In recent times, mindfulness in children has been greatly embraced and it’s with good reason. The activity has been found to help children stay focused, be more aware of their thoughts as well as the things happening around them.
It’s therefore a natural way to improve a child’s overall health and that is why most parents and even teachers feel the need to incorporate the practice in kid’s lives.
We will discuss important aspects of the practice so that you understand deeply what it is all about and why it’s beneficial to kids.
Overview of Mindfulness for Children
You would be completely oblivious if you thought that children don’t go through stress, anxiety, and generally experience difficulty in various areas of their lives or that they are always happy.
Kids go through a lot and unfortunately, most of them have mastered the art of bottling up these negative emotions.
Studies show that about 35% of the children in the USA alone struggle with health issues that are linked to stress (1).
Also, millions of children from the age of 3 years to 17 years have been found to fight with various mental, emotional, and behavioral conditions (2).
And if as a parent you aren’t observant enough, that child might grow up with these issues and by the time you decide to deal with them, it might be too late and thus difficult for you to address them.
This is why it important to frequently have conversations with these children and determine where they are mentally and the experiences they are having and see whether they are good or bad, and seek to help them through that.
There are many ways to help them manage their health well. These include regular exercises, meditation, having a healthy diet, and teaching them to express themselves when they have problems.
Another great method is by teaching them mindfulness.
Mindfulness is a great practice that allows children to pay attention to the present, avoid getting affected by experiences that go on around them, and be aware of what they are feeling.
It allows children to take time out of their daily routine and get to process how they are feeling, as well as improve on their overall well-being, little as they may be.
Through this, they are able to relax, be more expressive of their feelings and thoughts, and overcome stress as well as anxiety that catches up with them because of strict school routines and less playtime.
The result of this is better mental health, improvement in classroom work, and a positive approach towards life.
How Meditation Helps Children
1. It may help them sleep a lot better
Sleep is very essential to kids because it plays a great role in their overall health.
Therefore when kids practice mindfulness and especially before they go to sleep, their stress may be lowered and their body relaxed and thus are able to sleep better.
As a result, they are able to wake up energetic the following day because they are well-rested, and thus able to perform well in the day’s activities.
Studies on how mindfulness helps kids sleep better are still in their initial stages although they are very promising. (3)
2. It may boost their academic performance
Once kids practice meditation regularly it has a long-term effect on their brains and the result of this is staying alert and attentive in class activities and even letting go of distracting thoughts.
This therefore positively impacts their overall performance in school work.
A study that involved children getting mindfulness training revealed that the training had some contribution in improving the levels of attention of the kids (4).
Another study showed that mindfulness-based interventions combined with Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) training help improve their performance in terms of education (5).
3. They learn how to breathe the right way
When it comes to mindfulness, the practitioner is encouraged to be aware when they breathe in and out and to be very attentive to the highest point of breathing in before they start breathing out and the lowest point of breathing out before they begin to breathe in naturally.
When kids are taught to do this, they may be able to calm their minds which helps them stay relaxed and focused.
Learning this is essential because they can use it even when they grow older and want to overcome depressive thoughts and emotional pile up that comes with these thoughts.
4. Helps them gain more confidence
Mindfulness helps kids be aware of the inner and outer happenings of their lives and in the process, they learn a lot about themselves and more importantly about being aware of their flaws and being able to respond better to their emotional imbalance.
The result of this is being able to deal with different situations in a much better way because they have learned to strengthen their mind and are able to handle fairly challenging situations well.
5. Helps them improve their overall mental health
These are benefits that will enhance the overall mental health of your kids if they are taught to make practicing mindfulness a habit of theirs.
It will help their brains to keep developing well and will give them the opportunity to avoid most mental illnesses that come with children as they grow.
Also, because of sleeping better, their minds get to relax and therefore wake up mentally refreshed and ready to take on the day.
Helps in the development of their emotional intelligence
Children often like to have their own way when it comes to certain things or situations, and when this doesn’t happen they become frustrated and irritable.
