Written by Cassie Nguyen of Teach Starter Oct 2017
As much as teachers do all that they can to make their classrooms a place of comfort and security, for some students the school environment can be a stressful one. For a whole gamut of reasons, at some stage during their time spent at school, most kids experience some kind of school-related anxiety. Whether it be separation anxiety in the early years, anxiety about testing and assessment or social anxiety, the reasons are many but the negative effects often the same. Teaching mindfulness is one way that educators and parents alike can help to build the coping skills kids need when they are faced with challenging situations and environments.
Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention, on purpose, to the present moment (Grossman, 2016). It’s something that came so naturally to us as small children, when we could easily spend time silently mesmerised by a single ant wandering across the ground. Though it’s true that as we get older, as our understanding of the world grows wider and our minds subsequently busier, that time spent in silent wonderment doesn’t happen quite so easily.
Teaching children the conscious skill of mindfulness is an empowering one. The ability to stop, to centre ourselves, to notice what is happening in any given moment goes a long way towards self-regulation and self-awareness. For children who experience anxiety, whether situational or prolonged, having simple and familiar thoughts or actions to call upon during times of stress become important, lifelong skills.
Mindfulness for Children
Mindfulness is a superpower that everyone can have. To activate this superpower we only need two things, our mind and our breath. It is for this reason, and so many more, that teaching mindfulness to children is something that should be on every teacher, parent and carers’ radar.
With that in mind, here are some fun and simple ways to introduce the concept of mindfulness to young children.
This simple activity is a way to teach your child about “belly breathing”. Centering our thoughts and emotions through our breath is a wonderful self-regulation skill for everyone to learn.
- Lay down on the floor beside your child and place a small soft toy, like the little wuppy®, or any other light-weight object such as a small bean bag or wooden block onto your belly buttons.
- With your child, lay still and watch the toy move up and down as you both breathe in and out.
- Talk with your child about what you notice. About how quickly or slowly the toy moves.
- You can also count as your child breathes in “1, 2, 3” and breathes out “1, 2, 3”.
Another beautiful child-friendly reframing of a traditional mindfulness practice is to go on a Mindful Safari.
- Take your child outside into nature and tell them that you are both going to go exploring. That you need to discover what creatures, plants and other natural objects are close by.
- Tell your child to turn their sense of sight, touch and sound onto high. Remind them that they need to be so, so quiet that they can move around without scaring any little creatures away.
- When you find a creature or beautiful object, pause and look at it closely for a while.
- Signal to your child to remain quiet, putting your finger to your lips. They will love the adventure!
- After some time spent observing in silence, quietly ask your child some questions.
- What does it look like?
- What colour is it?
- How does it move?
- What does it smell like?
- Can you touch it?
- What does it feel like?
The free Nature Scavenger Hunt Grid on the Teach Starter website can make your Mindful Safari a fun one.
Breathing Colours Meditation
Guided meditations are a great way to familiarise kids with the language of mindfulness and meditation. There are a number of fantastic apps with free guided meditations. Smiling Minds has great meditations for both children and adults, while Insight Timer is a fantastic free app for adults.
A “Breathing Colours” guided meditation introduces a simple visualisation to help children focus on using their breath for relaxation.
- Ask your child to think of a relaxing colour. It can be any colour they like, as long as it is one that makes them think of relaxation.
- Then ask them to think of a colour that represents stress, sadness or anger. Whichever of those emotions is most relevant or suitable for your child group to explore.
- With your spoken guidance, your child imagines breathing in the relaxing colour and visualises it filling their lungs.
- Then they imagine breathing out the stress, sadness or anger colour.
There are many ways to teach mindfulness to children. Ultimately, any time that you spend with your child consciously slowing down, and bringing awareness to the moment, will help to build their own repertoire of self-awareness and emotional regulation skills.
Grossman, M. in Fraga, J. (2016) How Mindfulness and Storytelling Helps Kids Learn, for MindShift at KQED
Cassie Nguyen is a former school teacher and fellow anxiety-conqueror. As Creative Content Writer at Teach Starter, an online teaching resource company that makes teaching easier and learning fun, Cassie helps teachers, parents and carers find the ideas, activities and resources they need to engage children in the exciting and empowering act of learning.