As a parent I believe one of our biggest goals with our children is to raise happy and healthy kids. What most parents don’t know is that traits such as compassion, kindness, and empathy are skills that can be trained in our children so that they are happier more thoughtful little human beings. How do we train such skills you might ask yourself? Using mindfulness techniques.
Mindfulness is nothing more than bringing our attention to the present moment, living in the here and now. When we help our children exercise their awareness or attention muscle using mindfulness techniques we are teaching them how to navigate unpleasant emotions, how to identify emotions in themselves and others, and how to self-soothe. The ability to self-soothe at an early age has wonderful benefits that affect children well into their adolescent years and adulthood. Children need help understanding and recognizing that emotions feel differently in the body. They need to be taught that all emotions are okay to feel and that it’s what we do with that emotion that can help us or hurt us.
As a therapist and a mother, I can tell you that it is never too early to start helping our little ones understand those big emotions. My son was 2.5 years old when I first helped him identify that what he was feeling in that moment was sadness. Once we labeled it as “sad”, he was able to calm down. When we help children give a feeling its name, it can be very therapeutic. We are learning that children who can regulate their emotions grow up to be much more successful adults than those who never learned how to regulate their emotions in a healthy way. As you can see, a mindful child reaps the benefits of mindfulness exercises for the rest of their lives.
I have shared a few of my favorite mindfulness exercises to teach kids how to regulate strong emotions as well as a short list of resources that teaches children about kindness, compassion and emotions.
TAKE 5 BREATHING TO CALM DOWN
The purpose of this exercise is to help your child regulate their heart rate by slowing and deepening their breath, this also helps bring the body and mind back to balance. The action of tracing the fingers requires focus which brings our attention to the here and now, ultimately exercising that attention muscle.
1. Spread your left or right hand and stretch your fingers out. Use the pointer finger of your other hand as a pencil and trace around the outline of each finger.
2. Start at the bottom of your thumb and slide your finger up your thumb, pause at the top, and then slide your finger down the other side. Next, slide your pointer up your second finger, pause, and slide down the other side. Continue tracing your fingers up, pause, and down. Notice how your finger feels as it slowly traces the other fingers. Keep going until you have finished tracing your pinky.
3. Now include your breath. As you slide your tracing finger up your thumb, breathe in through your nose. Breathe out through your mouth as you slide the tracing finger down your thumb. Breathe in as you slide up your second finger, and breathe out as you slide down. Continue tracing your fingers as you take your five slow breaths.
4. You can repeat this mindfulness exercise until you feel calm.
5. Help your child process their emotions once they are calm by inviting them to talk about what it is they are feeling.
MINDFUL GLITTER JARS
The mindful glitter jar is a jar full of glycerin, water and glitter. This can be bought online or you can make it at home with your child. It’s a calming exercise that helps the child settle those unpleasant emotions. The glitter represents those big emotions the child is feeling, as they watch the glitter settle to the bottom of the jar their big emotions should settle too. Likewise, as they focus on the glitter settling they are also exercising that awareness and attention muscle. Remind your child that it is okay to feel what they are feeling but kicking, screaming, and hitting are unkind ways to cope with that emotion. The Mindful Jar, on the other hand, is a kind way to deal with that emotion and it is
there to help us when we feel scared, sad, or angry.
1. Shake glitter jar when upset or feeling any other type of unpleasant emotion.
2. Focus your attention on the glitter settling, notice how the unpleasant feelings start to settle on the bottom of the jar.
3. Once all the thoughts and feelings have settled to the bottom of the jar bring your attention to the inside of your body and take five deep breaths breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth.
4. Help your child process their emotions once they are calm by inviting them to talk about what it is they are feeling.
Belly Buddies is a wonderful mindfulness exercise that teaches our little ones the importance of taking care of ourselves and that we each have a safe and peaceful place inside us. This exercise is one I use with my very own children at night time before bed, it’s a part of our bedtime routine. Not only does it help calm them before bed, but again, their focused attention on the rising and falling of their belly buddy helps exercise that attention and awareness muscle.
1. Pick out a belly buddy or an item that has some weight to it, this could be a small stone or a small stuffed animal.
2. Lay flat on your back and place your belly buddy on your still body.
3. Play the song “Breathing in, Breathing out” by Betsy Rose (you can find it on itunes or youtube) or any other calming or soothing song for about 4-5 minutes.
4. Feel the belly buddy moving up and down as you breathe in and breathe out
Any calming exercise is best to introduce and practice with your child when they are already calm. Children as well as adults find it difficult to learn something new when they are experiencing overwhelming feelings. Never force or demand that your child use a calming method, that only adds more pressure. However, it would helpful to have a picture or poster of the method to remind the child that it is an option if they find themselves stressed or overwhelmed with unpleasant emotions.
Not only will your little ones benefit long-term from a consistent mindfulness practice but you’ll soon start to notice in them some immediate benefits as well, such as improved concentration, stress reduction, increased empathy, better mood, improved sleep, more compassion, decreased anxiety, over-all sense of well-being, and loving kindness.
Hulu’s Stop, Breathe, and Think Kids: Mindful Games
Betsy Rose’s Calm Down Boogie Album
Happy Hippo, Angry Duck a Book of Moods by Sandra Boynton
Moody Cow Meditates by Kerry Lee MacLean (being with anger)
Dogger by Shirley Hughes (kindness and gratitude)
How Kind! Book By Mary Murphy (passing kindness to others)
Hey, Little Ant by Philip and Hannah Hoose (kindness, helpfulness, and empathy)
When Sophie Gets Angry by Molly Bang (working with anger and other unpleasant feelings)
Yuleisy Cardoso is a full time mother, published author, teacher and therapist whose background is in mental health and marriage and family. She is an expert in the practices of mindfulness and loving-kindness meditation for physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual healing in both adults and children. Please visit www.yuleisycardoso.com to inquire further and sign up for a course.