11 Ways to Teach Mindfulness to Kids

Although mindfulness isn’t new—it’s rooted in Buddhist tradition—it only gained popularity in the West over the past few decades. Most recently, researchers have discovered the benefits of teaching mindfulness to kids.

Mindfulness is about becoming fully aware of what’s happening in the present moment. And in today’s fast-paced world, it’s easy to miss what’s going on around you.

Many people go through the motions of their daily routines without being fully aware of what’s happening around them. Whether they’re distracted with something that happened yesterday, or they’re worried about something that might happen tomorrow, they’re missing out on what’s happening right now. 

Just like adults, kids are easily distracted and quite often, they’re unaware of their circumstances. That fact can lead to challenges like difficulties managing their emotions or trouble controlling their behavior.

Research shows mindfulness skills benefit kids’ brains and improves their behavior. Their attention spans improve. They also enjoy better mental health, and they become more resilient to stress.

That’s why some schools are adopting mindfulness programs. Schools that teach mindfulness skills report fewer discipline problems and better engagement from students.

There are many ways to teach children to become more mindful. You can adapt these exercises to fit the needs of preschoolers to teens. Here are 11 simple but effective ways to teach your child mindfulness skills:

1

Pretend to Walk on Thin Ice

Woman doing yoga with her daughter

Maa Hoo / Stocksy United

Teach your child to become more aware of their body and their movements. Tell them to pretend they're walking on thin ice and they have to move slowly and carefully around the room.

You can bring more awareness to their movements by pretending you’re a radio announcer. Say things like, “You’re picking your right leg up slowly and carefully putting it back down.”

There are many other games you can invent to encourage your child to move slowly and carefully. For example, toss a balloon in the air and tell them the balloon is a fragile egg and they have to carefully keep it in the air without breaking it.

2

Journal About Specific Activities

Ask your child to write about their daily activities, or invite them to tell you about them so you can write it down. Pick a specific part of the day, like their morning routine or their afternoon at school and ask them to recall what they did.

The first couple of times they do this exercise, they may be vague, like, “I had recess and then we had math class.” Don’t correct them or dig for more details. Instead, remind them you’ll do it again tomorrow.

With practice, there’s a good chance they will start walking through their day with more detail. They might start saying things like, “I felt really hot when I was running across the playground. So I sat down on the bench for a minute to catch my breath.”

This exercise helps kids start paying more attention to the present—and prevents them from stumbling through the day only half aware of what they're doing.

3

Smell the Roses

Scent is a great way to help kids become more aware of the here-and-now. An easy way to engage their sense of smell is to give them something aromatic, like a flower or an orange peel.

Invite them to close their eyes and concentrate on what they smell. Spend a few minutes just paying attention to the aroma. Then ask them a few simple questions like, “What do you think of that smell?”

Helping kids become more aware of their sense of smell can remind them to literally stop and smell the roses!

4

Count Breaths

A simple way to quiet your child’s mind is to teach them to pay attention to their breathing. Encourage them to close their eyes and count breaths.

Tell them to think “one” when they inhale and “two” when they exhale. Teach them to return to counting when their mind wanders.

The exercise shouldn’t change their breathing. Instead, it should be about helping them become more aware of their breaths and how their body and lungs feel when they're mindful.​

5

Cool the Pizza

“Cool the pizza” is another breathing exercise that will help your child become more aware of their bodily sensations. Tell your child to breathe in through their nose like they're smelling a piece of pizza. Then, tell them to blow out through their mouth, like they're cooling the piece of hot pizza.

Practice this often when your child is calm. Then, when they're angry or anxious, remind them to become more mindful by saying, “Cool the pizza.”

6

Have a Blindfolded Taste Test

It’s easy to scarf down food without paying attention to the taste. Get your child to be more in tune with their taste buds by doing a blindfolded taste test.

Blindfold your child and give them a small bite of a specific food, like a banana or a strawberry. Tell them to move the food around in their mouth for a minute and see if they can tell you what it is.

7

Savor the Flavor

Another way to involve your child’s sense of taste is by encouraging them to savor the flavor. Give them a specific piece of food, like a piece of candy or a raisin.

Encourage them to look at the piece of food for about a minute. Then, have them put it in their mouth but tell them not to chew it right away.

Instead, instruct them to pay attention to how it tastes and how it feels in their mouth. They may experience textures or tastes they've never noticed before.

8

Draw an Everyday Object

Give your child an ordinary object, like a leaf or a rock. Encourage them to hold it in their hands and spend some time looking at it. Even though they probably see similar objects all the time, looking at it more closely can give them a new perspective.

Then, tell them to draw the object. Encourage them to take their time and include some details. Just make sure they know it’s not an art contest.

The point is to help kids pay attention and focus on one thing at a time.

9

Practice Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Progressive muscle relaxation is all about learning to pay attention to muscles in different parts of the body. The goal is to learn to relax muscles that may have become tense without the individual even noticing.

Tell your child to lie down. Then, tell them to tighten and then relax specific muscle groups one at a time—starting with their feet and then their calves. Keep going until you get up to their head.

There are many different scripts you can use, depending on the age of your child. There are also online tutorials or audio programs that can help walk your child through the steps.

10

Listen to the Bell

For this exercise, use a chime or a real bell if you have one. If you don’t, search for an online app or video that sounds like a real bell. Pick one where the sound reverberates for at least 10 seconds.

Tell your child to listen to the bell. Then, tell them to close their eyes and see if they can hear it better when their eyes are closed.

You also can tell them to sit quietly and count how many times you ring the bell. Over the course of several minutes ring the bell. Allow for variable amounts of silence in between rings.

With practice, your children will become more comfortable with silence. And they may improve their focus and concentration.

11

Practice Yoga

Yoga is a great way to increase your child’s awareness of the connection between their mind and their body. Kid-friendly yoga poses can help them become more mindful.

Sign your child up for a yoga class or look for kid-friendly yoga videos to practice at home. You can practice yoga together as well and incorporate it into your daily routine. Like other mindfulness practices, yoga will teach your child coping skills.

The more kids are able to be present in the moment, the better they'll be at self-regulation.

And it’s important to remember that mindfulness should be an ongoing practice. Take time every day to practice mindfulness skills with your child. When you make it a priority in your life, your child will see that it’s important to be in tune with the present.

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Article Sources
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  1. Fodor IE, Hooker KE. Teaching mindfulness to childrenGestalt Review. 2008;12(1):75. doi:10.5325/gestaltreview.12.1.0075

  2. Meiklejohn J, Phillips C, Freedman ML, et al. Integrating mindfulness training into K-12 education: Fostering the resilience of teachers and studentsMindfulness. 2012;3(4):291-307. doi:10.1007/s12671-012-0094-5

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