The beginning of September marks the start of a new school year. And while this annual reset button brings plenty of possibility, it can also come with new routines, anxieties, and pressure. An effective way to help children cope with overwhelm and stressors associated with the start of a new school year, and throughout their lives, is to teach mindfulness. According to a report released by the UK-based Mindfulness in Schools Project, studies have shown that instilling mindfulness in school-aged children can reduce stress, anxiety, reactivity, and bad behavior, while improving sleep, self-esteem, and relaxation.
It’s never too early (or late!) to start, either. Bobby Azarian, author of The Mindful Child, told Psychology Today that “Fundamental principles of neuroscience suggest that meditation can have its greatest impact on cognition when the brain is in its earliest stages of development,” while a 2018 study in Mindfulness showed especially promising results with teenagers ages15 to 18.
So how do you instill mindfulness in kids of all ages? Here are five exercises to help get you started.
Introduce meditation with breath.
Before you dive into meditation with young kids, first get them used to connecting with their breath. Ask them to be still, close their eyes and take five long, deep breaths with you, noticing how their breath sounds and feels. After a few weeks, bump it up to 10 long breaths, then see if you can sit still and breath together for a minute or longer.
Teach kids to notice their surroundings.
Take turns with your child noticing five things you see, smell, hear, or feel, and share them with each other, to help your child learn to re-engage with the world around them.
Play the silence game.
This classic Montessori technique asks children to be quiet with both their mouths and bodies for a set period of time. When time is up, ask your child what they felt during the silence period.
Establish a gratitude practice.
Each night at dinner or before bed, share with your child three things you’re grateful for, and ask your child to do the same. Practicing daily gratitude helps children internalize moments of good throughout their day.
Use a mindfulness app.
Choose a mindfulness app that’s appropriate for your child’s age, and spend some time using it together each day. A few apps we like: Headspace for Kids, DreamyKids, and Positive Penguins.
Finish each mindfulness activity by reminding your child they can use this same exercise to make themselves feel better when they’re stressed or upset.