3 Easy Mindfulness Exercises for Your Littles
Many of us feel challenged now because of unexpected change. Our children pick up on our emotions, and they too may have difficult feelings they don't know how to handle. One way to help them deal with uncomfortable thoughts and emotions is with mindfulness practice.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness means paying attention, through your senses, to what's going on inside of you and around you without judgement. With mindful awareness, we view experiences and emotions with a neutral attitude — not labeling things as good or bad. This practice can allow us to become less reactive to stress triggers, and more responsive to the world.
How can we practice mindfulness with children?
Mindfulness exercises are not complex and can be shared with children of different ages. Simply invite them to practice with you. Start with a practice of only a few minutes. If possible, practice at the same time, in the same place to develop a habit of mindfulness. If that's not possible, add mindfulness in any way you can.
To prepare children for a mindfulness exercise, you could start by saying something like, "Now let's be in our body, quiet and calm, and take three slow mindful breaths." Breathe together slowly three times. Here are three mindfulness exercises to try with young children.
Mindful Breathing Exercise
When we focus our attention on our breath, coming in and out of the body, we can calm our nervous system and improve mental focus. According to Dr. Richard Brown, an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University and co-author of The Healing Power of the Breath, controlled breathing changes the response of the body's autonomic nervous system that affects heart rate, digestion, and the stress response.
A Mindful Breathing Exercise Script for Little Ones:
Lie down on your back with a pillow or blanket under your head. Stretch out your arms and legs, then let your muscles relax. Rest your hands on your tummy and watch them move as you breathe. Your tummy's like an ocean wave, slowly moving your hands up and down. (Have your child feel their breathing for three minutes, longer if they like.)
- You could also place a soft toy on your child's tummy so they can watch it rise and fall with each breath.
- Add gentle background music if that helps your child relax.
Mindful Listening Exercise
Most of us can think of a time when someone was talking to us and we didn't listen well because we had too much on our mind. Or a time when we were telling a story or asking for help, and our friend, partner, or child wasn't listening. Not being heard can feel unpleasant. And not paying attention to others results in our missing out on the world outside our busy mind. We can help children become better listeners from an early age.
A Mindful Listening Exercise Script for Littles:
Sit in a mindful posture in a chair or cross-cross on the floor. Stretch yourself up tall and close your eyes if you like. [Ring a bell or use any object that makes a sustained sound.] Listen carefully to the sound. Lift your hand when you no longer hear it. After your hand is up in the air, gently lower it and place it on your chest or tummy to feel your breathing.
- You can physically guide your child's hand from the raised position to rest on their chest or tummy.
Being Mindful of Others: Loving Kindness
Helping others helps ourselves. In fact, there's a scientifically proven link between generosity and happiness. In a study conducted by Dr. Richard Davidson at the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Center for Investigating Healthy Minds, researchers learned that participants who practiced daily compassion behaved more altruistically towards strangers and had positive changes in their own brain activity. This isn't to say we should race around doing for others without taking care of ourselves. Instead, the idea is to practice compassion for ourselves and others. We can strive to teach children to become generous, happy humans.
A Loving-Kindness Exercise Script for Children:
Sit in a mindful posture in a chair or cross-cross on the floor. Stretch yourself up tall and take three slow, mindful breaths.
Next, think of a friend or family member who helps you feel happy. Say their name aloud. How can you be a good friend too? You can share happiness.
Now think of a person who helps you feel safe and calm. Say their name aloud. How can you help someone else feel safe and calm? You can share calm.
Finally think of a person who helps you feel loved. Say their name aloud. How can you show love to someone? You can share love.
We wish everyone to feel happy, calm, and loved.
- Leave time for your child to answer each question before moving on.
- You could also emphasize sharing kindness by encouraging your child to draw a picture for someone.
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Whitney Stewart is an award-winning children's book author of fiction and nonfiction books and products for kids, including Mindful Kids and the Mindful Tots series, published by Barefoot Books. She puts her heart, mind and feet into her work. She has trekked in a Himalayan snowstorm with Sir Edmund Hillary, climbed to remote Buddhist monasteries in Tibet, interviewed the Dalai Lama in India and sat for days in meditation retreats. When she is not writing or traveling, she teaches mindfulness and meditation to kids. You can find Stewart's books at www.barefootbooks.com, on her website, or wherever you buy books.