With meditation and mindfulness activities, they learn how to manage these emotions by way of relaxing their minds and being aware of the emotions so that they don’t get the best of them.
How to Teach Mindfulness to Children
Since you are dealing with children here, you have to make the experience easier for them and more importantly fun because kids tend to get bored easily.
With that said, here are a few ways through which you can make their experience with mindfulness easy;
~ Make the exercise simple for them. You don’t want to overwhelm them with difficult exercises or use difficult words to explain how they should do the same then get frustrated when they are not responsive.
No. Aim to simplify everything you will be teaching them and as much as possible use the simplest terms to guide them through meditation.
~ Set a time purposely for meditation. It could be daily or weekly but all that depends on a few factors revolving around how you interact with them and the daily schedule set aside for them.
Either way, ensure that you create a regular routine so that the child experiences the long term effects of the practice.
More importantly, avoid lengthy sessions and you could try awarding them when they get on time so that you cultivate in them the habit of being punctual for the practice and also so that they understand how important it is for them to meditate.
~ Don’t just tell them how to meditate but actually be involved and do the same together with them. It’s important that you are not just giving them orders on what to do but instead walk them through it by actions and words because then their chances of forgetting are very slim and also kids naturally love it when adults get involved in activities with them.
~ Teach the child to be mindful about every activity they engage in. Regardless of whether the child is eating, taking a walk, or playing. Let the child understand why it’s important to practice mindfulness in everything. This will help them learn to relate well with others and also make the most out of the present moment. You can try creating a game or simple questions that make them aware of the activities they get into.
~ Be creative and fun. Make use of their favorite superheroes to get your points across and you can take them out to fun places like the park and get them to learn mindfulness from there.
With kids, you cannot afford to be very formal because then their minds will shut down, so, be as creative and interesting as you possibly can.
~ Don’t force it. If at a certain point in time they show signs of not being receptive, just let them have their rest and try out another time.
Forcing them will not work and you might end up making them feel as if it’s another task they need to finish.
This is of course not the attitude you want them to have towards the practice. Instead, they should see it as an experience that they look forward to.
So allow them to be kids once in a while still teaching them to develop the habit of being mindful.
How Children Can Get Started with Meditation and Mindfulness
The very first step to this process that is recommended is for you as the adult to first get started on meditation yourself.
You should aim to understand the practice of mindfulness meditation and engaging in other mindfulness activities before you teach your kid so that when you come to teach them, you are able to connect with them at a deeper level and be able to guide them in an interesting way that you know they will like based on how you know them.
When you are well acquainted with the practice, you can now start warming them up for the practice through stories and simple games that are interactive.
The idea with this step is to prepare them mentally so that by the time you start them off on the practice, they will have some background on it and will be receptive to it as well.
Next, you should introduce simple breathing exercises in their lives slowly by slowly.
Set a time when both you and the kid can be sitting down for meditation. Start off by getting them to be mindful of their breath without much effort.
Based on how well your kid is able to take in information, come up with a game that involves doing mindfulness together with an activity they like so that they relate the practice with something fun that they like doing.
You can start with a minute session and slowly increase the duration of your mindfulness-based games depending on how they respond to it.
From there you can take it to the next level and teach them how to be aware of their senses.
You can walk them through how to listen mindfully and basically partake in other daily activities mindfully. Ensure that you are doing that together so that you connect better and they feel like it’s something you enjoy doing together.
Let them know that it’s okay to not get it all at once and be sure to guide them on areas that they find difficult in a less strict way and politely so that they don’t feel the pressure to be perfect or impress you.
Encourage them and also have a reward system that will make them feel appreciated for doing the practice but be careful to not make it seem like you are bribing them because their attention may turn towards the reward and make them do the practice because they are getting rewarded.
Be creative and careful with this aspect.
Some additional resources you can use to assist you through the process include:
~ Kids’ meditation apps.
There are many meditation apps that your children can use to get to interact more with meditation and mindfulness. Some are free and others are paid. Take your time and go through the various options and see which app works for you.
