Mindfulness- it’s a buzz word right now, and for good reason. Mindfulness simply means paying attention to the present moment. Unfortunately, with a myriad more distraction than ever before though screens, pandemics, news cycles and so on…it’s becoming more and more difficult to be mindful.
I’ve been teaching mindfulness to kids though my program Mind Moves for years now. Here are my top 3 tips to teach mindfulness to children.
Kids are smarter than you think.
Kids are smarter than you think. Their nervous systems are developing at a rapid pace and they are keenly aware when themselves or their caregivers are sad, happy, tired, hungry etc. In fact, kids can sense body sensations in themselves a lot stronger than adults can, because they haven’t been socialized and programmed to control and ignore body cues yet.
As kids are growing up, it’s a sensitive time for them- they are laying the neural framework that they are going to use to solve problems, deal with stressors, make friends, and be full grown adults one day…Adults, whatever that means.
It’s important, if not at the very least highly advantageous, for kids to learn, early and well, how to navigate difficult emotions. Mindfulness helps children bounce back from adversity, otherwise known as resiliency, be aware of social cues and learn to express appropriate boundaries. All of this is a part of what researchers call socio-emotional learning.
Kids are sponges.They look up to you and model after you. They carefully observe how you deal with stressful situations and copy that. No pressure;)
But, unfortunately, as smart as kids are, they cannot self-regulate their feelings. They have to learn that from the adults in their lives- through co-regulation. That doesn’t mean you have to be perfect as an adult, but it’s good to be aware that spending time co-regulating with your child, through breathing together, talking about things, holding each other, asking and listening, is beneficial to the both of you. It will create a stronger bond to themselves and their own midnfulness practice and help them be strong leaders and good friends.
Song and dance is your answer. Play!
Kids are kinaesthetic learners (and most adults are too!) That just means they learn best through movement experiences. Not by sitting down and having something explained to them.
The way I teach yoga to children (especially under 5 yrs) involves a lot of movement storytelling and singing. Sounds and faces, big hippo stomps and swinging monkey arms. We go on though safaris and find lions, trees and elephants. We go to the farm and find cats, cows, dogs and birds.
It’s no secret kids love stories and acting them out enhances their linguistic and movement vocabulary. Concepts such as mindfulness, Namaste (seeing the light in yourself and others), Om (peaceful sound of the universe) are introduced to kids through song and movement and then more abstract concepts of yogic philosophy are easier to grasp when they get older. I also focus on explaining the historical relevance of these words and where they come from (India, thousands of years ago) when teaching kids who are old enough to understand.
A favourite warm up yoga song I like to play: Rub Your Hands, Sit Up Tall, Take a Deep Breath, Om. Sung to a series of hand and arm movements and of course a big breath.
The best way to get a child from spiralling out of control or misbehaving is to…play. Play engages our senses, gets us into a state of flow and creativity and the same can be said for adults. If I could give any advice to anyone out there on how to be more mindful, it’s to play more. Whether that’s on the playground, knitting, playing softball, dancing etc..Whatever it is…get silly with it.
“Kids don’t want to stay still and meditate” is a lie.
Surprisingly and ubiquitously, ‘savasana’ or ‘relaxation time’ as we call it (at the end of class when we turn off the lights, lay down, close our eyes and listen to some calming music for a few minutes) is kids’ favorite part of yoga.
Yes, you heard right. Children wanted to lay down, close their eyes and be still. Not ALL, but most kids look forward to it, ask for it and are disappointed when we don’t have time for ‘savasana.’
Kids love meditation, and that’s simply the observed truth. Of course, there’s a bit of a catch, meditation needs to be delivered a certain way to each age group.
In elementary ages, they love driving you crazy by being your copy cat. You can use that to your advantage. What is most important to develop to create a safe and engaging atmosphere for mindfulness and meditation is rapport- or more plainly stated- bonding with the kids. Kids need trust, they need to know you’re on their side and if they like you, they will follow you!
For any age group, delivering meditation needs to be…tactful. In other words, it needs to be fun! Or at the very least, spark some sort of curiosity in the child. I do that by engaging their senses, using props and getting kids to reflect and speak on their thoughts and feelings about it.
Meditation doesn’t necessarily need to be sitting still either! For example, here’s some common mindfulness exercises I use:
123 Clap!: Develops attention & focus.
Find this song on Kira Wiley’s Mindful Moments album on Spotify. You count to 3, clap hands once, rub them together, put them on a body part and take a deep breath. Tactile stimulation and breath always bring su back to our bodies and the present moment.
Loving Lotus Meditation: Develops gratitude and kindness.
Sit criss-cross. Hands in a lotus flower in front of your heart. Ask the kids to close their eyes and look down with no talking. Have them picture someone the love in their mind and send them well wishes. May they be happy, healthy and well. Do the same with someone they don’t know well and someone who they don’t really like. At the end lift the lotus flower above heads and shower all that love on themselves.
Spidey Senses: Used as a grounding and refocus exercise.
Have the kids raise their hands and call on them to say one thing that they see, hear, smell, taste and feel (physical sensation). Prompt them with things like “let’s really listen, what do you hear?” “What pops out to you in the room?” “Let’s pretend to chew, do you taste the remnants of your lunch on your tongue?” This exercise helps kids get back in touch with their bodies when they’re feeling overhwlemed, anxious or too excited. It’s a grounding tool (for anyone!).
Breathing Ball: Used as a self/co-regulation exercise.
Look up Hobberman’s sphere online, or go to your local toy shop! Inhale as you expand the extendo ball and exhale as you collapse it. I usually do 3 seconds in and 3 seconds out for deep belly breathing. Try different breathing rhythms too, for fun!
Trust Fall: Used to develop social and collaboration skills.
Stand in a circle shoulder to shoulder with the kids with arms soft but extended ready to catch. Have one child stand in the middle, cross their arms over their chest, close their eyes if comfortable and tip over to any side with their feet firmly planted on the floor. The other children’s job around the circle is to catch the child and not let them fall. Expect lots of giggles for this one!
Reflection Circle: Used to develop active listening. What was your favourite part of yoga, what challenged you, what are you grateful for today.
At the end of class, I usually take a few minutes to give kids time to use their calm voices to share what they thought of class. What challenged them and if there was chaos in the class, I also give opportunities for kids to self reflect with me on what we all could have done better. This is like voice journaling- reflection is a powerful tool for developing a growth mindset.
So, parents, educators, adults! Get enthused and curious about mindfulness for kids! Yoga and mindfulness can be facilitated to kids through a variety of ways: games, songs, dances, reflection, laying down, breathing, making funny poses and faces, but most of all, it stems from connection to their peers, to themselves and to the caregivers in their lives.
In today’s age filled with more global stressors and pressures than ever before, mindfulness and socio-emotional tools are skills that need to be trained and developed.
Fostering resilience in kids has always been the overarching goal with Mind Moves. I feel so privileged to have been able to learn so much from teaching yoga to kids and now, sharing it with other educators!
Feel free to contact me with any questions you may have at firstname.lastname@example.org.