You’ve probably heard talk of the concept of mindfulness in your workplace, your yoga class, or your Facebook feed.  It is a concept that traces back to ancient Buddhist meditation but is growing in popularity as a helpful practice for our modern busy lives.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, one of the leading visionaries in the modern mindfulness movement, defines mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”  Kabat-Zinn emphasizes that being more present in our daily lives, and aware of the moments that shape them can help us to “realize the richness and depth of our possibilities for growth and transformation” (1994, p. 4).

Mindfulness is not exactly equal to meditation (which is a relief for those who can’t imagine sitting cross-legged for hours in silence), though meditation is one form of mindfulness. It encompasses a wide range of practices from seated meditation to moving meditation, and from simple breathing exercises to philosophies on how we approach our daily lives.

A 2012 American Psychological Association comprehensive analysis of the benefits of mindfulness cited research showing that the practice: decreases depressive symptoms, increases working memory, reduces stress, increases ability to focus, decreases emotional reactivity, increases “cognitive flexibility”, and increases relationship satisfaction, among other empirical findings.  It’s no wonder the adult world is grabbing on to this practice in a multitude of settings.

How can you pass up an approach that might help your child to focus on tasks, calm nervous energy, control negative behavior, or build self-esteem?

Over the last few years practitioners and educators have begun to explore the potential for mindfulness practice to bring similar benefits to children.  While in some ways the jury is still out on long-term impacts of mindfulness programming for kids (more research is needed), preliminary research has shown promising evidence that children can in fact participate in well-designed mindfulness activities and that they may reap similar benefits to adults.  In addition to the benefits described above, research has shown that mindfulness can improve self-esteem and self-regulation as well as academic performance in children. 

Schools, counselors, and other youth settings are beginning to integrate mindfulness in many ways, but parents can also use mindfulness with their kids at home.

How can you pass up an approach that might help your child to focus on tasks, calm nervous energy, control negative behavior, or build self-esteem?

The question, then, becomes: where do I start?

The following is a curated list of resources and activities for beginning the journey of mindfulness practice with your children; it is simply a place to start but may help you to begin integrating these practices into daily life in your own house.

Explaining mindfulness to kids:

Let’s start with some resources on how you can explain mindfulness to kids.  Mindful Magazine is an excellent resource for ideas on mindfulness practice at home (or at work).  Their article on teaching kids about the brain uses a visual metaphor of a house (“upstairs and downstairs”) to help kids understand how the brain relates to the rest of the body.  You can use this concept to help teach your kids about how the brain works and to talk with them about this complex idea in a way that may help them to understand how it plays out in their life.

An artistic and tactile activity is also an option.  The glitter jar activity described in Mindful Magazine engages kids in creating a jar of water and glitter (like a snow globe); by watching the glitter float around in a frenzy when shaken up, then settle to the bottom as it is allowed to rest, kids can begin to understand how the activities of their daily life may cause their brain to get overloaded.  You can use the jar as both an explanatory tool and a mindfulness practice (“let’s sit together and take some deep breaths while we watch the glitter settle”).

I was pleasantly surprised by my son’s reaction to this project on a Sunday afternoon when he was starting to get antsy.  He embraced the fun side of the project (shaking the jar around) but also was able to relate to his father how the jar represented his brain and how it had to be allowed to rest a bit in order to calm down.

Practicing mindfulness with kids:

There are a million ways in which you might practice mindfulness with your kids, and they range in formality from encouraging your child to really focus on a given activity (my son immediately calms down when he takes on the challenge of building a new Lego figure) to doing intentional exercises with them like yoga or mindful walking.  Even my toddler is beginning to understand what I am asking when I ask her to “take a deep breath” with me.

Here are a couple of my favorite resources for kid-friendly mindful activity ideas:

  1. The Mindful Teachers website has a great list of potential mindfulness activities for kids that can just as easily be done at home.  For example, when my son is too anxious or excited to sleep we use the body scan (something I use frequently myself) to help him redirect his energy and stop thinking about whatever is keeping him awake.
  2. The Mindful Schools website also has a list of guided practices, with audio explanations to help you learn more.  Our interest in connecting our kids with nature makes “mindful walking” a favorite – simply invite kids to take a slow, quiet walk and to intentionally notice how their body moves or to gently take in what is around them through all of their senses.
  3. Scott Sampson’s book How to Raise a Wild Child is a great link between nature-based play, learning, and mindfulness.  The concept of choosing a “sit spot,” where you simply sit and notice the natural world around you, is one of Sampson’s strategies for nature exploration.  My son’s teacher uses this practice as part of her Forest Kindergarten curriculum and we have used it at home as a way to connect with the land around our homestead while also encouraging quiet time.
  4. is a site I often recommend for helping kids to use technology in a way that encourages movement.  Among their list of “channels”, Go Noodle also includes “Flow” and “Think About it” which offer short breathing and guided thought exercises (you can also find these through the “calming” category).  They also have a stretching category which includes a number of yoga videos designed to capture kids’ attention.    Most of these videos are under five minutes and many focus on positive self-image.  My son will often start with an exciting exercise video on the site and follow it up with a more calming option.
  5. Lastly, I love this “Follow the Bird” mindfulness activity profiled in Mindful Magazine.  Just invite your child to simply stand in a field until they see a bird, approach it slowly, then gently follow it as it flies away.

We cannot expect our kids, or ourselves, to be intentionally mindful every minute of every day.  But I do believe that we can use the concept of mindfulness to bring a little bit more peace to each day; in fact the essence of the practice is the act of redirecting our attention when faced with stress, anxiety, or complexity. We can also equip our children with a skill that will last a lifetime, a skill that many of us are just trying to learn as adults.  What an advantage that would be!

If mindfulness seems counter to your daily frenzied life, begin with something small and see how it goes. I would love to hear how it works for you.