Some of the best meditation apps for kids include:
* Headspace – This is another well-known app for meditation. It has many resources for adults as well as kids to get into meditation and other aspects of mental health and get better at them. For kids, there are aspects like breathe, calm, kindness, sleep, mindfulness, wake up, focus, and others that will get them all ready to enjoy the benefits of meditation without having to feel the pressure to sit down and concentrate. They are also designed for kids of different ages.
* Three good things – This is an app that helps people learn the virtue of gratitude and appreciation. You get to list 3 good things that happen in your life and thereby get you to look out for those little things that work for you and make your day go well. Kids can be helped to build this virtue by working with the app.
* Calm – The Calm app offers a section called the calm kids that has sleep stories to help kids as they go to bed, meditations that will help kids get into the practice, lullabies, and soundscapes to enhance their overall experience with the app.
* Insight timer – This is an app that comes with many meditations that aim to help the user, either a kid or an adult, to relax, sleep, concentrate and have time for themselves to refresh their mind.
* The smiling mind app – This is free to download and it offers many mindfulness activities for kids and adults for various set-ups. You get many mindfulness and meditation programs and activities that can work well at home, workplace, and even in the classroom for kids. You even get easy to use lesson plans that you can use to introduce mindfulness to children in a classroom set up. The app was developed by educators and psychologists so you can be sure that it has great meditation and mental health improving techniques that will come in handy for kids.
~ Kids’ meditation games
These can be fun activities such as blowing bubbles because they cause a child to focus, blindfolding, and then carrying out food tests just to make them aware of their senses, as well as playing with balloons that engage their whole body.
The important thing when choosing a suitable game is to ensure that the game is age-appropriate and will engage the mind of the child.
You can also find meaningful YouTube kids meditation videos and games, and use them in your sessions to engage the children and generally make the experience fun for them.
~ Kids’ meditation books
There are a number of very interactive books for meditation that kids could find fun to read and which could also help deepen the practice in them.
The three best books include:
* Sitting Still Like a Frog: Mindfulness Exercises for Kids (and Their Parents) by Eline Snel and Jon Kabat-Zinn
* Ultimate Mindfulness Activity Book: 150 Playful Mindfulness Activities for Kids and Teens (and Grown-Ups too!) by Christian Bergstrom
* I Am Peace: A Book of Mindfulness by Susan Verde and Peter H. Reynolds
There are so many other great meditation books for kids out there. You can look through them and find one or two that relates with the kids, you are teaching meditation and engages them in playful but useful activities.
Avoid lengthy books and be keen on the age prescribed for that specific book.
More importantly, don’t dish out the book to the child immediately, go through it alone, and figure out how to assist the child through the contents there.
What Research Says About Mindfulness in Children.
Since this topic has only gained traction recently there have been few but relevant studies that greatly prove the positive impact mindfulness has on children. Below are a few of them;
One study showed that when children learn to be less anxious and more present, their performance in areas such as sports and class improves, and also they are able to approach situations from a new perspective (8).
To show the effect of teaching emotional well-being in a school context, the study shows evidence of eight studies in which one proved a decrease in ADHD behaviors and anxiety In children when relaxation and mindfulness were integrated amongst 225 children with high levels of anxiety aged between 5 to 8 years.
Another study carried out by Mindful Schools researchers in connection with the University of California on mindfulness and children, showed that mindfulness can be used to decrease depressive symptoms in children (9).
In addition to this, another one carried out by Dr. Amy Saltzman showed that after 8 weeks of mindfulness amongst children in the fourth up to sixth grade experienced an improvement in attention as well as a decrease in anxiety (10).
All these studies point to one thing, and that is after trying out mindfulness in children through different methods, the practice shows to have a positive effect on the children.
It’s therefore recommended that schools and parents determine how they can make use of mindfulness activities and other meditation practices that enhance mindfulness including mindfulness meditation to help kids become better in regard to their mental and emotional health among other areas.
And while mindfulness for kids is a growing body of study that has shown signs of life-changing benefits, we believe that as more research is done on the area, we will get to discover more information on how we can take advantage of the practice and make it useful for bettering the lives of our kids.