Health & Well-being

5 ways to teach kids mindfulness

Parenting Place Teach Mindfulness

You’ve probably heard the term and might already have some idea of the benefits – you may even practise mindfulness yourself. You may also be curious as to how mindfulness can benefit your child. You might then be wondering how on earth a child could possibly be still and quiet for long enough to harness such benefits?! All good questions, so let’s stop for a moment and make ourselves aware... while excusing that weak attempt at mindful humour.

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness may have an air of mystery to it but in essence, it is simply awareness. It’s about being fully present in the moment – engaging all your senses in whatever activity you are involved in, be that going for a walk, sitting in the sunshine or washing dishes.

Mindfulness is a way of accepting the present moment, rather than being preoccupied with worries about things that have already happened in the past, and worries about things that might happen in the future. This makes mindfulness a brilliant tool for dealing with worries in a healthy way, rather than over-thinking them or trying to ignore them (we all know what happens when we’re told not to ‘think of a purple hippopotamus’!) Mindfulness also helps us to relax, to be grateful and to spark the joy of simply ‘being’.

Mindfulness may have an air of mystery to it but in essence, it is simply awareness.

Mindful benefits for kids

Research has revealed numerous health and well-being benefits to practising mindfulness, including a reduction of stress and anxiety in our children. Mindfulness can also help children learn to focus and manage their emotions.

We can teach mindfulness to our kids when they are calm, and help them form a habit of regular mindful practice by incorporating it into their weekly routines. This can help reduce stress and worries in general, as well as providing our kids with a tool to use in the midst of a difficult situation whenever one arises.

But how?

Everyday acts, like eating and walking, can be turned into mindfulness exercises for kids. Basically, we are teaching our kids to be aware of what’s going on around them by engaging all their senses as they slow down and take a moment or two for reflection. What can I hear? What can I see? What can I smell? What can I taste? What’s the temperature like? How do I feel? Hence even those seemingly mundane moments, like eating breakfast and then rinsing dishes afterwards, are timely moments to tune into awareness and practise some mindfulness.

There are also plenty of more specific activities that teach kids the art of mindfulness. We’ve listed five suggestions below to get you started. Not every activity will resonate with your child, so try them out (or find more ideas online) and repeat the ones your child likes best.

  1. Sensory box
  2. Nature walks
  3. Belly breathing
  4. The three-breath hug
  5. Progressive muscle relaxation

1. Sensory box

A sensory box is simple to put together and simple to use. First step: find a cool box. Second step: put inside the box a collection of items of different textures and features that are calming for the senses (sounds, sights, smells, touch, taste). Your sensory box might contain a glitter wand, a lavender stalk, a kush ball, a tub of playdough, a wooden bead necklace, some chewing gum and a calming Spotify playlist. The items in a sensory box serve different functions in terms of engaging senses and helping a child find calm. For example, items like bubbles, balloons and pinwheels encourage deep breathing. A stress ball and some play dough are helpful for releasing tension. And glitter wands and lava lamps can be calming visually.

When your child is worried, upset, nervous or angry, playing with the items in their sensory box can soothe their strong emotions.

2. Nature walks

Go for a walk on the beach or in a forest (even your own neighbourhood works fine, especially in lockdowns!) and engage all the senses – notice the feeling of the air on your skin, the sounds you can hear around you and in the distance, the colours and textures of the sky and your surroundings, and the smells you detect. Simply walk mindfully, paying close attention to everything around you.

As you walk, you could ask your child the following ‘5, 4, 3, 2, 1’ questions:

Can you notice five things you can see? Four things you can hear? Three things you can feel? Two things you can smell? One thing you can taste?

This quick exercise will help children to interrupt their ruminating over worries and return to the present moment.

3. Belly breathing

Place one hand on the chest and one on the belly. As you inhale, fill up your belly like a balloon and as you exhale, allow the balloon to deflate. Notice how the breath feels as it moves in and out of your body. Notice how the air feels on your skin. Pay attention to any sensations that you notice or any sounds that you hear. Take another slow deep breath and see if you can imagine how the breath moves down into the lungs and then back up again. When you notice a thought, try and imagine that thought coming out like a puff of cloud and floating away each time you breathe out. Imagine all your worry and anxiety leaving your body as you exhale. Try lying on the floor next to your child and doing this exercise together.

4. The three-breath hug

Alternatively, try the ‘three-breath hug’ exercise. Give your child a big hug and take three deliberate, synchronised, deep breaths together. Drop your shoulders, relaxing any muscles that feel tight. Let go and feel the tension melt away. Use it as you say goodbye in the morning, when you recognise that someone could use a calming hug, or just for the love of it.

5. Progressive muscle relaxation

This is an exercise that relaxes the mind and body by tensing and releasing the muscles. Starting with your feet, gently tense your toes by curling them as if you were burying them in sand, hold tight for five seconds, then relax. Then tense your legs by pulling your toes up towards your shins, hold tight for five seconds, then relax. Work up the body, tensing and releasing the muscles in the quads and hamstrings, buttocks and tummy (imagine a puppy was going to jump on your stomach). Squeeze your fists as tight as you can, then your arm muscles (like you’re showing off your biceps), then raise your shoulders up towards your ears and squeeze for five seconds, then relax. Gently move your head from side to side two to three times and then relax. Scrunch up your face like you sucked a lemon, and then relax!

Some of these mindfulness activities (especially breathing, muscle relaxation) are very relaxing and can set our children up for a good night’s sleep, so give them a try at bedtime.

Remember, kids learn best when they follow our example – so join them in these activities and you’ll be both teaching mindfulness and benefiting from it yourself at the same time. Win-win!

With special thanks to The Warehouse and Warehouse Stationery for their support during Mental Health Awareness Week 2021. $1 from every Awesome Inc product sold (while stocks last) supports our kaupapa to help families flourish in Aotearoa.

Katherine Tarr

Katherine Tarr

Katherine is a Child and Family Psychologist with experience working in both the early intervention and education settings. She is part of our Programme Development team where she is responsible for researching and developing training programmes that will equip facilitators to deliver our courses to a high standard. Prior to training as a psychologist, Katherine was a high school teacher and an outdoor instructor. She has four primary school aged children and in their spare time the family enjoys having adventures in the outdoors.


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