IIf you have kids who can’t sleep through the night, it may be time to try meditation. New research published in Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that elementary school children who practiced mindfulness twice a week for two years slept an average of 74 additional minutes a night. These data provide compelling support for the idea that teaching mindfulness practices to children from an early age can be beneficial for their wellbeing; but how exactly do you get the smallest members of your family to “sit still” mentally? What do mindfulness activities for children look like anyway?

How do you introduce your children to child mindfulness activities?

Children enter the world “very presently,” says Blake Lown Beers, founder of Little Renegades, a company that makes mindfulness products and learning materials for children. But as they grow, their brains develop in such a way that brooding, nervousness, and fear can creep in. “So the question is how do we start early to incorporate language and practices and everyday approaches to mindfulness – already at the age of two? or three – so … they’re pretty armed to deal with some of those big feelings, ”Beers says.

There are many ways to practice mindfulness, but Beers points out that there are five main avenues you can use when thinking about teaching your children: breath work, gratitude, affirmation, exercise (yoga, stretching, or any movement that you have about your body) and sensory perception (where attention is drawn to the five senses). For example, do a breathing exercise with your children, ask them to share what they are grateful for, or take them outside to observe the nuances of an individual tree.

Take part in these activities for the best chance of success with Your child, says Helen Egger, MD, child psychiatrist and founder of Little Otter, a mental health practice for children. “Don’t say, ‘Go and practice your breathing,’” she says. “Say: ‘Come on, practice your breath with me”. ‘” That way, you’ll model the behaviors you want to see while practicing feels less like homework.

Beers also suggests repeating exercises to develop mindfulness habits. “Just as we teach our children to brush their teeth before bed, this is a piece of mental hygiene that we want to teach them,” she says. And try not to think too much about it, she adds, noting that people often ask her how long they should practice with their kids each night. “Just do it for as long as it’s interesting to the child – the last thing we want is for it to feel like a chore,” she says.

The study taught children what stress is and how to relax through breathing exercises. They also received training that focused their attention on the present moment and learned yoga-like activities. Not sure where to start with your own little one? Below are 6 specific mindfulness activities for children that can be easily incorporated into your child’s life to improve their overall wellbeing (and maybe get you an extra hour of sleep as well).

6 Mindfulness Activities For Children That Can Equip Them With Tools To Cope With

1. Stop and tune into the five senses

Part of mindfulness is dwelling in the present moment, and Dr. Egger says there are many ways to bring the children’s focus back to the now. For example, take them on a nature walk and guide them through each of their five senses, e.g. “What do you smell? What do you hear?”

You don’t have to be in a special place to do this. Dr. Egger says you can do this activity in line at the grocery store, for example. “It can be a really nice way to teach your child, in found moments, to open their eyes and ears to what is actually going on around them,” she says, adding that you can turn this into a game.

2. Practice abdominal breathing

“Abdominal breathing is one of the easiest and most helpful ways to teach your child mindfulness,” says Dr. Egger. To do this, she suggests that you lie down on the floor with your child and put your hands on your stomach. Then you breathe in so that your belly thickens (as if you were filling a balloon with air), and then you slowly let the air out of the “balloon”. “This is one of the core skills that you teach mindfulness and it not only centers a child and calms their nervous system, but also gives them a tool when they (or you) are feeling stressed or hectic,” says Dr Egger.

3. Try a bodyscan meditation before bed

Learning to practice mindfulness before bed can be very helpful as it allows children to fall asleep more easily now and as they grow up. For this purpose, Dr. Egger has a practice that she has already used with her own children. “You lie down and close your eyes. Then you start at the toes and say, ‘Relax your toes, your toes are so tired,’ and then you work your way up to your ankles and calves and so on, ”she says. “It’s a great way, like abdominal breathing, to teach your child that we can relax our bodies and … that will help us deal with stress.” Usually, she says, her children fell asleep before she reached her belly button.

4. Participate in three-breath hugs

Another mindfulness practice parents can use with their children is the three-breath hug, and that’s what it sounds like – you and your child both take three deep breaths in and out as you hug. This is not just about calming the mind. It’s about getting in touch with our emotions, our bodies and the world around us, says Dr. Egger. While hugs are a great stress reliever, this exercise includes a hug because it’s an easy and organic way for kids to engage in a mindful moment, she explains. After all, activities for children are most effective when parents join in too.

5. Use mindfulness prompts for children

If you need more specific help creating mindful moments with your child, you might consider finding or using prompts that encourage your children to be more mindful. Beers’ company Little Renegades has developed prompt decks that use animal figures to ground children. For example, a card asks the children to “put on their fox ears,” says Beers. This helps them tune into one sense – their hearing. “It makes them hyper-focused on the environment around them,” she says.

Once the child is familiar with “putting on the fox ears” (or one of the other prompts on deck), you can always rely on it if you need a moment of mindfulness or a reset. “The idea is that over time you build enough of these tools that they have little chance of becoming aware of whether they’re feeling big things or whether they need a break or a bit of silence,” says Beers. “It builds a little more mindfulness routine into your everyday life.”

6. Use a mindfulness journal

Journaling is a proven mindfulness tool, and there are notebooks that are specifically geared towards children. Little Renegade has three different types (one for outdoor exploration, one for creativity, and one for practicing gratitude) with prompts specifically designed to create mindful moments for children ages seven and up. “The magazines are a processing space and really help them tune in,” Beers says.

Some mindful recording techniques may resonate with your child more than others, but trial and error can be a fun process. And even if your little one doesn’t miraculously sleep an hour longer each night, they’ll benefit in other ways. “The value for children is to be aware of their feelings, their thoughts, their body and how stressful they are at a particular moment,” says Dr. Egger. “It gives them opportunities to observe these things and have the centered experience that comes from just being here and now.”

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