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9 Ways to Practice Mindfulness with Kids

Updated: Aug 12, 2021

To live in a family is both a blessing and a challenge. Incorporating mindfulness practices is as helpful to navigating our lives as a sail is useful to a boat. This is true for children just as much as it is for adults.


More than anything else, human beings including children simply want to be noticed, listened to and given genuine attention and care. As adults, teachers, role models and parents, the most effective way to practice mindfulness with kids by modeling it through our own mindful words and actions.


Namaste

Pay attention to your kids.

Truly listen to them. Put away your phone and turn your complete focus to the child. Her wisdom will amaze you.


Back when I was a school teacher, every morning before beginning the day’s lessons, we would spend some time simply breathing. I would ring a Tibetan singing bowl and lead us through a few minutes of mindfulness practice. It was the absolute best way to start the school day and even just a few moments made the rest of the day more tranquil and smooth.


Cultivate a beginner’s mind.

American Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron defines the concept of “child-mind” in her book, How to Meditate. It is another way of viewing the concept of “beginner’s mind,” a Buddhist construct that is also beautifully explained in the classic book by Suzuki Roshi entitled Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. It’s about developing the attitude of a beginner, being open and curious like a child, rather than being a know-it-all or too judgemental and analytical, as the expert mind can tend to be.


According to Pema, “Meditation accepts us just as we are—in both our tantrums and our bad habits, in our love and commitments and happiness. It allows us to have a more flexible identity because we learn to accept ourselves and all of our human experience with more tenderness and openness. Every moment is incredibly unique and fresh, and when we drop into the moment, as meditation allows us to do, we learn how to truly taste this tender and mysterious life that we share together.”


Practice tips

Here are 9 suggestions for powerful ways to practice mindfulness with kids:



“Take a deep breath in. Hold it. Let it go.”

Breath is life. Deep, conscious breathing calms the mind and body and quickly puts us into a meditative state. It helps grown-ups and kids alike attain the two main goals of mindfulness: focus and relaxation.


Breathing is a basic foundation of yoga and mindfulness, whether the practitioners are children, teens or adults. Our breath is always with us, always available as a resource for focusing the mind. Offer simple guided methods such as breath counting, counting down from 10 to 1 with each breath cycle. Employ vivid imagery, saying something along the lines of: “Breathe in and imagine yourself shining brightly like a light bulb. Breathe out dark and visualize dark gray smoke coming out of your nostrils, releasing anything that feels dark or heavy inside you.”


2. Heartfulness


“Heartfulness” is a kid-friendly way to say emotional awareness. By teaching our children to tune in to the present moment, we can help them develop the habit of noticing the broad spectrum of different feelings they are experiencing from moment to moment. We can remind our kids not to identify with their emotions but to simply observe them like fluffy white clouds floating across the blue sky. The key is to remember that emotions come and go and to learn to let them come and go naturally.


Planting Seeds is a wonderful book for those interested in introducing children to mindfulness, written by Vietnamese Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh and members of his spiritual community. In the book, many marvelous techniques and strategies are offered. One that really resonated with me is: “Breathing in, I’m bored. Breathing out, it’s okay to be bored.” We can teach children (and ourselves) how to observe and accept all of their feelings: joy, anger, sadness, boredom, excitement, fear, and so forth. This technique is wonderful because it reminds us that all feelings are acceptable. They do not need to be changed, grasped onto or pushed away.


In my classroom, in our morning circle, we would ring a bell and take turns sharing our feelings.

The students would typically say something like, “I feel happy. It’s okay to feel happy.” Often, the child would then share about what was making them feel happy on that particular day.


Sometimes, however, they would admit, “I feel worried and confused. It’s okay to feel worried and confused.” Although sharing was always optional, if they felt comfortable, the child could elaborate on what was provoking these difficult emotions. In the group, this helped prompt the realization that we all share similar emotions, both positive and negative.


3. Mindful speech


An essential aspect of heartfulness is being kind to ourselves and others. An excellent way to do this is through mindful speech, or being positive, caring and kind in the words we choose to say and the tone we use.


In exploring mindfulness with kids, teach them to stop and think before they speak. Teach them to ask themselves: “Are my words true, helpful, inspiring, necessary and kind?” Of course, this is also a great practice for adults!


4. Forgiveness practice


This practice, as the name indicates, involves forgiving ourselves and others, as well as hoping that others may forgive us. Ask your kids to recall a time when someone hurt their feelings. Guide them to imagine that person apologizing to them.


Next, ask the children to remember a time when they hurt someone through mean or rude words and actions. Then, in their mind’s eye they can visualize telling that person they’re sorry, being forgiven and making up.


5. Loving friendliness


Most kids enjoy loving-kindness practice, because it’s so simple yet powerful. When engaging in mindfulness with kids, have them put their hands on their hearts and imagine looking at themselves in the mirror. Have them repeat these four aspirations: “May I be safe. May I be happy. May I be healthy. May I be free.”


Next, guide them to hold their hands in front of them and offer those same wishes for others. “May you be safe, happy, healthy and free.” Finally, bring the hands together above your head and send wishes of safety, happiness, health and freedom for all beings—every plant, animal and person in the world. Repeat: “May all beings be safe, happy, healthy and free.”


6. Compassion


As a more advanced mindfulness with kids technique, invite the children to imagine an animal suffering, such as a stray dog on the street. They can then imagine sending compassion and good wishes to that animal, wishing that it may be fed and cared for and loved.


You can also talk about people suffering and how to practice compassion for the homeless people you see begging on the street corner. The children can learn to say: “I breathe in the pain of this animal or person. I breathe out and send them peace and goodness.”


7. Gratitude


Encourage your children to talk about the people, places and things they are grateful for each day. If they are old enough to write, have them keep a gratitude journal, listing 1, 2 or 3 specific things, people or ideas for which they feel grateful in that moment.


When we practice mindfulness with kids, it’s important to develop a sense of gratitude for the simple, everyday blessings of our breath, our bodies, our minds, our community, and our whole lives. Gently remind the children: “Let’s be more grateful today!”


8. Read and learn together.


No app can replace your lap. Taking some time each day or each night before bed to read with your children is also a mindfulness technique! As is limiting their screen time, monitoring internet use and setting healthy boundaries around the use of technology.


Yoga and Mindfulness for Kids is a great resource with over 25 activities designed to transform our kids into little yogis. Introducing our children to yoga and mindfulness at an early age encourages healthy lifestyle habits and sets a strong foundation for their future. This book contains age-appropriate teachings, as well as tips and words of encouragement. If you’re looking for a fun way to engage with your children while helping them build mindful, engaged and healthy lifestyles, this is an ideal book for you and your family.


9. Relaxation


Adults sometimes forget that kids get stressed, too. Last but not least, practice a few moments of deep relaxation with your kids. Invite them to lie down on the floor. Guide them to relax their muscles from head to toe. Remind them to relax their minds and hearts as well.


Use a guided visualization. I recommend offering fun, vivid images such as, “Visualize yourself floating atop a clear blue pool or resting on a soft, colorful hammock.” Invite them to imagine all the details of their happy place: sights, sounds, smells and feelings.


 

I can’t think of a better way to enhance the day than by practicing mindfulness with kids. When done regularly, it becomes an enjoyable and meaningful experience for children and grown ups alike. This is a truly wonderful way to cultivate self-awareness, compassion, kindness, gratitude and more.

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