it, as best you can, in your own way of living.
So where do you start? Well here are 11 ways to bring mindfulness into your daily life and if you’d like to set up a regular practice of meditation at home check out these tips for setting up a home practice (if you prefer a guided practice, you can also get free meditation audio’s by signing up to my newsletter (plus lots of great tips and insights in your inbox)
I wish you all the best with it!
ps. Do you have any comments? Questions? Please go ahead and jot them in the comments section below. I’d love to hear from you and I’m always happy to help with questions. Stay in touch!