Behavior & Development • Nov 21, 2017

Teaching Kids to be Mindful

When you hear the term “mindfulness” – what comes to mind? Have you heard this term before? Have you wondered what it means, how it can be helpful, or how to go about teaching mindfulness to your kid?

What is mindfulness?

One definition is “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally” (Kabat-Zinn, 1994, Wherever You Go, There You Are).

Mindfulness refers to being in the now. It involves actively and purposefully focusing one’s attention on what is happening in the moment and observing one’s experiences as they are occurring (e.g., thoughts, feelings, physical sensations).

So why is mindfulness important?

Mindfulness has been found to improve working memory, reduce stress, and help us be more aware of our own thinking.

Nowadays, it seems more and more people are familiar with mindfulness. In my own experience, I’ve heard more public discussion about it in recent years, from articles on social media, to popular Pinterest projects (Mindfulness Jar anyone?), to various apps that offer instruction on mindfulness practices.

In fact, I frequently hear from patients that their child’s school teaches mindfulness as part of a school-wide or classroom-specific program.

Your child can practice doing any activity in a mindful way, such as eating mindfully, moving mindfully, and so on. But teaching mindfulness and knowing how to start can be overwhelming. Below are some ideas/tips to assist you in introducing mindfulness to your child.

Make it Age-Appropriate: Depending on your child’s age, they may need certain adaptations to various practices or activities. For younger children, think about changing your language so you are confident your child understands what you are describing or asking them to do. Younger kids are likely to benefit from mindfulness activities that are more physical, concrete, and engaging.

Mindfulness with Sensory Items: This is a good introduction for younger children as it’s short, fun, and engaging. Collect an item for your child to use in a mindfulness exercise. For example, you might collect scented lotion, a koosh ball, a cotton ball, a nail file, putty/slime, a glitter jar/snowball, etc. Initially, do this exercise by focusing on one object. After your child is familiar with the practice, you can put together a box of 4-5 items for them to practice with. Once you’ve selected an object (let’s use slime as an example), ask your child to tell you about their observations of the slime. For example, you might ask them to describe what the slime looks like – what color is it? Is it the same color all over? What areas are smooth, stretched tight, bumpy, sticking to the counter? Next have them comment on how it smells, if the smell reminds them of anything, etc. After that, have them focus on the sensation of touching the slime, how sticky it feels, if it feels cool or warm, and so on. Try to have your child continue to observe the slime for a few minutes.

Thought Parade: This activity might be best suited to adolescents or older children. “Watching our thoughts on parade” is a metaphor for observing our thoughts in the present moment. There are many variations of this type of practice but the goal is to help youth observe their thoughts mindfully. You can start by instructing your child to close their eyes and observe their breathing and surroundings for a few minutes (perhaps noticing the sounds around them, their breathing, etc). Then have your child imagine they are standing on a sidewalk next to a street. Tell them that their thoughts will be people marching in a parade on the street. Then have your child begin to notice the thoughts that come in to their head. Each thought should be attached to a figure marching in the parade and your child might observe details about the thought/person marching, such as how brightly they’re dressed or how loud they’re playing. The goal is for them to observe the thought as it passes by in the parade. It is normal for our minds to wander, especially at first, so once your child notices they have gotten sidetracked or are no longer observing their thoughts, then they should resume this practice with their next thought. Try to have your adolescent observe their thoughts for 5-10 minutes.

So as we enter the busy, chaotic holiday season, perhaps some mindfulness will enable you and your family to savor those special moments!

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