Group Of Children Sitting On Exercise Mats And Meditating In Yoga Studio

4 Keys to Teaching Children Mindfulness 

By Amy C. Balentine, PhD, coauthor of The Self-Compassion Workbook for Kids

Teaching mindfulness—the practice of being present in the moment—to children from an early age can help them develop a healthy mindset, increase their self-awareness, and build resilience. While parents and counselors are increasingly interested in equipping children with mindfulness practices, they often are at a loss as to how to get kids on board, especially if the adults are new to practices themselves. Here are four keys to successfully incorporating mindfulness practices into your child’s life: 

Be a Role Model 

Children, like all of us, take their cues from the people around them—especially those in charge. They are more likely to practice mindfulness when they see their parents also practicing. And when they see the benefits to those adults, all the better. 

Parents can be role models for mindfulness to their children in several ways, including: 

  • Practice mindfulness themselves: Children learn by observing and imitating their parents, so if parents practice mindfulness regularly, their children are more likely to do the same. 
  • Show how mindfulness helps: Parents can explain to their children how mindfulness helps them to feel more calm, focused, and happy. They can also share stories of how mindfulness has helped them cope with difficult situations or pay better attention to their kids! 
  • Practice mindfulness as a family: Parents can practice mindfulness as a family by doing activities such as mindful breathing, mindful walking, or mindful eating. This can help children understand that mindfulness is a normal and valuable practice that can be done together as a family. One of our family favorites when my children were small was to practice mindfully eating ice cream! 

Make It Engaging and Age-Appropriate 

By making mindfulness fun and age-appropriate for their children, parents can help cultivate a positive attitude toward mindfulness and encourage their children to continue practicing in the future. Here are some tips for parents to make mindfulness fun for their children: 

  • Start with short sessions: For young children, it may be difficult to sit still and focus for long periods of time. Parents can start with short mindfulness sessions, such as one to two minutes, and gradually increase the time as their children become more comfortable with the practice. 
  • Use games and activities: Parents can use games and activities to teach mindfulness to their children. For example, parents can play a mindful listening game where children close their eyes and listen for different sounds. They can also use props like blowing bubbles for breath meditation, or mindfulness coloring books. 
  • Practice mindfulness in nature: Taking a mindful nature walk can be a fun and calming experience for children. Parents can encourage their children to use their senses to notice the sounds, smells, and textures of the natural world. 

Practice Regularly  

Parents often focus on mindfulness practices when a child is having a meltdown, in hopes of calming down the child. This often leads to frustration for both child and parent. The time to start practicing mindfulness is when the child is already calm and receptive to learning. Over time, children who practice regularly will develop the ability to use their mindful breathing to calm down when they have a big emotion.   

I once taught a group of high-energy elementary school children mindfulness and self-compassion skills at my office. The class looked more like recess than a mindfulness class. After several weeks of class, I got word that one of the boys in the class sat down outside during recess at his school and began breathing deeply to calm himself when he became angry. The practice paid off! 

Regularly practicing mindfulness with children can help cultivate a habit of mindfulness and develop their skills over time. Here are some ways parents can practice mindfulness with their children: 

  • Mindful breathing: Parents and children can sit together and practice mindful breathing. They can count to three as they inhale deeply and exhale slowly. They can also place their hands on their bellies and feel their breaths rising and falling. 
  • Mindful listening: Parents and children can take turns being the listener and the speaker. The speaker can make a sound, and the listener can focus on hearing the sound until it fades away. 
  • Mindful eating: Parents and children can choose a small snack and eat it mindfully. They can focus on the smell, texture, and taste of the food, and chew it slowly. 

Be Patient  

Teaching mindfulness to children takes time and patience. It is important for parents to be patient with their children and to encourage them to continue practicing, even if they do not see immediate results. With time and practice, mindfulness will become a valuable tool for the child’s overall well-being.  

Teaching mindfulness to children can be a challenging task, especially if parents are not patient. Here are some tips for parents to be more patient when teaching mindfulness to their children: 

  • Set realistic expectations: Parents should set realistic expectations and understand that learning mindfulness is a process that takes time. They should not expect their children to become experts overnight, and be patient with their progress. 
  • Practice self-compassion: Parents should practice self-compassion and not be too hard on themselves when their children do not respond to mindfulness practices as expected. It is important to remember that mindfulness is a learning experience for both parents and children. 
  • Use positive reinforcement: Parents can use positive reinforcement to encourage their children’s mindfulness practice. They can praise their children when they make progress or show interest in mindfulness. 

Mindfulness practice can be a meaningful time to spend with our children where we get to slow down and connect, all while learning skills to better regulate our mood, increase our happiness and well-being, as well as cope with the daily stress we experience. Taking the time to guide our children in mindfulness practices will benefit us as much as it will our children. 

Amy C. Balentine, PhD, has practiced for more than twenty years as a clinical psychologist specializing in children and teens. She is founder and director of the Memphis Center for Mindful Living, LLC. She is also a qualified teacher of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR); serves as a mindfulness teacher at the University of California, San Diego Center for Mindfulness; and also leads mindfulness classes and retreats for schools, nonprofits, and other organizations. Balentine is codeveloper of A Friend in Me: Self-Compassion for Kids and Parents. 

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