Mindfulness can be as powerful for children as it is for adults - it can help them regulate their emotions and respond more calmly when life gets stressful. But simply telling your kids to "clear your thoughts!" or "be present!" will probably just make them more confused (and therefore more stressed).
We've written about how a "breathing buddy" in the form of a stuffed animal allows kids to pay attention to their breath. Other items can be helpful in their practice, too - things they can see and feel and even taste. I love these mindfulness activities from Susan Kaiser Greenland, author of The Mindful Child and founder of the online resource Inner Kids. They require simple objects that you might already have at home.
A Snow Globe or Glitter Water Ball
In this video, Greenland demonstrates an activity she calls the "Seeing Clearly" game. You can start by telling your kid that we're all born with a clear, calm perspective, like the water in a glitter ball. "If I put the ball in front of me, I can still see you," she says. "Can you see me?" Do you see where this is going?
Have your kid then shake the ball to show that stress clouds our perspective. And when that happens, we can't see or understand each other. So it's important to feel our breathing and rest. When we do that, as Greenland explains, all the things that were clouding our perspective "settle to the bottom". Mindful awareness doesn't get rid of the bad things in our lives, but it helps us see clearly again.
An Ice Cube
Ah, the hold-an-ice-cube-in-your-hand challenge. Who knew that this game of pain could be used to teach kids about mindfulness? A Inner Kids teacher demonstrates how to guide the activity. Before the ice cube hits your child's hand, ask him how his body is feeling (tight and nervous, perhaps?). Then while the cube is in his hand, see if he can stay calm even if it hurts a little. This shows that we can detach our reactions from our physical sensations. Afterwards, you can ask your child what he did to stay calm. Take big breaths? Close his eyes? Think about something else? These same tools can be applied in any situation.
This is more of a metaphorical one, but it's really lovely. Greenland demonstrates with an apple that while our past is a part of us, we shouldn't get distracted by it. Similarly, we shouldn't be preoccupied with what will happen in the future. Instead, we can just enjoy the moment.
You can teach kids to eat in slow motion in order to savour and appreciate their food. (My kid eats in extreme slow motion, but that's because she's distracted and not because she's savouring anything.) Have your child notice how their food looks, feels and smells. Have them notice what it feels like as they chew and swallow it. In their Mindful Games Activity Cards, Greenland and Annaka Harris write that a Hershey's Kiss is a great food to use as a special treat. "The children can try keeping it in their mouths until the chocolate melts completely, paying attention to all five senses: Seeing the Kiss, hearing the foil as it is removed, and tasting, smelling, and feeling the chocolate in their mouths."