This guest post was written by Christin Lee, a yoga instructor, entrepreneur, and lifestyle blogger living in New York City with a passion for universal human rights. She currently writes for InsiderEnvy, a site focused on travel, health, and eye care.
I’ll say it: growing up isn’t easy. It’s a process that becomes more complicated with time and often develops in an unruly way. This scary yet beautiful time can go much smoother with mindfulness, the simple yet effective practice of being in the present moment with a gentle and accepting attitude.
Rooted in Buddhism, mindfulness was popularized in the West during the 1970’s by Jon Kabat-Zinn, a cognitive scientist and University of Massachusetts professor. In the hustle and bustle of school hallways and classrooms, it can be hard for a student to cultivate independence, relationships, or even find focus. Studies show that meditation and mindfulness practices can help children develop concentration, relieve stress, and minimize anxiety. In fact, mindfulness activities in school have been found to improve working memory, math scores, and even attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
The brain, which is constantly evolving, progresses most quickly during childhood. By helping children develop a mindfulness practice, we can equip them with an exceptional tool that will help them make better decisions, regulate emotions, and improve their understanding of the world. Try the following mindfulness activities in your home so that your children can experience life in every moment.
Make mindfulness a positive experience by introducing the practice at the right time in the right way. If the kids are itching to go outside, it may not be the best time to lock them down into the practice for the first time. Breathing can help children become more concentrated and self-aware in the present moment. It’s a tool to foster curiosity and kindness that can be done with a “belly buddy.”
A good way to get started is to catch them when they first get home from school – maybe on a light homework night with no tests to study for. Get settled in a comfortable position, whether standing, sitting, or lying down. Ask them to focus their attention on the breath. Have them inhale and exhale. This will help them release any tension they have and allow them to observe their body. Try to make it a habit for 15 minutes each day. Check out these quick and simple breathing exercises to calm down.
Mindfulness isn’t just a practice for stressful situations. It can be a lifestyle that is incorporated into any daily routine or activity. Walking meditation is simply walking while being aware of each step and breath. You can practice mindful walking outdoors in nature, in a crowded street, or in your home. The goal is to stay relaxed while walking, without rushing or having a destination in mind.
Ask your children to feel the ground beneath them with every footstep they take and to pay attention to all the sounds they hear. This will help them tune into all of their senses. By opening up awareness to the physical sensations in our surroundings and closing our eyes to tune into the breath, we can reach a calm, mindful state.
Teaching gratitude is one of the fundamental ways to develop mindfulness. Plus, it provides a whole host of physical and emotional benefits. Whether it’s encouraging your kids to keep a gratitude diary or going around the dinner table to share one thing that you are grateful for before eating, these experiences can help bring the attention away from stress or drama in their lives and highlight what they are thankful for. Making friendly wishes can also help develop awareness and compassion. Check out 15 creative ways for children to express gratitude.
Besides being fun and creative, mindful coloring can help make our kids feel calmer, happier, less anxious, and more focused. According to neuropsychologist Dr. Stan Rodski, coloring causes a relaxed mindset similar to what we experience from meditation. Coloring allows us to switch off our brains from other thoughts and focus on what is happening in the here and now. When we color, we get lost in the patterns and images that we are bringing to life with vivid colors. It takes a great deal of concentration to color many of those pictures, so we fall into almost a trance that allows us to essentially meditate without necessarily realizing it. The coloring guides our attention from all of our worries and mental chatter to the present moment. Since getting our kids to sit down and meditate may be challenging, coloring can be a much easier path to reaching that meditative state.
Modeling A Kind, Mindful Approach
Mindfulness promotes emotional regulation by exercising the prefrontal cortex. This helps us become more empathetic, self-aware, and present. When we are conscious about the words we use when communicating with others, we can learn how to combat negative emotional reactivity and prevent conflicts like screaming matches with our kids. Teenagers tend to have an attitude, but a mindful attitude can encourage teens to listen first and then speak with honesty. Teach mindfulness my modeling kindness in your relationships and showing both forgiveness and self-forgiveness. Learn more about how to help your children mindfully talk to you about their worries and concerns.
The best part of these exercises is that they are not just for children. They are meant to help any living, breathing human thrive. Join your kids in their practice because it will help them if someone who is familiar with mindfulness can guide them. Being mindful as a group can be an extremely powerful way to bring families together. Just remember that practice is key–and have fun!
What are your kids’ favorite mindfulness activities?