Life is just busy. We all know that. There are just too many things to do — and too few hours in the day to do them all. And because you barely have time to breathe (much less soak up every second with your little ones), it’s understandable that mindfulness might not even really matter to you right now. These are the years when you’re just in it, trying to simply survive it all. But being present is so, so important, not just for you as parents, but for your child as well. These mindfulness activities for kids will be beneficial not just for them, but for your entire family.
Before you can give your child some mindfulness activities, it’s a good idea to practice it yourself as a parent, Shikha Arastogi, a life coach tells Romper. “In those moments of anger when you want to yell and scream at your kid’s behavior, take a few deep breaths and allow yourself to calm down,” says Arastogi. “That way, instead of reacting, you choose to respond to your kid’s behavior with love.” And in that way, you are automatically teaching your kid how to practice mindfulness.
But what is mindfulness?
If mindfulness sounds like something that you’ll need a yoga studio and a life coach for, think again. You can be mindful almost anywhere, and all it takes is to just be aware of your own self. “Mindfulness is the capacity to be aware of our own thoughts, feelings, and body sensations in the moment,” Sara Anderson, LPC, NCC, CAC II CYT, a licensed professional counselor tells Romper. “For kids, this means learning how to self-regulate which is one of the most important tools that children can develop because it allows them to express their feelings without acting out their feelings.” As it turns out, when a child learns how to train themselves to be mindful, acting out behaviors decrease, learning increases, and according to Anderson, positive relationships grow between parents and children, and kids and their peers.
What are the benefits of mindfulness activities
Some people live their entire lives just being on the surface of it all, rarely doing the deep dives necessary to connect with their own emotions and trying to tame thoughts they’d rather not have. Mindfulness, on the other hand, encourages you to embrace it all. “Regardless of their age, when a person practices mindfulness they learn to create a healthy relationship with their minds. This allows the person to view their mind and the thoughts it creates from the perspective of love instead of fear,” says Arastogi. “And when you view your thoughts from the perspective of love, you do not get carried away with your thinking, especially your negative thinking — you learn to make peace with your negative thinking when you practice mindfulness.” For example, when you practice mindfulness, you learn that negative thoughts are not scary; they’re just part of the human experience. In turn, you don’t spend your life battling the Negative Nancy running amok in your head, but rather view them with grace and compassion instead.
What are some mindfulness activities for kids
It’s so easy to sink into the couch and stream shows with your child. And while there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, turn off the TV for a bit and practice storytelling instead. But instead of telling tales about other people, certified joy coach Robin Shear suggests sharing stories where your family members are the main characters. “When families tell stories about fictional, unattached characters, the end result could be escapism, which may be fun, but will not improve mindfulness,” she says. “However, when parents and kids are the subjects of their own stories, they can use storytelling to explore how they are feeling and seeing things in the moment, without judgment. This builds trust and understanding, while allowing families to become more mindful, more connected, and therefore, more joyful.”
By giving your child the floor to tell their own stories, they’ll not only learn to be present, but they’ll reap other benefits as well — like improved listening, for starters. “While it’s clear that hearing stories about family members could draw us in and help us listen better, perhaps telling stories about ourselves would help us listen to ourselves better, increasing our sense of value and worth,” Shear continues. And if said story happens to feature a pint-sized protagonist, it just might make them feel happier, lighter, and even more empathetic as they learn how to be kinder towards others — and also themselves.
2. Sitting still for 5 minutes
Doing nothing sounds heavenly, but not when you’re sitting with a fidgety 4-year-old. But get your child to come next to you, and together, just relax together. “In those 5 minutes, try to stay quiet and practice deep breathing,” advises Arastogi. “To help focus on your breathing, you and your kid can count the number of deep breaths you both took in those five minutes.” Once the five minutes are up, don’t automatically jump up and dash away. No, talking about what you felt in those five minutes is the best part of this mindfulness activity. “Discuss how you both felt in your body, and remember, do not judge your kid or yourself in whatever you both share,” she says. It makes you more aware and when you are aware, everything that is going on inside your minds and bodies don’t seem scary anymore.” This daily practice connects your child not just to their body and mind, but it creates a connection to the two of you.
