Mindful awareness for children and teens
Updated: Mar 23
This time last year children would have been on their way to school, to spend a day with their friends and teachers, playing in the snow in relaxed groups. I've taught mindfulness to children in schools for many years and it's been delightful and often moving to see how much they get from it - to help with anxieties as letting them discover joy and fascination in something they took for granted. And with all that young people are dealing with today, learning mindfulness skills is more important than ever. Here are some simple activities suitable for children aged 3-18, that they can do on their own or as a family.
Listen to your child with full attention
Sometimes it seems like all we do is listen to our children, especially when they are young. But it’s easy to be so focused on our own goals (like getting dinner ready, checking our texts) that we miss what they are really trying to say. Listening with full attention helps us understand and respond to our children's needs. Even if they don’t speak much, you can sense a lot by noticing their expressions and movements.
Manage your own feelings and reactions
Mindfulness doesn’t mean parents never get frustrated or angry. It means pausing before we react in stressful situations. Young children don’t know how to manage their feelings yet. If you can be calm when your child is not, they learn they can depend on you in difficult times. Staying silent when my teenage son gets angry, resisting the urge to instantly say something back, to convince him of my point of view, definitely helps – as it does to forgive myself for all the times I forget any of this! Taking a few deep breaths helps calm the body and clear the mind. A handy quick strategy for any emotionally-charged situation.
What's your weather like?
Seeing our emotions as being like the weather can help all of us manage our changing emotional landscape. Helping children cope with emotions is one of parents’ richest and most important responsibilities. Asking them about the weather in their minds can be helpful and even quite fun. Standing back from our emotions lets us gain some perspective and stay with the our feelings longer, rather than simply wanting them to go away. An imaginative labelling process like this can help you sense what your children are feeling and how you can help. See below for an example mindfulness script for doing this.
Activities for younger children
A few things to remember:
Keep practices short, about one minute for each year of age. Ie, six minutes for six-year-olds. Do the practice with your child sometimes, so you can share your experiences, too. Remind them there’s no right or wrong way to do a practice, or right or wrong answers, and that it’s simply a time to be curious and kind to ourselves. After the practice, you can ask questions like, ‘What was that like?’, ‘How did you feel in your body?’, ‘Did you notice other thoughts?’ and ‘How do you feel now?'.
- Mindful eating: pay attention to the smell, look and taste of your food.
- Blowing bubbles: notice their shapes, textures and colours.
- Colouring: focus on the colours and designs.
- Yoga: a family yoga activity can help everyone relax and help the whole family to bond, and can be popular with younger children.
- Glitter jars: a fun activity involving glitter and a glass jar. (Only do these when you feel up to a little mess!) See the blog post of Feb 21st, 2020 for further explanation.
Activities for teens
Mental health has been a major issue for young people for quite a time, yet I can hardly begin to imagine what many of them are trying to cope with at the moment, especially older teenagers who are facing such uncertainty about their imminent futures. I use similar activities with teens as I do with adults, such as a Body Scan, mindful movement and breathing meditations. Teenagers are often as exhausted as adults these days, and as busy in their own way. They can appreciate doing a meditation simply as a chance to pause, to rest, and to let their thoughts just come and go. Find guided meditations suitable for teens and adults on my Resources page.
Guided meditation script for a child to explore emotions
You can read the following mindfulness script or adjust it to suit your child. If you think something is bothering them, you can tailor the weather analogies to help them name their emotions. Leave short pauses of a few seconds for your child to think and maybe speak. Maybe repeat back anything they say aloud during this, without further comment.
Let’s go on an exploration/adventure to find your personal weather report. Your weather is made up of the thoughts and feelings you’re having right now. If you feel calm and happy, that’s like a sunny day. Or if you’re upset, that’s like a thunder-storm.
So, close your eyes and notice any feelings you have. Big ones or small ones or any kind. If you were describing the weather inside you, what would it be like?
Is it staying the same or is it changing?
Great, and do you notice anything else? Any other kind of weather inside you? Maybe there’s a mix – partly stormy and partly sunny? Feelings are like weather because they change. Clouds float away and rain stops. The weather doesn’t stay the same way forever. If you’re having a bad feeling, it can be just like that. If you just let it be, and be a little curious about it, it will move along or change and you can see the blue sky again. And I love to know what your weather is like, too. Then I can bring you a raincoat or something to help you or just be there with you. Thanks for sharing your weather with me.
Do share any suggestions for things you've found useful to help you and your children in the comments box below. And remember to be gentle with yourself in this difficult time when parenting is such a challenge.