Mindfulness may seem like a trendy buzzword that represents an abstract concept, but the practice of mindfulness is a legitimate and accessible self-help technique with proven benefits. The practice of mindfulness isn’t limited to a mountain-top monastery or an upscale yoga studio, and it isn’t restricted to ancient gurus or those who seem naturally earthy and zen; mindfulness comes in many forms, has many advantages, and can help people of all ages improve their mental health and emotional well-being.
What is Mindfulness?
Simply put, mindfulness is focusing on the present moment. It sounds absurdly easy — almost mindless, ironically, enough. But in reality, clearing your mind of intrusive thoughts, worries, and to-do lists and learning to manage and prioritize your emotions is a challenge that takes intentional effort and practice.
Mindfulness Activities for the Family
Consider exploring the following mindfulness activities together as a family.
Guided meditation is a surprisingly easy way to get started, especially with all of the technology and apps readily available. Start with an attainable goal in order to get everyone on board, such as a five-minute mindfulness session before bed each night. If kids believe it’s delaying bedtime, by even a few minutes, they’re a lot more likely to embrace the idea. Experiment with videos on YouTube or an app like Headspace or Calm, create a comfortable and quiet place, settle in, and focus on your breathing. Remember that it’s called a mindfulness practice, not a mindfulness perfect — your mind will wander. That’s fine. When that happens, just refocus on your breathing. It’s important not to get attached to your stray thoughts and perceived meditation failures; just let it go. It will get easier.
Yoga is a form of meditation in motion, and practicing yoga poses is a great way to introduce mindfulness for kids. Many of the poses are named after animals, which introduces a playful touch to an activity that combines exercise and helps to build self-esteem. One of the advantages of yoga is that it’s easy to become a witness to your own progress as poses become less strenuous with practice. With a focus on breathing, stillness, and strength it quickly becomes more than just exercise. Pick up a kid-friendly yoga DVD, take local family-friendly classes, or look up yoga poses to practice together.
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Mindfulness moments can happen anywhere. Take a nature walk and ask your child to find an object of interest, like a small rock, a flower, or a leaf for an easy hands-on mindfulness exercise. Invite them to sit down, engage in mindful breathing exercises, and take a few moments to quietly observe and then ask them to share what they noticed, with an emphasis on the five senses.
Simply drawing your child’s attention to the present moment is a form of mindfulness — ask them to take note of how their bare feet feel in the grass, how the sun feels on their shoulders, how the wind feels in their hair. It helps build an appreciation for the natural world and reminds them to “zoom in” and enjoy the here and now.
Mindfulness Books for Kids
If you’re looking for more inspiration to start a mindfulness practice with your children, story time is a great way to introduce the concept and to learn more together. Explore the following children’s books at your local bookstore or on Amazon for more mindfulness exercises for kids:
I Am Peace: A Book of Mindfulness by Susan Verde
This picture book is appropriate for young children in preschool through third grade. It teaches lessons about being fully present, managing emotions, making good choices, practicing empathy, and appreciating nature. The colorful illustrations and simple messages make a gentle but powerful impact on the importance of living a balanced and thoughtful life. This book also includes a kid-friendly guided meditation. I Am Yoga, I Am Love, I Am Human, and I Am One are other books in the series that offer valuable life lessons.
A Handful of Quiet: Happiness in Four Pebbles by Thich Nhat Hanh
Thich Nhat Hanh is a highly revered Buddhist monk, Zen teacher, peace activist, and best-selling author who teaches the art of mindful living and meditation. Hanh created pebble meditation to help introduce mindfulness to children in a way that would resonate with their playful and imaginative perspectives. This beautifully illustrated book uses the physical example of a pebble for children to focus on, provides guided practice, and leaves room for the child to add their own words and art to the story. Although marketed for children in kindergarten through grades four, A Handful of Quiet is meaningful to readers of all ages.
Sitting Still Like a Frog: Mindfulness Exercises for Kids (and Their Parents) by Eline Snel
With cute illustrations, simple exercises, and an included 60-minute audio CD of guided meditations, Sitting Still Like a Frog is an easy and accessible introduction to mindfulness and mindfulness-based practices for children ages five through 12. This book contains 11 mindfulness meditation exercises that help children calm down, fall asleep more easily, manage complicated emotions like anger and anxiety, and improve their patience, awareness, and focus. The accompanying CD is also a great tool to help ease battles over bedtime.
Meditation is an Open Sky: Mindfulness for Kids by Whitney Stewart
This simple picture book, geared towards children from pre-school to fourth grade, uses clear language and playful illustrations of an elephant and a monkey to share nine easy exercises that serve as tools for sorting through complicated emotions. The techniques outlined in the book are designed to help children improve focus, relaxation, clarity, and feelings of security while emphasizing wisdom, kindness, good decision-making, self-control, and openness. Introducing these meditation practices from an early age builds self-awareness that can help empower children to make good choices with confidence throughout life.
The Lemonade Hurricane: A Story of Mindfulness and Meditation by Licia Morelli
The Lemonade Hurricane is an excellent way to present the concept of meditation, mindfulness, and inner peace to young readers through a whimsical story of a young boy named Henry and his sister Emma. In an effort to calm the boisterous chaos that Henry embodies, Emma teaches him how to sit, bow, and take deep breaths to find contentment and stillness. Simple meditation techniques are shared at the back of the book to encourage children to carry the lessons learned in the book into their own lives. This fun and easy story is ideal for children who are three to five years old.
Breathe Like a Bear: 30 Mindful Moments for Kids to Feel Calm and Focused Anytime, Anywhere by Kira Willey
Children from pre-school to third grade learn to manage their bodies, breathing, and feelings wherever they are — whether running errands, finishing homework, or at their desk at school. Breathe Like a Bear features happy, peaceful illustrations and short, easy exercises that focus on mindful breathing and movements that can be done anywhere to find calm, improve focus, and feel energized while improving emotional well-being.
Peaceful Piggy Meditation by Kerry Lee Maclean
If you’re looking for a down-to-earth and fun, but relatable story versus the new age, esoteric vibe that so often accompanies meditation materials, Peaceful Piggy Meditation is the perfect choice. The cute pig characters featured in the illustrations struggle with everyday issues, such as sibling conflicts, complicated emotions, and playing video games and emphasizes the importance of finding a quiet spot to take a break and just breathe. The central message focuses on how and why meditation makes you feel happier, but also includes techniques and encouragement to practice as a family.
Breathe and Be: A Book of Mindfulness Poems By Kate Coombs
Introduce children ages four through eight to poetry and mindfulness all at once with this beautiful book about appreciating the world around us. Through calming illustrations and lyrical prose, Kate Coombs connects physical sensations to the beauty of the natural world in a way that reminds us that the simple act of cultivating awareness can bring joy and inner peace.
My Magic Breath: Finding Calm Through Mindful Breathing, by Nick Ortner and Alison Taylor
My Magic Breath brings a sense of wonder to the practice of meditation by pointing out how simply breathing can make you feel better. This interactive picture book by New York Times bestselling author Nick Ortner shows children from preschool to third grade how they can transform negative emotions into a sense of serenity, self-awareness, and balance by focusing on their breath and acknowledging “bad” feelings without attachment.
One of the greatest challenges in starting to practice mindfulness is simply making the time to do it. This is another reason why it should be a family affair — not only is it good for everyone involved, and a valuable skill to teach children, but the added accountability of establishing a mindfulness habit together helps build momentum. Incorporate age-appropriate books and mindfulness activities into your days to bring more peace and empowerment into your lives.