Mindfulness is the practice of being fully engaged in the here and now. Of letting everything else go. Of not thinking about the past or worrying about the future. Truly being present in the moment.
This can be very easy for some children. In fact, being completely in the moment is natural for most children, but not all. Some children are more anxious than others and carry more and bigger worries. Both of my children struggle with mindfulness and being present. Their worries are simply too big for their little bodies. Their minds, and bodies, are so busy peace and calmness often seems like a dream.
When I first started researching mindfulness for children I came across lots of images of children sitting in the lotus position. I figured it was a lost cause. My boys are boisterous, energetic and never seem to stop moving. How the heck was I ever going to get them to sit and look so peaceful?
I tried to get them to sit in the lotus and it instantly disintegrated into a fit of little boys giggling as they toppled over into a pile of lanky limbs, which inevitably became a wrestling match.
Sounds familiar to any of you?
It took a lot of trial and error but I eventually discovered that mindfulness, especially in busy children, does not need to look like that. Instead it’s about an internal state of peace and awareness. Armed with this information I started trying new techniques. Every day we spend a few moments on mindfulness activities. Yes, I said moments. Most of these activities take less than two minutes. But the benefits are huge.
Here is our 12 favourite ways to find moments of mindfulness with busy kids of all ages. Affiliate links have been provided for your convenience on some of the items.
1) Cloud watching is a wonderful activity and getting out into nature is an excellent way to become more mindful. Head out on a day when the sky is filled with fluffy clouds. Put down a blanket if the grass will be too much for your sensory kid, or just get down on the grass. If your child is OK with the grass, talk about how it feels as you run your fingers across it. Then study the sky and encourage the kids to talk about what shapes they see. Closing your eyes and taking about what your child can smell, is also a great addition to this activity. You can present them with grass, clover, flowers, pine cones, whatever you can find in nature. See if they can guess what they are smelling.
2) Take a walk or hike, or simply sit in your backyard and listen for birds. Count how many different types of bird song you can hear or how many birds you see. If you are lucky enough to be in an area with tame birds, see if your child can be still enough to feed the birds and drawn them closer. Talk to the child about how birds easily scare, so we must be very calm and quiet so they can relax and trust. I find this type of interaction is especially useful now my children are older. They want the birds to come to them and will try very hard to gain their trust.
3) Have the child press their finger tips together. Thumb to thumb, index finger to index finger, etc. Ask the child to breath in and press their fingers together. Then blow out the breath and shake out their hands. Repeat two or three times.
4) Stretching out flat on their back, place a stuffie on the child’s tummy. Now ask them to breath in and watch their stuffie rise up, then breath out and watch the stuffie go back down. Repeat for a few breaths. For extra fun, see what happens when they giggle and send their stuffie on a bouncy ride.
5) Drums have been used throughout history as a part of many spiritual ceremonies. A beat is something that really connects with spirit and mind. You don’t need a drum set, you can tap your hands on a table, or use a wooden spoon on a bucket. Now tap out a simple rhythm and ask the child to repeat it back to you. Slowly make your rhythms more complicated, but not to the point of frustration. The goal is to have the child very engaged, attentive and having fun!
6) Conduct a blindfold challenge! This is something my boys love to do and works great on days when they seem to have ants in their pants. Have the child put on a blindfold. Then hand them various items from around the house that they need to identify using all their senses other than sight (obviously use caution and supervise at all times). You can also turn this into a taste test challenge.
7) Play with pinwheels or gauzy fabric if you don’t have a pinwheel. Breath is important for promoting relaxation, calmness and mindfulness. Simply have the child blow into the pinwheel or fabric to start it moving. Try different types of breaths to see how it changes the reaction. A small recorder or other wind instrument could also be used to practice breath.
9) Listen to music. With my oldest son he loves to sit and listens to songs. He picks out the drum beat which he then tries to replicate. He is also learning how to identify various instruments used in each song. This is a great activity for older kids.
10) Walk the dog, or spend some time with chickens, or ride a horse. Working with animals can really help a child become focused and in the moment. This is especially helpful with older children (face it, little kids just don’t get it with animals), teach them about animal body language and how to communicate with animals using no words at all. That kind of connection with an animal requires a child to be truly calm and aware of themselves. Proper adult supervision with animals is always important.
11) Bubbles – Who can resist the power of bubbles? With their iridescent rainbows wrapping around their perfect little orbs as they bounce gently along on a breeze they are excellent for promoting relaxation. Have the child either make the bubbles, or if they are busy kids, have them try and catch the bubbles or pop the bubbles. It is physical and requires a lot of focus and concentration. It also always relaxes my kids.
12) Hug. So simple, yet so profoundly beneficial. A nice long hug or cuddle with someone we love is known to release all sorts of wonderful reactions in the body. While hugging or cuddling with your child be very intentional with your breaths. In-pause-out. Then feel the weight of your child as they settle into the hug and perhaps even copy your breaths. Enjoy this moment. It passes far too quickly. Be in this moment yourself.
Almost all of these activities can be done in under two minutes. Within a week of starting to incorporate mindfulness into our days I have noticed big changes in my little dragons’ intensity. They have also started asking to do calming activities. Being calm, at peace and in the moment feels good. Once they realize how much better those feelings are, rather than the chaotic, busy world they often inhabit, they start seeking out chances to calm themselves and become mindful.
What are your favourite ways to practice mindfulness with your family?