Teaching Mindfulness to Kids: Resources to Get You Started

Imagine if you could create some space between your child and the thoughts and feelings that rush through him/her like an endless stream.  Imagine what it would be like if your child could pay attention on purpose, without judgement, just to the present moment – right here, right now.  Imagine if you could too.  This is what it is to be mindful – as defined by Jon Kabat-Zinn (Professor of Medicine Emeritus and creator of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School).

Hiccup (7) has been practicing mindfulness skills with me for around seven months now, and in the past couple of months we’ve finally enticed Toothless (4) to join us too.  Hiccup can now articulate for himself what some of the benefits are.  He’s noticed that it helps with his morning focus; calms his body; helps him choose values-based actions; aids in getting to sleep; and in managing with unpleasant emotions like anxiety.  Hiccup’s not alone – the benefits of mindfulness for children has recently been receiving a lot of media attention – for example, see:

Below are some resources Hiccup, Toothless, Stoick and I have been trialling.  Hopefully, providing our review may help you in introducing mindfulness to your own children.

Apps and Websites

Get Some Headspace

I LOVE this app.  Available on web, Android and Apple platforms, the lovely Andy Puddicombe provides subscribers with a unique mindfulness meditation each and every day.  For someone who gets bored quickly like me, this is a godsend.  The app starts with a free 10-day trial of 10 minute meditations and gradually builds up to 20 minutes.  Their latest release allows users to choose the length, and content, of their meditation.

Hiccup and I started with this one, but in our opinion it’s really best suited for adults.  I highly recommend it as a daily practice for the “growed-ups” – because as awesome as it is doing mindfulness activities with your children, your own skills will get better if you have some time to pay 100% attention just to you.  It’s seriously a treat.

The ACT Companion

This little App, also available on both Android and Apple platforms, contains a variety of mindfulness meditations ranging in length from 4-15 minutes, with a lot being around the 5 minute mark.  Children enjoy repetition, and with their shorter attention spans, brevity is good – so this selection worked well for Hiccup.  My favourite is the “Loving Kindness” meditation, which often leads Hiccup to tell me some of the highlights and lowlights of his life right now.  Hiccup, however, prefers the body scan scripts.  This app was designed for adults, and was not enticing for little Toothless.

Annaka Harris

There was huge joy in our house the day I stumbled across Annaka’s beautiful website.  She provides six free downloadable mindfulness scripts, each around 5 minutes in length, specifically designed for 6-10 year olds.  The scripts are from the Inner Kids program, and include mindfulness of breath, mindfulness of sounds, and “friendly wishes” scripts to facilitate compassion and kindness.  These have been a huge hit with Hiccup, and even Toothless found them completely irresistible.  As young children thrive on repetition, we have listened to these over and over again.

Smiling Mind

I have to confess, we haven’t really trialled this one – Hiccup and I listened to one script, but it just didn’t click for either of us, and we’ve had so many other options we love.  However, this is a very popular Australian FREE website that, similar to Headspace, provides unique daily meditations.  I have colleagues and friends who recommend it highly, so I still wanted to include it for your consideration!

Books

Little Flower Yoga for Kids, Jennifer Cohen Harper

Jennifer Cohen Harper is the founder and director of Little Flower Yoga, an organisation that has been teaching yoga and mindfulness in New York schools since 2006.  It’s an easy read – I knocked it off over two evenings – and it provides concise and useful background information into the physiology of mindfulness.  It is jam-packed full of mindfulness exercises, all presented in a very easy-to-follow format.  The book provides clear guidance on how to establish a weekly (or more frequent) mindfulness practice session for the whole family, as well as many ideas for how to incorporate mindful moments into the daily routine.  This is particularly useful, as the point of mindfulness isn’t to be a good meditator – it’s about being present in your own life, in a way that allows you to interact fully in accordance with your values.  There is plenty of variety in the book to keep a family going for quite some time, and I’ve found that we can easily incorporate in the other scripts we’ve been using too.

Sitting Still Like a Frog – Mindfulness Exercises for Kids (and their parents), Eline Snel

Eline Snel developed Mindfulness Matters, a mindfulness training program for children based on Jon Kabat-Zinn’s eight-week mindfulness program for adults.  The program was piloted on 300 children across five schools.  I read this book in a little over an hour – anything that quick to read, as a busy parent, gets a good thumbs-up from me.  Like the LFY book, it gives concise information on the why and how of practicing mindfulness with kids, and contains examples to use in everyday living.  This books is less structured than LFY, in that it doesn’t leave you with a structured plan for introducing mindfulness to kids – more a set of ideas and meditations for you to take and shape in your own way.  Accompanying the book is an 11-track CD of meditation scripts voiced by Myla Kabat-Zinn.  Initially I was a little wary, as Myla narrates in a fairly “traditional” meditational tone, and I wasn’t sure how it would go down with Toothless and Hiccup after the delight of Annaka Harris.  Toothless isn’t sold on these ones, but Hiccup enjoys quite a few of them.  The CD contains a couple of scripts for getting through specific tough moments in the day, and the book contains some good ideas for helping children get to sleep at night; and how to teach mindfulness in a classroom.  Both my children use the “Sleep Tight” script for days when they are having trouble unwinding and getting to sleep.  The scripts from the CD are  available free online .

The Mindful Child, Susan Kaiser Greenland

Susan Kaiser Greenland is the co-founder of Inner Kids, a program that uses games, activities, and songs to help kids tap into their awareness of breathing, the physical world, their inner lives and to develop their attention skills.  The Inner Kids program has been researched at both UCLA and UC-SF.  In my opinion, this book is for those who are really serious about getting into the depths of teaching mindfulness to children.  The author has a lovely story-telling narration as she explores different mindfulness concepts, but if I’m thinking about a busy parent feeling time-poor and just wanting to get started, I’d pick up LFY or Sitting Still Like a Frog first – this one took me awhile to get through.  This book has some lovely ideas (based on her years of experience) for teachers looking at incorporating mindfulness into some of their classroom activities.

What we do in our house:

  • I use the Headspace app for my own personal daily mindfulness practice.  As one who teaches mindfulness, I find it such a delight to have a time each day when someone else leads me through it!  It is also not possible to teach mindfulness – to clients, to children, to anyone – without having your own mindfulness practice.
  • Hiccup, Toothless and I do a daily (up to)  5-minute mindfulness meditation on weekdays before going to school – we rotate between many different scrips, sometimes recordings, sometimes ones I lead.  I let the children choose.
  • We then insert mindful moments into our daily routine, and prompt the children to do the same.

What do you do in your house?  What resources would you recommend?

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5 Responses to Teaching Mindfulness to Kids: Resources to Get You Started

  1. Jennifer says:

    My daughter is 3, is that too young to start? If not how would you recommend we start?

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    • Hi Jennifer! The awesome thing about three year olds is they tend to be pretty much in-the-moment already. In fact, I think we can learn heaps through watching how they interact with the world – everything is just here, just now 🙂 As they move into four and beyond, their internal dialogue develops, as does their capacity to think about the future and remember the past – and that’s when we need to step in with helping them hold on to their ability to stay in the present. So right now, I’d recommend learning from the joy of your daughter, and take the time to nurture your own mindfulness skills so that as she gets older you can continue to guide her. Having said that, there is still a lot to be said for how we talk to our children about their emotions and thoughts, even at the tender age of three (and younger) – the book “The Joy of Parenting” by Lisa Coyne and Amy Murrell would be a good resource to have for this.

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