Mindfulness is an important stress management technique that’s been found to have several benefits to the development of a child when taught in the early developmental years. The best way to teach children mindfulness is through play. Let’s explore some of the various ways to instill mindfulness, or being present in the moment, into children as they develop and grow.
Mindfulness is a practice that is beneficial for both adults and children.
There are various benefits that come with teaching children mindfulness that enhance their overall development.
Mindfulness practices are powerful tools used to treat a variety of mental health symptoms, stress, problem-solving, self-regulation, focus, and more.
Mindfulness is a technique used by therapists to help clients manage symptoms of anxiety and stress, chronic pain, depression, eating disorders, borderline personality disorder, and addictions, and it generally enhances one’s life overall. This important technique, while originally used with adults, has also been found to help with the development of children.
Mindfulness benefits for children
There are many benefits to teaching children to be mindful. Such benefits include:
- Reducing anxiety, depression, and stress.
- Improves self-regulation.
- Helps them to use their experiences and expectations to interpret what they see and make sense of the world.
- Helps create an environment for reflection during exploration and problem-solving.
- Improves attention, concentration, and prepares them for school.
- Increases modeling behavior.
- Helps strengthen their connections to others.
- Improves their social-emotional competency.
- Promotes non-judgment.
- Increases self-understanding.
- Helps bring a gentle, accepting moment into the present.
- Helps them develop compassion and empathy.
- Sparks curiosity.
- Improves memory.
- Helps with self-acceptance and self-understanding.
- Enhances their overall quality of life and well-being.
A basic mindfulness meditation involves supporting them in the awareness of their external environment, followed by the awareness of themselves in the environment, then the awareness of their body, followed by the awareness of their thoughts. Using play when teaching mindfulness to kids can be a lot of fun for them as well.
Using play to teach kids mindfulness
Children use play to model adult behaviors, explore, and learn. Therefore, play is one of the best ways to instill mindfulness practices in children at a young age. When children play, they focus on the present moment and can take a step away from any intense feelings or emotions to calm themselves down or self-soothe, refocus, and reflect in meaningful ways. Teaching mindfulness techniques can also help parents and caregivers as well, as it helps to promote stress relief and happiness.
Gameplay techniques for mindfulness
There are a variety of games that have been designed to help teach children mindfulness on the market. In addition to these games, there are various ways to teach children mindfulness — that do not involve putting them in front of a screen to play a video game — that can be fun for parents and kids.
Fun with bubbles
Blowing bubbles can be fun for kids of all ages, and this is an especially useful tool for teaching mindfulness to toddlers. If a toddler is having a tantrum, sad, mad, grumpy, or cranky from being tired, try getting some non-toxic bubbles for them to play with. As the child blows the bubbles, you can use this as a way to teach them to let go and release all that is not serving them at the moment and to self-regulate their emotions. You can say things such as, “Fly away angry feelings,” or “goodbye tears.” As your child blows the bubbles, they can watch them float away and dissolve into the air as a symbol of releasing their intense emotions.
Glitter jar or snow globe
This game is another way to help teach children about regulating their feelings and emotions. Either take a snow globe or a jar filled with water and glitter and shake it up. Tell them that the glitter or snow represents their feelings and thoughts at the moment. Ask them if they can see clearly through the jar or globe, and explain that the glitter or snow represents their feelings and thoughts at the moment. When they are present, it’s hard to see clearly, but as they watch the snow and glitter swirl around, it will begin to settle, just as their intense thoughts and emotions at the moment, and once they settle down, they can see things clearly again.
The balloon game
Give your child an inflated balloon and tell them to keep it from touching the ground. This will keep them attentive and focused on the present, which is a great tool for improving their focus, concentration, and keeping their minds alert in the current moment.
Breathing technique games
Breath work is a wonderful way to practice mindfulness and is a healing tool used by many professionals. This is especially helpful for managing stress and anxiety. There are a variety of games that you can make to teach breath work to kids.
One way is to ask them to breathe like a whale or dolphin. These animals hold their breath underwater for extended periods of time before coming up for air. This game may be easier for kids who know how to swim. Ask your child to hold their breath like their favorite water mammal for as long as they can. For this game, they can sit on the floor in a comfortable position, such as crossed-legged. When they cannot hold their breath any longer, have them breathe in and out slowly while counting to five with each inhale and exhale.
Another breathing game involves having kids hold out one hand like a star, then tracing it with their other hand. When they trace each finger, have them breathe in as they go up the finger and breathe out when they trace down the finger. They can do this with both hands.
Many kids have strong connections to stuffed animals, which can also be used to help teach them deep breathing. Take your child’s favorite stuffed animal and have them place it on their stomach while lying down on a mat or cushion. Then have them take a deep breath in and have them focus on the way their stuffed animal moves up and down as their stomach fills up with air, then releases. This is a game that can be used for kids of all ages, even teens.
A knick-knack bag
Fill a bag with random knick-knacks of all different shapes, sizes, materials, and textures. First, have your kids close their eyes or blindfold them, then have them reach into the bag and try to sense and identify the various objects with their hands. Then have them write down what they think the objects they touched are. Fill a bag with random knick-knacks of all different shapes, sizes, materials, and textures. First, have your kids close their eyes or blindfold them, then have them reach into the bag and try to sense and identify the various objects with their hands. Then have them write down what they think the objects they touched are.
Mindfulness meditation game
Light a candle or use a low-light lamp to create a calming environment. Then grab a bell, a singing bowl, or chimes to help set a calm mood further. First, have your kids write down all the noises they observe before ringing the bell, bowl, or chimes. Then, ring the bell, singing the bowl, or chime for at least 30 seconds, up to a minute. Ensure that they focus on the sound with their eyes closed. Once this is complete, ask them to write down all the noises they observe after the exercise, then have them compare theirs before and after lists.
Many parents have a swear jar or box, but how about starting a gratitude jar or box? Grab a shatterproof jar, container, or box and put it in a central place in your home where it can be seen each day. Then, at the same time every day — morning, after dinner, or before bedtime — have your kids write down on a small piece of paper one thing for which they are grateful. Gratitude is a wonderful way to become mindful. As they collect these notes of gratitude, they can watch their collection grow and go back and read everything they wrote during times when they are feeling low, as well as add to the collection.
Take a Jenga game and write a question on each wooden rectangle. These questions could be like, “What are you thankful for?”, “How are you feeling at this moment?”, “What is one thing you can observe with your senses right now?”, etc. As they play Jenga, with each piece that they remove, have them read the question on their piece and answer it at the moment.
There are a variety of ways to help kids become mindful and in the moment. Many say that video games can also be ways for children to become mindful, as it brings them into a flow state. While this can be a way to help kids become mindful, research shows that exposure to screens, such as tablets, smartphones, etc., can be detrimental to a child’s development, so this should not be the go-to method for teaching kids mindfulness. However, engaging in games with your child is a great way for you both to benefit from being mindful and can help enrich your connection and bond.
Mindfulness is an important practice to teach your children, just as brushing their teeth, tying their shoes, riding a bike, reading, writing, dressing themselves, etc. If they can learn how to self-regulate their emotions, become more caring, and focus on learning, they will be set up to experience the best of what life has to offer.
- Mindfulness-Based Interventions with Children and Adolescents. Teaching Mindfulness to Children.
- Well Guides - The New York Times. Mindfulness for Children.
- Waikato Journal of Education. Connection of a Different Kind: Teachers Teaching Mindfulness with Children.
- Implications for Early Childhood Development and Behavior. Increased Screen Time.