Three years of promising myself I was going to start meditation and mindfulness, I finally did. After doing a short course, I started practising at home. My young daughter decided to join me. I couldn’t help but have a few sneak peaks at her during the sessions and was impressed with how good she was. And there’s a good reason for that. Kids aren’t as weighed down as adults with a million thoughts, preconceptions and a good dose of self-judgement!
Mindfulness and kids
Mindfulness and meditation are becoming more and more mainstream and something which may turn out to be a real benefit for our children. As they lead increasingly hectic lives and spend more and more time on screens, we are seeing more and more research pointing to children becoming more stressed, more anxious and the number of kids diagnosed with depression increasing.
Although not a panacea, teaching our kids mindfulness/meditation may be something to consider to alleviate or help prevent some of these conditions. There’s been a lot of research on the benefits of mindfulness on adults. The research is less for children, but what’s been done so far seems to be promising. More and more schools are now incorporating it, especially as an alternative to traditional discipline.
For example, the USA has seen several success stories. Robert W. Coleman Elementary School in Baltimore, reported that they have seen a vast reduction in suspensions since incorporating meditation. Instead of sending mis-behaving students to the principal’s office or being asked to stand outside the classroom, they are sent to the ‘Mindful Moment Room’. Another school seeing similar results is Patterson Park High School, also in Baltimore.
Similarly, a pilot study within the San Francisco school system, that partnered with the Centre for Wellness and Achievement in Education, said that suspensions decreased by over 70%, and that academic performance increased.
What are the benefits of mindfulness on kids?
Some of the research carried out has pointed to a number of benefits when it comes to mindfulness and kids.
1. Increases their attention span
Increased screen time and being able to get information in an instant, often means that kids are finding it harder to concentrate for the amount of time expected for their age. This can inevitably become a problem when needing to concentrate in school. Mindfulness can help as it enables them see that they can concentrate on one thing at a time without being distracted by other things.
2. Developing empathy
It can help children become more patient, understanding and empathetic.
3. Increasing self-esteem
It can help increase a child’s sense of security and stability, which in turn can lead to a greater level of happiness and self-esteem.
4. Boosting confidence
Teaches kids that they don’t need to react to all of their emotions and feelings, but can choose which ones they give their attention to. This skill can significantly boost their confidence as they become better problem solvers and better equipped to deal with unfamiliar situations.
Other benefits of mindfulness on kids:
- Feeling calmer and more fulfilled
- Manage stress levels more effectively
- Manage activities like performances better
- Improve executive function (the mental skills of attention, switching focus, planning, organising and recall)
- Improve social skills
- Help with the effects of bullying
- Improve self-regulation.
Mindfulness and kids – fun activities
If you’re going to try mindfulness and/or mediation with your kids, it’s important that you don’t force them to do it and that you choose age appropriate activities. Here are some fun activities you can do with your primary/elementary aged kids.
1. Glitter Jar
These can be so much fun to make and is a great way to introduce your child to mindfulness. Here you can see how my daughter and I made one. An alternative to this is adding baby oil instead of glue.
2. Super Senses
When you’re out walking with your child, ask them to take on the persona of their favourite superhero. Explain that they need to use all their five senses to look out for any potential danger. You could ask them questions such as: what can you smell? Can you smell anything strange? What can you hear? Can you hear anything suspicious? What do you think it could be?
3. Detective Walk
Go for a walk and explain a scenario to your child where they will need to look for clues. Maybe a strange insect has been seen in the town and nobody knows where it came from or where it went. It has the ability to camouflage itself as anther insect. The scientists need to find it quickly to see if it’s a danger to humans. Your child will need to look very closely at any insects they find and see if it has anything unusual about it.
4. Blowing Bubbles
Most kids love blowing bubbles! Get your child to make the biggest bubble they can through taking a big deep breath and blowing as slowly as possible. Ideally, ask them to sit down while doing it to create a sense of calm and relaxation.
5. Bouncing Balloons
Explain to your child that a friend has asked them to look after the balloon. It’s very valuable and very fragile. If it touches the ground, it will burst and lose its value. As it’s so fragile, they can only keep it from touching the floor with one finger.
6. Tantalising Tastebuds
Choose a food that your child hasn’t had before. Ask them to smell it and explain the smell to you. Then get them to place a small piece in their mouth and feel it with their tongue without swallowing it. Ask them to describe the texture and taste (this is one time they can speak with their mouth full!). This activity is also a great way to get your child to practice mindfulness when eating and instil an appreciation of food rather than rushing it down.
