5 enjoyable mindful moments for kids on the go
Mindfulness exercises for kids provide a welcome breather in a day filled with activities and learning. Now that a number of studies have confirmed the benefits of meditation for children, mindful moments have become a prized part of many children’s school days, whether at home or in the classroom.
Just like for adults, any number of things are vying for a kid’s attention. There’s the school work that needs to be done, the allure of easy (read: mindless) distractions on TV or electronic devices, the pressure to perform and compete, and a myriad of social and familial pressures that are part and parcel of most kids’ everyday lives.
What is mindfulness for kids? It’s very much like mindfulness for grown-ups, with some fun added in for good measure. Mindfulness is always about paying attention to a particular thing—thought, sensation, object, movement—and sustaining that attention. When it comes to what “thing” is the focus of the moment, the sky’s the limit. In fact, the sky itself could be the object of meditation. Or it could be the breath, sounds, or thoughts, feelings or physical sensations.
Let’s look at five pleasant mindful moments that any kid should be able to fold into a busy day.
1) Starfish hand
One enjoyable and accessible form of mindfulness meditation for younger kids is the “starfish hand” breathing method. Especially helpful for providing a calm moment in a day busy with activities or emotional overload, this could also be a daily mindfulness practice for kids and their parents, teachers or caregivers together.
- You should be seated. Your eyes can be open or closed for this.
- Hold one hand in front of you, palm up, and open the fingers and thumb wide like a starfish.
- Place the index finger of the other hand at the base of the thumb. As you breathe in, move your index finger to the tip of the thumb, paying attention to the sensations; as you breathe out, slowly bring the finger down to the little web between the thumb and the index finger of the “starfish” hand.
- Repeat this with each of the four fingers: breathing in, bring the index up to the tip of the finger, breathing out, slowly move that finger down to the web between the fingers. You can let that finger linger for a second or two before the next breath if you like.
- Once you’ve reached the tip of the pinky, the final exhale will bring the index finger down to where the hand meets the wrist.
- If you like, you can repeat with the other hand.
2) Rainbow breath
This five-minute mindful breathing meditation can be done sitting quietly or laying down. It’s popular with kids from pre-school to the ‘tweens. For younger kids, it’s helpful to have an image of a rainbow handy. Imagine that your breath changes colors as you breathe. You can be creative with the colors, or you can follow a palette progression. For example:
- Breathing out, then breathing in, imagine that your breath is yellow.
- Imagine that yellow breath deep in the chest and the belly.
- It changes color there and becomes orange. Breathe out the orange breath, then breathe it back in, deep in the chest and the belly.
- It changes color again, and becomes red. Breathe out the red breath, then breathe it back in again.
- Follow this progression through pink, purple, blue, green, and back to yellow.
This can be practiced as a guided mindfulness session for kids.
3) Square breathing
Also called “box breathing,” this is one of the better-known mindfulness strategies for both adults under pressure and kids who worry alike. A deep-breathing technique, it is best practiced by older kids and teens, as it requires some degree of breath control. Very simple to apply, it’s a great tool when approaching challenges and learning to manage stress. It can be practiced while sitting or lying down. The “four count” usually refers to four seconds, but if that’s too difficult, counting can go faster and still be effective.
- Inhale into the belly while counting to four,
- Hold the breath while counting to four,
- Exhale while counting to four,
- Pause while counting to four,
- Repeat three to five times.
For teens (and adults) who have been introduced to walking meditation, it’s possible to walk four paces for each step, either in a straight line, a circle, or… a square. Square breathing is recognized as a tool that fosters a calm mind, slows the heart rate, and even helps people young and old fall asleep.
4) Mindful observation of feelings
This is best practiced in a group of family members, classmates or friends. Use a clock or timer to ring a bell or chime at different moments during a set period of time or the day. When the bell rings, everybody stops and checks in with their feelings. Happy, sad, tense, relaxed, silly, frustrated, zippy, tired—anything goes. Encourage participants to name the feelings without looking for reasons, culprits or kindnesses. No finger-pointing! This is an exercise in mindfully observing and acknowledging feelings without engaging in them.
Once the feelings are named, have everyone take three deep, conscious breaths and go back to whatever it is they were doing. If you want to take the exercise further, you can invite participants to describe how the emotions feel in their bodies. Is their head going to explode? Their heart going to burst? Their throats getting tight and their eyes teary? Do they want to jump with the sheer joy of it?
This is one of those mindfulness activities for children that builds self-esteem as kids learn that they can choose which emotions they want to react to instead of believing they’re powerless when experiencing strong feelings.
5) Gratitude circle
After a minute or two of deep, conscious breathing, invite the kids to place their two hands on their hearts and observe their heartbeats. Then have each child in turn name something or someone they’re grateful for—whether real or imaginary makes no difference—in a few words. Each participant should listen to the others without adding their two cents worth. End with another minute of mindful awareness of heartbeats, hands on hearts.
These are just a few of our favorite mindfulness exercises for kids. We hope you’ll enjoy exploring them together!