As a parent, you want your kids to grow into strong, healthy, and well-rounded individuals.
That’s why you ensure that their basic needs such as healthy meals, comfortable clothing, and enough sleep are being met.
But have you ever thought about how their brains are developing?
Brain development is a crucial factor to consider because it has a long-term impact on your child’s ability to learn and succeed in school and life.
One great and proven way to support cognition is by teaching kids mindfulness.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a type of guided meditation that involves guided imagery and breathing exercises.
It helps the mind to relax and achieve a stress-free state through being intentionally aware of your senses and feelings without making judgments.
Practicing mindfulness meditation uses the five senses to help shape three essential skills developed in early childhood.
These skills are:
- Paying attention and recalling information
- Switching back and forth between tasks
- Behaving properly with others
These abilities, known as executive functions, are needed for more complex tasks like planning, thinking, problem-solving, and maintaining positive social relationships.
Mindfulness can help children and parents alike boost cognitive abilities, relieve stress, lower blood pressure, reduce pain, and improve sleep and mood.
Should You Teach Mindfulness to Kids?
Although mindfulness may not be inherent in children’s actions or thought patterns, it’s something they can learn.
Mindfulness can lay the foundation for good habits later in life, especially in young children.
A Boston research study showed that there are many benefits of mindfulness for children. These include the following…
Mindfulness improves and develops regions of the brain involved in learning, thought, and memory, such as the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus.
As a result, mindfulness improves concentration, memory, emotional control, and self-awareness, while providing a constant growth mindset.
In turn, these changes lead to better mental health in the form of reduced stress, anxiety, and depression, as well as improved academic skills.
Mindfulness practices are especially helpful for children with learning disabilities, especially for those with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Teaching mindfulness exercises to kids teaches them how to control their emotions and manage them properly and effectively.
These mindfulness exercises can help boost their participation in activities and also foster a culture of mutual respect and care.
Mindful children are better able to interact and communicate with others.
Mindfulness exercises improve the amygdala—the part of the brain that controls emotion.
This makes the brain less sensitive to negative stimuli.
Mindfulness has also been associated with reduced stress and anxiety, as well as improvements in emotional intelligence, self-regulation, resilience, and connecting with others/making friends.
Mindfulness techniques can help children to feel empowered by boosting their self-esteem. This allows them to learn to try new things, and to take more risks, leading to deeper well-being.
As a parent, you probably don’t need fancy research data to understand that your children mimic your behaviors. You see it daily.
That means you also have opportunities every day to model, be an educator, and teach mindfulness to your kids.
Here are five fun mindfulness activities that you can enjoy doing together with your children.
5 Creative Mindfulness Exercises for Kids and Parents to Do Together
1. Gratitude Journal
A gratitude journal is simply a notebook or diary in which your child can keep a daily record of things in life for which he or she is thankful. You can even create printable gratitude worksheets with questions and lines to fill in the answers if you want to provide a little guiding structure for this exercise.
Gratitude is a very effective antidote to the human brain’s tendency to look for what’s wrong. Hence, journaling can condition your child to think positively and feel happier.
By ending the day with a grateful heart, you will also notice changes in the quantity and quality of your child’s sleep.
Here’s how you can do it:
- Choose an age-appropriate gratitude journal with space for both writing and drawing.
- Make it a daily routine habit for your children to write down three things they are grateful for before going to bed.
- Set a good example for your child by performing some gratitude journaling beside them.
- When you’re done, talk with them about what you’re grateful for and why.
2. Buddy Breathing
Buddy breathing is simply an exercise in which you focus your attention on the breathing of your partner—to its natural rhythm and flow.
It works by watching and focusing on the breath and its patterns, whether this is your own breathing or that of your partner, a sibling, or even a family animal. (Buddy Breathing can be particularly beneficial in the morning.)
This mindful breathing exercise helps relax the nervous system and relieve any tension or stress you may be experiencing in the present moment about the day ahead.
Try it with your kids and see how it affects them in terms of providing a calm start to the day!
Here’s a quick “how-to”:
- Find a relaxing place free from distractions.
- Sit with your legs folded. Make sure you and your child are sitting in a comfortable posture.
- You can do this exercise in as little as a minute, or longer if you wish.
- Start deep breathing, inhaling and exhaling slowly.
- Notice how the breath is moving in and out of your body.
- If you do it right, you will notice that your skin will feel the air.
- Take another slow, deep breath and notice how the breath moves into the lungs, then back out again.
- Take note of how you and your child’s mind and body feels afterwards. Are you more calm and relaxed? Do you feel more clear-headed?
3. Heartbeat Exercise
Many mindfulness exercises and activities involve paying close attention to one’s heartbeat.
This is because the practice of focusing on the heartbeat allows us to strengthen attention and in turn relax our nervous system.
This mindful listening activity is great to do with your children if they’re stressed or anxious.
Here’s how to do it:
- Ask your child to get up and jump up and down with you for a minute.
- At the end of this minute, place your hands on your hearts.
- Close your eyes and pay attention to how your heartbeats and respirations feel.
4. Tense and Release
This mindfulness relaxation exercise involves tensing a muscle in one part of your body, holding the tension, and then abruptly releasing it.
We generally find that once the muscle has been released, it’s more relaxed than it was before.
Tensing and relaxing the muscles of the body relieves the pressure and tension of the day, allowing your child to get a good night’s sleep.
Here’s how to do the exercise:
- Starting at the feet, squeeze your muscles gently by tightening them and then releasing them slowly.
- Tense and squeeze together with your child, then release the hold after about 5-10 seconds. (You can also point the toes up and down and then release them softly.)
- Squeeze the calves, then release the muscles gently after five seconds.
- Squeeze your thighs for five seconds and then gently loosen your body.
- Next, tense and release the hips and buttocks.
- Do this with all the different parts of the body, working your way up to the face and neck.
- Repeat this process a few more times to feel the soft release.
- If you like, you can continue this exercise back down your body for even more relief.
5. Mindful Walks
Mindful walking is an excellent stress-relieving activity that requires your kids to be consciously aware of their surroundings and move around rather than sitting down with their eyes closed.
This mindfulness training exercise is a wonderful way to spend positive, undistracted time outdoors.
Spending time in nature is beneficial to the body, mind, and spirit, so practicing mindfulness outdoors as a family has extra benefits.
This activity is an excellent way for your children to become more aware of their physical bodies’ sensations.
Mindful walking can also improve their sleep quality, relationship skills, and focus, as well as relieve tension and provide a deeper spiritual connection.
Here’s how to get started:
- Take a nature walk with your child and engage all your five senses.
- While walking with your kids, concentrate on the feeling of your feet on the ground.
- Allow your child to touch natural objects and explain how they feel.
- When you’re going from the sun to the shade, encourage your child to feel the sensation on their face.
- Listen to sounds such as the wind in the forest, the chirping of birds, and the crunch of fallen leaves under your feet.
- Take note of the sounds of nature and compare them to sounds from humans, vehicles, and machinery.
- Now, shift your focus to the smells that surround you.
- Although taste is not normally a large part of a mindful stroll, you might have the opportunity to try a gift from a fruit tree, a ripe berry, or even the nectar from sweet clover.
The most critical element of mindfulness is being present at the moment—enjoying life with your kids and taking the time to appreciate what you have and your surroundings.
While nearly every activity can be transformed into kids mindfulness exercises, these five are good for the first time. They will not only help them develop physically, but also grow mentally and emotionally to improve their well-being for their everyday life.
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