I often use mindfulness strategies in my clinical practice with children and parents to help them deal better with big emotions. Regular engagement in mindfulness increases our ability to react thoughtfully to situations rather than reacting immediately to our feelings, helping us to make more intentional choices that align with our values and larger goals. It decreases our responsiveness and makes us less likely to lash out, explode, or react in ways we later regret.
Which means it’s a fantastic tool that can be used to empower parents and children and give them confidence in their ability to face challenges.
But what is mindfulness?
Mindfulness at the most basic level is simply noticing the present moment. When we practice mindfulness, we use our senses to pay close attention to our internal and external worlds. It’s about noticing what’s going on around us in the environment, as well as the thoughts, feelings and physical sensations in our body – without judgment.
It means that we put aside resistance, criticism, and labels of “good” or “bad” and simply accept what is happening to us in the moment. When we simply notice what is happening right now, there is less room for worry and rumination, and more room for joy and gratitude.
Benefits of mindfulness
Research has shown that children who practice mindfulness have:
- Better self-esteem
- Lower rates of anxiety and depression
- Greater resilience
- Better sleep
- Superior emotional intelligence
- Improved classroom learning
And perhaps most importantly, mindfulness helps children develop self-awareness and learn vital self-regulation skills! It gives them a way to deal with stress and anxiety and helps them develop empathy, gratitude and self-compassion. And the good news is that while it may seem difficult at first, the more they practice, the stronger these skills become.
Tips for introducing mindfulness to your young child:
- Be brief. Children have a much shorter attention span than us adults, so you’ll probably need to adjust your expectations for your child’s mindfulness practice. Start with short activities of 5 to 10 minutes.
- Practice what you preach. Kids learn by watching us – so show them how it’s done!
- Don’t push him. If your child isn’t interested in the activity you’ve chosen, don’t force it. This will only lead to frustration and reluctance on your child’s part.
- And above all, make it fun! Mindfulness for kids doesn’t have to be all about meditation. You can run, jump, jump, play and craft mindfully. Here are some ideas to get you started.
5 fun mindfulness activities for kids:
Here are 5 simple yet fun mindfulness activities kids can do with you at home. They require very few supplies, can be completed quickly, and will provide your child with a positive mindfulness experience that supports the development of essential self-regulation skills.
1. Star Jumps
This is a great exercise to increase your child’s body awareness and help them learn to focus on themselves. This activity will help your child begin to develop self-awareness – an essential skill on the path to developing self-regulation.
To complete this activity, simply set a timer for 1 minute, then have your child do as many star jumps as possible before the timer goes off! When 1 minute is over, ask them to place their hand on their chest and pay attention to the rhythm of their heartbeat. Ask them to tell you what they notice – is their heartbeat fast or slow? What does it look like? How does their body feel? Are there also other sensations in other parts of their body?
2. Ball bounce
This is a great full-body mindfulness exercise that’s great fun for kids (and adults too!). The goal is really very simple – don’t let the ball touch the ground. This activity helps improve concentration and awareness, as children need to pay close attention to the movement of the ball in order to prevent it from falling to the ground.
Balloon Bounce works especially well as a “Brain Break” activity when kids have finished school or homework, or been in front of a screen, and need to refocus their attention and re-energize their bodies
3. Conscious coloring
Mindful coloring involves focusing only on the here and now while your child is coloring. This means eliminating distractions and really focusing on their coloring – the way the pencil moves across the paper, the feel of the pencil in their hand, and the colors they use. It’s a great way to practice non-judgmental awareness – an essential component of mindfulness.
To help children complete this activity, encourage them to talk about what they are doing without judging the quality of the coloring. Encourage them to simply say aloud what they are doing, such as “I’m coloring the grass green. I take my blue pencil and I color the sky. I use yellow to color in the sun. This keeps them focused only on the task.
They will inevitably start making judgments about their coloring, saying things like “Oh no, I’ve overstepped the mark”, or “this coloring isn’t my best work, it’s messy”. If that happens, we just encourage them to keep describing what they’re doing. If their mind wanders and they start thinking about other things, again we kindly remind them to focus on the coloring action and say out loud what they are doing.
4. Mindfulness Jar
I have yet to meet a child who doesn’t love making and using a mindfulness jar! Here’s how it’s done:
- Fill a glass jar or plastic bottle 3/4 full with water
- Add a few dollops of glitter glue or clear glue and colored glitter
- Seal the lid with glue so it can’t tip over
Now, to use your jar, simply ask your child to imagine that the jar and the glitter are their thoughts in their head. Ask them to shake the jar and notice how the glitter swirls – just like their thoughts when they’re sad, angry or worried. As the “thoughts” swirl around, it’s hard to see inside the jar – their emotions take over and obscure their vision. And that’s what drives them to lash out, do things they know are wrong, or make stupid decisions that get them in trouble – they can’t think straight when they feel like this. No one can – not even adults!
Then ask them to place the jar and just sit there, quietly looking at the jar. Ask them to keep watching until the glitter starts to sink to the bottom and the water becomes clearer. It’s like their thoughts. When they simply notice their feelings and thoughts and allow them time to pass, they will calm down and their minds will become clearer. Then they will be able to react appropriately and make sound decisions about what to do next.
This activity is great because not only does it teach kids about the relationship between their thoughts and their emotions, but focusing on the glitter in the jar is a mindfulness activity in itself. If you have a quiet space at home or in your classroom, this would be a great place to keep your mindfulness jar.
5. Mindful walking in nature
It’s a great activity for all ages: it engages the senses and helps us feel connected to the world around us! Tell the children that you are going to take a “lookout” walk. Talk to them about their 5 senses and how you would like them to use these 5 senses to notice things around them as they walk. You don’t need to go anywhere special for this activity to be effective, your local park or even just a walk down your street or in your backyard or playground will do just fine.
As you walk, gently remind children to be aware of the sights, smells, and sounds around them and to (safely) touch and smell things with their hands. They might notice the feel of the breeze against their face, the smell of a flower, or the chirping of birds chirping in the trees. They may even enjoy collecting interesting items to take home or drawing pictures of all the things they noticed on their walk!
Remember that almost anything can be done mindfully!
I hope these activities will provide you with a starting point to begin your journey of mindfulness with your child. But please don’t feel stuck in the activities I’ve mentioned here – almost anything can be done mindfully. There really is no inherently conscious activity – it all depends on our intention! So, as long as you focus on what’s happening in the present, you can turn any activity into a mindfulness exercise for your child (and yourself!).
Sarah Conway is a child and adolescent psychologist, mother of 4 and founder of Mindful Little Minds. She has over 15 years of experience in the field of mental health with children, adolescents and families. SarahThe mission of is to help parents move away from punitive parenting strategies and embrace mindful, intentional parenting that builds emotional intelligence in children and parents. As a busy mother herself, she knows firsthand how difficult mindful parenting can be, especially when it’s never been molded by our own parents. That’s why she offers parents and children simple and practical strategies and tools that help them learn to manage their emotions – together. She believes changing the way we parent will change the world.