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Mindfulness for Kids: It’s Never Too Early to Form Good Habits for Mental Health
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In our fast-paced world, instilling mindfulness in our children is more important than ever. The constant buzz of screens and the pressures of modern life can leave our kids feeling overwhelmed. But teaching them mindfulness techniques can help bridge the gap and provide a foundation for lifelong wellbeing.
We’ve put together some ideas to help you introduce mindfulness to your children – and some tips for you to be more mindful too.
What is mindfulness?
Put simply, mindfulness is about paying attention to something and slowing down to focus on what you’re doing in a relaxed way. It’s the practice of being fully present in the moment, paying attention to thoughts, feelings and sensations without judgement. It’s about taking your time and noticing what’s around you.
For children, this means helping them become aware of their surroundings, thoughts, and emotions in a non-reactive way.
With our hectic modern lifestyles, it can be difficult to slow down. And it’s hard to be ‘zen’ when you’re up against the clock and you’ve pleaded with your little one to put their shoes on for the 20th time that morning! But with a bit of practice you’ll see positive results in no time.
The benefits of mindfulness for children
Even in the first years of our lives, mindfulness can reduce anxiety and increase happiness. It can help babies and toddlers get to grips with their new and ever-expanding world. And as children grow, and life becomes ever more complicated, mindfulness can help build resilience.
Improve concentration – by enhancing a child's ability to focus on tasks and schoolwork.
Regulate emotions – by helping children manage their feelings, reducing stress and anxiety.
Increase resilience – by allowing children to bounce back from challenges more easily.
Improve sleep – if children are encouraged to practise mindfulness before bedtime.
According to a study from the University of Exeter, mindfulness can “improve the mental, emotional, social and physical health and wellbeing” of young people, proven to “reduce stress, anxiety, reactivity and bad behaviour” as well as increase self-esteem, self-awareness and empathy.
And as the habits we form early in life guide our behaviours in adulthood, introducing mindfulness to our children from an early age is a great idea.
Mindfulness activities for kids
Here are five simple mindfulness activities to try out with your kids.
1 – Breathing Exercises
Teach your kids simple breathing exercises to help them calm their minds. For example, have them take slow, deep breaths and count to three, while inhaling and exhaling. Or try a yoga class for children. This can be especially helpful for managing moments of frustration or anxiety.
2 – Mindful Colouring
When colouring with your child, encourage them to focus on one section at a time, paying attention to the colours, shapes, and their movements. If they’d prefer to do something more active, an arts & crafts class can be both rewarding and relaxing.
3 – Nature Walks
Take the kids on a nature walk and encourage them to engage their senses. Listen to the sounds of birds, feel the texture of leaves, and observe the colours around you. Walk at their pace and let them lead the way – that could be running and jumping, or slow and steady. Just explore, enjoy and talk. You can find holiday camps and forest schools on Pebble that will encourage your kids to adventure into nature. The National Trust has lots of family-friendly activities too.
4 – Mindful Eating
Teach your kids to savour their food by eating slowly and paying attention to the taste, texture, and smell of each bite. Does it crunch? Does it smell good? How does it taste? This can promote healthy eating habits too.
5 – Name Thoughts and Feelings
Encourage your kids to notice and name sensations, thoughts and emotions. This will help them to develop an awareness of their thoughts and feelings, and how to respond to them. (This is a very valuable exercise for grown-ups too! In therapies such as CBT, recognising and describing feelings is often the first step.)
You could prompt them with sentences like: “It's frustrating that we can’t play outside because it's raining. But let’s try colouring instead.” Or: “It's okay to be sad because we have to go home right now. But we'll come back to the park another day.”
Mindfulness resources for kids
The BBC Children In Need website has an excellent mindfulness hub. There, you’ll find a range of mindfulness activities to try at home – many of them free – from colouring and acts-of-kindness flashcards to a video with mindful activities from CBeebies favourite Dr Ranj. The Mindful website also has some great resources and ideas, from breathing exercises and meditation to games.
Mindfulness for parents: four ways to become a calming presence
As parents, we play a crucial role in teaching mindfulness to our children. But it's equally important for us to exercise it ourselves. It takes a bit of practice, but when parents are mindful, they can create a calm and nurturing environment for their kids to thrive.
We know this is often easier said than done! Especially if you’re having a difficult day. So here are some tips to get you started.
Lead by example
Children learn best by observing. If they see you practising mindfulness, they're more likely to do it themselves. Encourage your kids to stop and be aware of their surroundings. Name five things you can see, feel, hear, touch or taste when you’re out and about – and get them to do the same.
Make time for family mindfulness
Dedicate some time each day for mindfulness activities as a family. This could be as simple as a few minutes of calming deep breathing together. Get your kids to put their hands on their belly and inhale deeply. Tell them to imagine their belly is a balloon and try to fill it up.
Try to stay calm in challenging situations
Take a deep breath and try to respond mindfully rather than reactively. This sets a positive example for your child. Try saying something like: “I feel a bit wound up. I’ll take a deep breath. Now I feel a lot calmer.” Encourage your kids to mirror this whenever they start to feel stressed, frustrated, angry or anxious.
Try the STOP method
Some days can be really challenging as a parent! We’ve all done it, but becoming agitated with our kids can trigger an unhelpful cycle where we wind each other up and our stress levels rocket.
The next time you’re feeling stressed, try this popular mindfulness exercise known as STOP:
S — Stop what you’re doing; put things down for a minute.
T — Take a few deep breaths. Maybe take a minute to breathe normally and naturally and follow your breath coming in and out of your nose.
O — Observe your experience just as it is – including thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Research shows that just naming your emotions can turn the volume down on the fear circuit in the brain, and have a calming effect.
P — Proceed with something that will support you in the moment: talk to a friend, give yourself a shoulder rub or have a cup of tea.
Don't forget to take care of your own wellbeing. Do mindfulness activities that work for you, whether it's meditation, yoga, or mindful walks. Take a look at some of the classes on our site, like the Breathe Melodies for Mums, which is run by Breathe Arts Health Research in London, or Mama and Baby Yoga.
Mindfulness – the gift that keeps on giving
In a world filled with distractions, mindfulness is a gift we can give to our children and ourselves. It's a practice that promotes peace, resilience, and a deeper connection to the world around us. So try to make time for mindfulness with your kids – one breath at a time.
Ready to find some mindful activities for you and the kids?
On this World Mental Health Day, remember to be kind to yourself. And remember that it’s never too early to form good habits for mental health. Browse Pebble to find mindfulness activities in your area now.