By: Toni Anne Lofrano
What is mindfulness? Whether you’ve heard of it or not, “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.” (https://www.psychologytoday.com/basics/mindfulness)
Both adults and children alike can benefit from mindfulness practices. Mindfulness has been shown to decrease stress, improve sleep quality and heighten one’s focus and attention. It also helps with regulating emotions and increasing impulse control. With these and other benefits which can have a significant positive impact on one’s well-being, it’s no wonder so many people are jumping on the mindfulness bandwagon! In today’s world where children are facing higher levels of stress at increasingly younger ages, it is becoming more important than ever to teach children mindfulness at home, work and play.
Below are some fun activities for teaching mindfulness to children. As you guide the children in your life through these activities, keep this point in mind: children learn best by example so don’t forget to practice mindfulness in your own life. Turn off any distractions like television, video games and cell phones. Now, let’s get started!
- Sense This
Give the child a piece of Play-Doh and instruct him or her to hold it without squeezing it. The goal is to get the child to focus on the Play-Doh using three of the five senses—sight, touch and smell. Ask the child to describe what it looks like. Have him or her turn it around and observe it from all angles. Now tell the child to smell it. Get him or her to tell you what it smells like. Finally, instruct the child to squeeze the Play-Doh. Have him or her describe what it feels like using as many descriptive words as possible. Don’t worry if the child squeezes the Play-Doh before instructed to do so. This is meant to be fun and relaxing for everyone involved. Also, feel free to try this with other items. Some suggestions are a ball, a stuffed animal, water, a feather or a rock.
- Breathing Buddies
Have the child select a stuffed animal or another soft, light item. Make sure there is enough room, and ask the child to lie down on the floor and place the item on his or her stomach. Instruct the child to breath in silence for one minute while noticing how the Breathing Buddy moves up and down. Tell the child to imagine that the thoughts that come into his or her mind turn into bubbles and float away. After one minute, have the child describe the experience to you.
- Sound & Silence
Ask the child to be silent during this activity. Tell the child that he or she is going to hear a sound and to focus on that sound as it gets softer and softer. Instruct the child to raise his or her hand when the sound can no longer be heard. Have the child continue to be silent and listen for another minute after the sound has stopped. After one minute is up, ask the child to tell you every sound that he or she heard during that minute. For this activity, you can choose any type of sound that will resonate and gradually fade. Some examples are a bell, a rain stick, a piano key, a singing bowl or chimes.
- Snack Attack
Let the child choose his or her favorite snack and explain that you are going to use this snack time as an exercise in mindfulness. Tell the child to pay attention to the smell and feel of the food (or the feel of a utensil in his or her hand). Instruct the child to take one bite of food and chew it slowly. If the child is holding a utensil, ask him or her to put it down until finished chewing and swallowing. Have the child chew slowly for 20 to 30 seconds and ask him or her to notice the taste and texture of the food. Repeat this with another bite. Have the child describe what he or she noticed in terms of the senses.
Now that you have some basic information on mindfulness—what it is, why it’s beneficial and how to teach it to children—see if you can find or develop some of your own mindfulness activities to practice with children. It’s best to keep these activities short at first and then build up to longer exercises. Remember to keep it fun and simple, and don’t worry if the activities don’t go exactly as planned. An important part of mindfulness is letting go of any expectations. Don’t forget to praise the children for their efforts. While you’re at it, give yourself a pat on the back too! You are taking time out of your busy day to read and learn about this powerful practice. This shows that you are committed to acquiring knowledge and promoting your own well-being in addition to the well-being of the children in your life. You are on the path to mindful living!