There are so many wonderful reasons to start teaching mindfulness to kids. Whether they’re toddlers, in elementary school, middle school, or high school, mindfulness can help kids to be healthier and happier.
Mindfulness helps kids to manage emotions, concentrate better, perform better in school, reduce stress, and be happier, as explain in this article on the New York Times.
As a parent or childhood educator, it’s important to know the right way to teach kids mindfulness. Teaching children is different to teaching adults, and it’s vital to correct a mindfulness practice that allows kids to engage with the activity.
Thankfully, our list of mindfulness exercises will help you to get started.
How To Teach Mindfulness To Kids
While it is possible for children to do simple traditional meditation exercises, such as Anapanasati (mindful breathing), when I teach kids to meditate I aim to make it as fun and accessible as possible.
When I teach kids to meditate, I like to get them using their imagination, because it makes it more fun and increases their engagement. For instance, if I’m teaching a simple exercise like mindful breathing, I will ask younger kids to imagine that their breath is the ocean coming and going in waves. This simple visualization helps them to recognise the way the breath flows through the body. If I’m teaching Metta Bhavana (Loving Kindness), I will ask younger kids to imagine that there’s a smiley-face emoji that makes everyone they see happy. Simple hacks like this can really help kids to get more into the practice. Naturally, by the time they reach mid-teens, it’s time for them to start meditating in a more traditional way.
Teaching mindfulness from toddlers to elementary school to high school
You might wonder: At what age can kids start meditating?
Certainly it depends on the individual child and parents will need to guage for themselves when their kids can start mindfulness practice. One way to know is whether they are able to follow a story.
Sid Montz, a teacher with Studio BE, says, ” When a child is old enough to be able to follow a short story, that’s a great time to introduce the idea of mindfulness and meditation through storytelling. The discovery of physically sitting in stillness can be presented as a fun game starting with short periods and slowly increasing the amount of time sitting still.”
As kids age into their teens they tend to become more open to mindfulness and meditation.
“I find that tweens and teens in general are surprisingly open to trying meditation even when they have not been introduced at a younger age,” says Montz. “I would say that this is because they feel their increased anxiety and stress. They are seeking permission to rest their bodies, minds and emotions. And when they are given the opportunity, they seize it!”
As kids develop, the way they meditate should develop too. If you’re teaching a toddler, it’s best to focus on straightforward methods, such as mindful colouring and other easy mindfulness exercises. As they grow into elementary school age, you can introduce them to traditional meditations but in fun ways, for instance by doing mindful breathing in the way described above (imagining the breath is the wave of the oceans) and doing mantra meditations with simple and fun mantras (like the musical Kundalini mantra Sa Ta Na Ma). In middle school, kids can start to do the easier meditations in the proper, traditional way, such as by meditating on an object or sound. By the time they reach high school they will most likely be ready to do most traditional meditations except very complex ones like Chakra Dhyana (which involves numerous stages and the combination of visualizations, mantras, and breathing techniques).
Other ways kids can be mindful
Milana Perepyolkina, author of Gypsy Energy Secrets, reminds us that we don’t have to meditate to be mindful.
Teach your kids to be mindful as you are de-stressing with them. When you are teaching your kids to get out of their heads and focus on their sensations, you are teaching them how to be mindful,” says Perepyolkina.
“Are you taking a walk outside? Ask your kids to feel the wind on their faces. This is mindfulness. When you are at home, ask your kids to take a short break, close their eyes and breathe deeply focusing on their breath for just a minute. Ask them to pretend to be a tree. You are teaching them how to be mindful. When you are looking out the window, ask your kids to notice the strange shapes of clouds. Mindfulness again. Each hour of the day take just a minute and focus on one of the senses: it could be the sense of touch or smell. You can look for unusual objects you haven’t noticed before in your surroundings or even try to listen to the heartbeat… Before you know it, your kids will be mindful most of the day with you.”
Make it a game
Mindfulness trainer Maya Frost recommends making mindfulness a game:
“Children certainly benefit from greater awareness, but there’s no need to limit mindfulness training to sitting in silence. The most effective and enjoyable way to encourage young children to become more mindful is to turn it into a game.
It’s important for children to see themselves as successful at paying attention, so that it becomes something they enjoy and can develop consciously.
One way is to establish certain cues or triggers (a sound, a word, an item, etc.). Encourage them to notice it, and then notice that they noticed it. Next, spend 30 seconds listening and looking to see what else they notice. This is a simple way for children (and adults!) to pop into mindfulness mode several times throughout the day.
It’s highly portable. It doesn’t require silence or props. (In fact, learning to pick out cues while surrounded by other stimuli is more likely to enhance their ability to focus in a range of situations.)
Parents can play with their children in the car or while waiting for an appointment, or even while watching TV together.
Teachers can easily incorporate specific cues (a spelling word of the week, a certain flower or animal, etc.) into their daily routine, and end the day with a discussion among children about how and when these cues were noticed.
Benefits of mindfulness for kids
There are numerous benefits of meditation for kids, just as there are for adults. It really depends on what you are hoping to achieve with the child. For instance, for kids with ADHD or problems focusing, methods like Samatha (concentrating on an object) can improve focus. For kids who act out on their emotions, Vipassana (Insight, which is done by labelling emotions) can help them to observe their feelings and become less reactive to them mindfully. For kids who have been through any sort of trauma, Metta and Karuna (Compassion) can help them to feel more supported by those around them.
The trick to successfully teaching kids mindfulness is to balance the seriousness of the meditation with fun activities that get them involved. For instance, if you’re teaching a teen to meditate on the mantra OM, switch it up and give them a musical mantra instead (which is more fun and engaging). If you’re teaching a young child to do mindful art but they keep poking their fingers in the paint and not paying attention, go ahead and let them poke at the paint and simply ask them to observe how it feels on their fingers. Meet kids halfway. Adopt the meditation so it suits them, and don’t be afraid to try different methods to find the one that works best for them.