From endless scrolling on mobile devices to streaming on television, there's no question that we are getting more hours of screen time each day than ever before. For a majority of kids today—many of whom will never know a world without modern technology—learning how to be mindful, or fully in touch with the present and without any judgement, is not only becoming a more valuable skill, but an essential one. According to Suzy Reading, a psychologist, health coach, and author of the book Stand Tall Like a Mountain: Mindfulness and Self-Care for Children and Parents, teaching mindfulness to your child can be just as important as teaching them how to make healthy food choices, brush their teeth, or look both ways before crossing the street. "It is a core coping skill in itself, helping us manage our thoughts and emotions," she says. "Mindfulness can empower kids with methods to navigate difficult emotions and challenging life experiences."
When first explaining the idea of being mindful to children, Reading often tells them: "Mindfulness is paying attention on purpose without judging what you are experiencing." Often, we judge our reactions to an experience and feel as though our feelings or reactions aren't the "right" ones, she explains. However, by taking away our self-judgement, we can create space to feel what we feel and find the best course of action. By teaching young minds how to fully recognize their feelings or thoughts and respond in a thoughtful way, Reading says that you're helping them to learn empathy and compassion while boosting their confidence, self-esteem, and ability to focus. And while it may seem like a big concept to teach little ones, it doesn't have to be. Here, Reading shares a few simple ways to introduce mindfulness to kids of all ages.
Imagine Your Thoughts as Clouds
A key part of teaching your child mindfulness is to communicate that they are not their thoughts or feelings; more simply, they have thoughts and feelings, explains Reading. To help illustrate this, she suggests inviting your child to picture their thoughts as a passing rain or floating clouds. "We experience thoughts and emotions just as we experience changing weather," she says. "It's what we do with our thoughts and emotions that matters." Another way to help your child conceptualize this idea is through language: "Rather than identifying with your feelings and labelling yourself as an 'angry person,' try and reframe it as 'I am feeling angry.'"
Learn the Art of Savoring
In the same way your kids (or you!) may savor a bite of a favorite chocolate dessert or the first ice cream cone of the summer season, learning how to savor the simple delights of everyday life can be a great way to exercise mindfulness. "This is my all-time favorite tip as it takes no real time, energy, or effort and is so powerful!" says Reading. Perhaps it's getting to help pour the milk into a morning bowl of cereal, making a pair of matching friendship bracelets with someone at school, or a favorite bedtime ritual with a parent—wherever your child finds joy in their day-to-day can be worth celebrating. "Teach your kids the art of savoring and they can have access to happiness at any moment," says Reading.
Make a Mindfulness Jar
This easy DIY idea—which calls for a clean empty jar, a bit of water, glitter, and optional food coloring—is not only fun to do with kids, it's a great calming tool. To make one, simply add a spoonful of glitter to your jar and fill it with two thirds water. Add a drop or two of food coloring, if desired, and screw the lid on firmly, adding a few dots of hot glue to secure. Then, let your child give the jar a shake and hold it still, watching the contents slowly settle. "Tell your child that the glitter is just like our thoughts: sometimes, jumbled and busy; sometimes, calm and still—and it is all okay!" Remind them that just as the glitter in the jar will eventually settle, so will our thoughts even when they feel scattered; once the chaos settles, it can be easier to see or think more clearly. Encourage your child to use the mindfulness jar whenever they'd like to feel calm.
Practice Intentional Breathing
Another great tool for finding a moment of calm? Your breath. A particularly soothing exercise (especially if you're struggling to settle down before sleep) that Reading recommends is "balloon belly breath." First, lie on your back and rest your hands on your tummy. Allow your body to relax and your breath to be smooth. Then, imagine there is a balloon in your tummy, inflating with every breath in and deflating with every breath out. "Remember, there is no hurry to fill or empty your balloon," Reading says. If your child has a favorite stuffed toy, she even suggests resting this toy on your child's tummy and telling them to watch the toy ride move up and down as your child inhales and exhales. "After several relaxed deep breaths, tell them to give the toy a cuddle and feel how much they love it. Then, let them wrap their arms around themselves and give a tight squeeze with that same feeling of love."
Don't Forget to Keep Calm
(Yes, you!) If you're still nervous about teaching mindfulness to your little ones—or embarking on the journey yourself—Reading says, don't be. "It can feel overwhelming for parents, the burden of all these skills we want to teach our kids, especially when we are learning some of these skills at the same time as our children," she explains. "But this is also a beautiful silver lining: it gives us the opportunity to model a beginner's mind and develop a growth mindset together." After all, as Reading reminds us, it's okay to be a beginner and make mistakes. "This is how we learn and grow together."