We’ve all heard these sayings.
“Focus on the task at hand.”
”Take a deep breath and calm down.”
What we haven’t been told is that these are all ways of practicing mindfulness. Mindfulness, rooted in ancient practices, has gained widespread popularity in recent years. Jon Kabat-Zinn, a leader in the field, defines it as a way of not taking things for granted; bringing ourselves back to the present moment; and using curiosity, openness and acceptance to self-regulate our attention.
More generally, mindfulness is a way for us to be aware.
Mindfulness techniques help people of all ages, in all types of situations. For parents concerned about the current pandemic, or children worried about an upcoming test, hitting pause and taking a “mindful minute” can dramatically reduce stress levels. When we worry, we focus on the unknowns of the future. Being mindful brings us back into the present.
Teaching kids to utilize these strategies at a young age forms the basis for strong positive habits during adulthood. Although it may sound too good to be true, something as simple as controlling our breathing decreases anxiety and reactivity while increasing calm, self-regulation, self-esteem and cognitive functioning. Many people even use mindfulness to help them fall asleep at night!
How to Incorporate Mindfulness for Kids
Because it’s such a customizable concept, kids will have the opportunity to discover what works best for them as they practice mindfulness. It’s a great skill for children to keep in their toolkit to use when necessary. Even better, practicing mindfulness doesn’t have to be obvious. Kids can do this anywhere, anytime without worrying about causing a disruption or drawing attention to themselves.
Teachers can open their lessons every day by leading students in a mindful minute to focus their attention on their learning. This is particularly helpful on the day of a test or presentation. Keeping a Calm Down Jar in the classroom is another great way to help kids self-regulate. Teaching students time management is a skill that will help them in and out of the classroom. Sand Timers are a good visual representation, so that each child can know how much time they have left without disrupting the lesson to ask. Additionally, watching the sand run through the timer has a calming effect similar to the Calm Down Jars.
There are also numerous ways for children to practice mindfulness on their own. Deborah Mann, a New York-based psychologist, recently gave a webinar during which she demonstrated three easy ways to breathe properly and enter a state of mindfulness.
Smell the flower, blow out the candle
How do you teach children how to take a deep breath? These actions paired together teach kids the correct way to take a deep breath. Slowly take a long breath in through the nose as though smelling a flower, then blow it out through the mouth as though blowing out candles. To help enhance the mindfulness experience, children can pretend to hold a flower up to their nose while breathing in. These deep breaths instantly help slow the heart rate and can be done as many times and as frequently as needed.
Breathe through the rainbow
Does your child need to calm down? Kids may benefit from breathing deeply a set number of times. Using the rainbow as a counting device often gets kids more engaged in mindful breathing. For each deep breath, the child should think of their favorite thing that is red, then orange, yellow, etc, until the whole rainbow is complete. To add an element of calming movement, kids can pretend their fingers are paintbrushes and bring their arms up from one side and down to the other to form the rainbow’s arc with each inhale and exhale.
5, 4, 3, 2, 1
Add a sensory element to mindfulness! Kids can take five deep breaths, focusing on a different sense with each breath. During the first breath, they can think of five things they can see. During the second breath, four things they can feel. For the third breath, three things they can smell; then two things they can taste; and finally one thing they can hear. Depending on the child and the surroundings, the senses can be used in any order as long as the child is counting down from five. This exercise helps kids practice taking deep, calming breaths and simultaneously being mindful of their sensory experiences.