3. Befriending feelings
Feelings can be fun, but they can also be frustrating or even frightening. Mindfulness allows both you and your child to be curious about these emotions and what they really mean, says Dr. Amy Saltzman, M.D., a physician, mindfulness coach, and author. Once your child has find the breath in their belly and is resting and stillness in quiet, it’s time to identify emotions for what they are and start naming them, to make it simpler for your child. “Some feelings may have ordinary names, like angry, happy, sad, or excited, and others may have more unusual names, like stormy, bubbly, fiery, or empty,” says Saltzman. “Once you’ve brought your kind and curious attention to a particular feeling, and named it, notice where the feeling lives in your body: sitting in your chest, moving in your belly, thrumming in your head as well as the how the emotion feels in your body.” By identifying how the emotion feels (i.e. hard, heavy, warm, jagged, cold, soft, etc.), you can get your child to shift into thinking about the feeling rather than experiencing it. You can also ask your child is there’s a color that correlates to the feeling, and if the feeling has a sound (for example, weeping, whining, giggling, crying).
“To end the practice, notice how you feel now, and congratulate yourself for taking the time to be with, and befriend, your feelings,” says Saltzman. “Then, return your attention to the breath and rest in stillness and quietness for a bit longer.” This teaches your child that you can have your feelings without your feelings having you.
4. Practicing grounding with the five senses
It’s crazy how disconnected we can become from not just our feelings, but our own bodies, too. That’s why reconnecting with your five senses is one of the most important mindfulness activities for kids that you can help your child do — and it’s easy to pull off, according to Melissa Bailey, LMHC, a licensed mental health counselor. Your child can start by noticing five things they can see around the room, such as the family pet or their fave toy. Then, notice four things that they can touch or feel (i.e. their feet on the hardwood floors, grass between their toes, the sun on their face, or their hands in their pockets). “Then notice three things you can hear (ie. the noise of the fan, a lawn mower outside, a clock ticking etc.),” says Bailey. “Next try to notice two things you can smell (the smell of a nearby candle, the smell of something cooking), and lastly one thing you can taste (the lingering taste from breakfast, etc.).”
Apart from remembering those syrup-soaked waffles they ate, this exercise purposefully causes your kid (and you) to slow down and pay attention to the world in a whole new way. It allows your child to be fully present in the moment, in complete harmony with their five fabulous senses.
5. Doing a H.A.L.T. check-in
An acronym for finding out if you’re hungry, angry, lonely, or tired, the H.A.L.T. self-check can get you quicker to feeling calm in mere minutes. And if you don’t have much time to be mindful, this is the one activity that can do a quick-change on your emotional well-being. “When feeling stressed, overwhelmed, hassled, on edge, or irritable, do a system check with H.A.L.T.,” advises Anderson. “Ask yourself and your child how you are feeling right now: Hungry? Angry Lonely? Tired? Then ask, what can we do about it?” Sometimes, unpleasant emotions come not from something deep-rooted, but just a rough moment (like when your kid is cranky because they wanted an extra cookie or skipped their afternoon nap). By checking in to see if they need a snuggle or a snooze first, it can help your child feel better right away.
6. Smiling from the inside out
Think about it: We’re often forced to smile, even when we don’t want to (like all those times you tell your child to say “Cheese!” for a picture when they’re pouting). By doing so, though, we can lose touch with what a real, genuine, happy smile looks and feels like. That’s what makes an Inside the Smile mindfulness activity a really cool and helpful one. “Close your eyes and bring a small smile to your lips,” says Anderson. “Notice what a smile is like from the inside, in your face, and in your feelings.” Then, take it one step further and talk to your child about things that make them smile, like the smell of baking cookies or taking your dog for a walk in nature. Your child can learn to appreciate some simpler things that occur during the day and feel a greater connection to their own happiness.
Even if it feels like one more thing to do, mindfulness can have a huge impact on how your child feels about themselves, how they handle and process their own emotions, and even how they interact with others. By intentionally slowing down, it allows for the experience of greater joy in daily living. And that should be at the top of everyone’s to-do list.
Sara Anderson, LPC, NCC, CAC II CYT, a licensed professional counselor
Shikha Arastogi, a life coach
Robin Shear, a certified joy coach
Dr. Amy Saltzman, M.D., a physician, mindfulness coach, and author
Melissa Bailey, LMHC, a licensed mental health counselor