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Seven things you can do to help children become more mindful

Edited by Jill Wright,

 Mindfulness essentially is paying attention to one's life, here and now, with kindness and curiosity. 

The practice of mindfulness can teach children how to pay attention and increase awareness of their bodies, minds, emotions and what is happening around them.

This increasing awareness is important because it allows children a greater choice and control over how they respond to events, thoughts or emotions – rather than simply reacting.

Benefits of mindfulness for children

Practising mindfulness can help your child strengthen skills vital to learning, well-being and relationships, such as sustaining attention, regulating their behaviour and impulses, and managing strong feelings such as anxiety or anger.

Mindfulness also teaches children how to build acceptance and a secure sense of self as they learn to be curious and open to all parts of themselves and their world.

Here are seven easy ways you can help your child build their mindfulness skills

1. Create opportunities for your child to apply their natural mindfulness skills of curiosity and wonder.
Activities like exploring nature, planting a veggie patch, caring for animals, drawing or taking photos of what they see or touching and exploring textures (such as sand play, water play, and crafts) encourage children to be present and to observe their surroundings.

 2. Validate and label their emotions when they arise.
Letting children know that it is okay to have feelings and showing them how to recognise them when they arise can go a long way towards helping them relate to feelings in more helpful ways. For example, labelling the emotion for them with a statement such as “I can see you are really frustrated about that” will help children feel that they are being acknowledged, make sense of their feelings and be more able to look at what helpful things they can do to manage their feelings.  

3. Help your child observe how their emotions feel in their body.
You might comment on what you see (i.e. “Your muscles look tense and your jaw looks tight. Is that how it feels for you?”), or help them explore how an emotion feels in their body (i.e. “Where do you feel it?”, “Does the feeling move or is it still?”, “Does it feel heavy or light?”). Kids have great imaginations so will probably find this easier than you.

4. Check in with the five senses.
Ask children to pay attention to their senses, one at a time, when doing daily activities like eating breakfast, walking to school or washing hands. See how much they discover that usually goes unnoticed.

5. Take a moment to pay attention to breathing.
Encourage a child to take a few moments to notice how they are breathing. Young children may find it easier to put their hands on their tummy to notice it moving up and down, or put their finger under their nostrils to feel the warm air coming out. Counting each breath up to 10 can also be a way to help focus attention.

6. Incorporate a daily mindfulness practice using a short guided meditation.
Visit the Smiling Mind website for free mindfulness and meditation guides for children and adults. You can find out how easy it is to include mindfulness practices in your everyday life.

7. Practice mindfulness yourself.
Children learn through example, so show them how you can take time to observe your breath, explore your senses and be present in your interactions. Why not take a class to help develop your own mindfulness skills?

For more information

For some recommended apps, see our blog Two mindfulness apps to help you refocus.

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About the editor, Jill Wright

Jill Wright (MAPS, AAFT, AICD) is the Director and Principal Psychologist at Psychology Melbourne. Jill was twice elected General Director of the Australian Psychological Society and established the Study Group Network. Find out more about Jill Wright.