I often use mindfulness strategies in my clinical practice with children and parents as a way to help them better manage big emotions. Regular engagement in mindfulness increases our ability to respond thoughtfully to situations rather than react immediately to our feelings, thus helping us make more intentional choices that are aligned with our values and bigger goals. It decreases our reactivity and makes us less likely to lash out, explode, or react in ways we later regret.
Which means it is a fantastic tool that can be used to empower both parents and children and give them confidence in their ability to cope with challenges.
But what is mindfulness?
Mindfulness at the most basic level is simply about noticing the present moment. When we are practising mindfulness, we use our senses to pay purposeful attention to our internal and external worlds. It is about noticing what is happening around us in the environment, as well as the thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations within our bodies – without judgment.
This means we put aside resistance, criticism, and labels of “good” or “bad” and simply accept what is happening to us in the moment. When we are simply noticing 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:
- Higher self-esteem
- Lower rates of anxiety and depression
- Greater resilience
- Better sleep
- Higher emotional intelligence
- Improved classroom learning
And perhaps most importantly, mindfulness helps children develop self-awareness and build vital self-regulation skills! It gives them a way to manage stress and anxiety and helps them develop empathy, gratitude, and self-compassion. And the good news is that while it may feel difficult at first, the more they practice, the stronger those skills become.
Tips for introducing mindfulness to your young child:
- Keep it short. Kids have much shorter attention spans than us adults, so you will likely need to adjust your expectations when it comes to your child’s practice of mindfulness. Start with short 5-10 minute activities.
- Practice what you preach. Children learn by watching us – so show them how it’s done!
- Don’t push it. If your child is not interested in the activity you’ve chosen – don’t force it. This will only lead to frustration and reluctance on the part of your child.
- And most importantly, make it fun! Mindfulness for kids doesn’t have to be all about meditating. You can run, skip, jump, play and craft mindfully. Here are some ideas to get you started.
5 fun mindfulness activities for children:
Here are 5 simple, but fun mindfulness activities children can complete with you at home. They require very few supplies, can be completed quickly, and will ensure your child has a positive experience of mindfulness that supports the development of essential self-regulation skills.
1. Star Jumps
This is a great exercise for increasing your child’s body awareness and helping them learn to shift their focus inwards. This activity will help your child begin to develop self-awareness – an essential skill on the way to the development of self-regulation.
To complete this activity, simply set a timer for 1 minute, and then ask your child to do as many star jumps as they can before the timer goes off! When the 1 minute is over, have them 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 sound like? How does their body feel? Are there other sensations in other parts of their body too?
2. Balloon Bounce
This is a great whole-body mindfulness exercise that is lots of fun for kids (and adults too!). The goal is really quite simple – don’t let the balloon touch the ground. This activity helps improve focus and awareness skills as children have to pay close attention to the movement of the balloon in order to keep it from dropping to the ground.
Balloon Bounce works particularly well as a “Brain Break” activity when children have been completing school or homework, or engaging in screen time, and need to re-focus their attention and re-energise their bodies
3. Mindful Colouring
Mindful colouring is about focusing only on the here and now while your child colours. This means eliminating distractions and really concentrating on their colouring – the way the pencil moves on the paper, the feel of the pencil in their hand, and the colours they are using. 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’re doing without making any judgments about the quality of the colouring. Encourage them to simply say out loud, what it is they are doing eg “I am colouring the grass green. I am picking up my blue pencil and colouring in the sky. I am using yellow to colour in the sun.” This keeps them focused only on the task.
They will inevitably start to make judgments about their colouring, saying things like, “Oh no, I’ve gone outside the lines”, or “this colouring is not my best work, it’s messy”. If this happens, we simply encourage them to continue describing what they are doing. If their mind wanders and they start to think of other things, again, we just gently remind them to focus on the action of colouring and say out loud what they are doing.
4. Mindfulness Jar
I have yet to meet a child who doesn’t enjoy making and using a mindfulness jar! Here is how it’s done:
- Fill a glass jar or plastic bottle 3/4 of the way with water
- Add a few spoonfuls of glitter glue or some clear glue and coloured glitter
- Seal the lid on with glue so it can’t spill
Now, to use your jar simply ask your child to imagine that the jar and glitter are their thoughts inside their head. Have them shake the jar and notice how the glitter swirls around – just like their thoughts when they are sad, angry or worried. While the “thoughts” are swirling around, it is hard to see inside the jar – their emotions take over and cloud their vision. And this is what causes them to lash out, do things they know are wrong, or make silly decisions that land them in trouble – they cannot think clearly when they feel like this. No one can – not even adults!
Next, have them place the jar down and simply sit, quietly watching the jar. Ask them to keep watching until the glitter begins to settle to the bottom and the water becomes clearer. This is just like their thoughts. When they simply notice their feelings and thoughts and allow them time to pass, they will settle and their mind will become clearer. Then they will be able to respond appropriately and make wise decisions about what to do next.
This activity is great because not only does it teach children about the relationship between their thoughts and emotions, but focusing on the glitter in the jar is itself a mindfulness activity. If you have a calm-down space at home or in your classroom, this would be a great place to keep your mindfulness jar.
5. Mindful Nature Walk
This is 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 will be going on a “noticing” walk. Talk to them about their 5 senses, and how you would like them to use those 5 senses to notice the things around them while they walk. You do not 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 be just fine.
While you walk, gently remind the children to be aware of the sights, smells, and sounds around them and to (safely) touch and feel things with their hands. They might notice how the breeze feels against their face, the smell of a flower, or the sounds of the birds chirping in the trees. They may even like to collect interesting items to bring home, or draw pictures of all the things they noticed during their walk!
Remember – just about anything can be done mindfully!
I hope these activities provide you with a jumping-off point as you begin your mindfulness journey with your child. But please don’t feel hemmed in by the activities I’ve mentioned here – almost anything can be done mindfully. There is really no such thing as an inherently mindful activity – it is all about the intention we bring to it! So as long as you focus on noticing what is 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 working in mental health with children, teenagers, and families. Sarah’s mission is to help parents move away from punitive parenting strategies and towards mindful, intentional parenting that builds emotional intelligence in kids and parents alike. As a busy mum herself, she knows firsthand how difficult mindful parenting can be, particularly when it was never modeled by our own parents. That’s why she provides parents and children with simple, practical strategies and tools that help them learn to manage emotions – together. She believes that changing the way we parent will change the world.