The above activities have been modified from the Positive Psychology Program (see link under references). You can also modify them to best suit your child and their interests.
As with everything else, there is also a wealth of apps you can get to introduce and practice mindfulness and meditation for your child. Some of these include:
Kids’ guided meditation…
One guided meditation I have used with my young daughter is the Hug Me Tree. We use it if she’s feeling worried about something and she always feels better afterwards.
The Hug Me Tree
Close your eyes and settle into a comfortable position. Take tree full, relaxed breaths…
Allow your imagination to take you to a mountain. Imagine that you are standing in a field at the bottom of this mountain, ready to go on a walk….(wait for a moment for your child to begin to get an image).
In front of you is a gate. Walk slowly towards it……It’s a very special gate. Can you see what it is made of?….Is there anything growing around it?…What does it feel like when you touch it?….When you are ready, imagine yourself going through this gate and standing on the other side.
Close the gate carefully behind you. You are standing on a path that lead up the mountain…..You are going to look for the HugMe tree. Is it near the gate somewhere? Have a look around at the trees until you see the biggest one.
This is the HugMe tree. It’s so huge that it seems to go on for ever up int the sky….Stand right up against the three and touch the bark…What des it feel like?…You can hang up all your worries on its branches before you explore any more of the mountain. The HugMe tree is so big that it can take as many worries as you like, so long as you give it a hug afterwards! Imagine yourself leaving your worries here. What does that feel like?
You can now give the HugMe tree a hug. Put your arms around your body, like a big hug and feel the warmth of your body.
What does that feel like? Now let’s take five steps:
One – what did that feel like?
Two – what can you see?
Three – what can you hear?
Four – what can you smell?
Five – what are you feeling now?
Stand still for a moment and take a full breath….Breathe out with a long sigh. Feel yourself being as strong as the mountain itself…You’re full of confidence and ready to go on…..Imagine yourself exploring all around this part of the mountain. Keep noticing what your body feels like when you are worry free. What can you feel? What can you see? (allow your child a few moments to explore the mountain in their imagination).
It’s time to leave the mountain for today. Begin t walk back towards the HugMe tree….Now you are near the gate…go through the gate and close it again behind you….step into the field. Take a full breath and let it go with a big sigh…
Now start to think about your toes and your fingers. Give them a little wriggle….Keep your eyes closed and feel how your body is gradually back in the room where you started. Notice the feel of your clothes agains your skin, and your body touching the chair…Still keep your eyes closed for a little while longer. Begin to listen to the sounds in the room and outside….Now wriggle your toes and fingers again, and when you’re ready, have a big stretch and a yawn and open your eyes…and here you are back in the room!
Something else that I’ve found very useful is this poem by D.M. Plummer. I think it’s a great reminder about how our kids can get worries out of perspective and how mindfulness could help them to not let a worry take on epic proportions.
Last night, I had a sad, sad dream.
And this morning it slipped into my pocket and grew
…into a worry thought.
I carried it around with me all day
…on the walk to school and in the playground and the classroom. Wherever I went the worry thought came too.
Each time I looked at the thought it seemed to get a bit bigger. I tried to keep it hidden.
My teacher said, ‘You’re quiet today –
are you feeling ill?’
I didn’t know what to say.
The worry thought grew heavier in my pocket.
My stomach hurt.
I couldn’t do my work.
I thought, ‘What if my sad dream really happens? What if it’s happening right now and I don’t know?’ The worry in my pocket got even heavier.
We lined up for lunch.
Craig tugged my hair and said ‘Cheer up!’
I pushed him hard and shouted ‘Go away!’ The teacher came and took me from the line. ‘Oh no!’ she said. ‘You mustn’t.
This isn’t like you at all.’
Mum came to fetch me at home time.
I couldn’t tell her what was wrong either
…but she saw the worry spilling out from my pocket
and she scooped it up and took a good look at it.
‘What a sad, sad worry,’ she said, ‘it’s grown so big that it needs two of us to carry it.’
We took the worry thought home with us and made some space …so we could talk with it.
We let it tell its story.
We listened to what it had to say and thanked it for its message. It started to get smaller.
Then when it was small enough to fold away
Mum and I put the sad, sad worry in my worry box and shut the lid on it tightly so that tonight…
I’ll dream a different dream.
- D.M. Plummer, 2009
Over to you…
Have you tried meditation or mindfulness activities with your kids? Have you tried something that isn’t listed in this post? I would love to hear from you if you have and what your experiences have been!