Teaching Mindfulness to Young Children

In the last few years, mindfulness has emerged as a new strategy for helping kids find success. It’s a great way of treating children and adolescents with conditions ranging from ADHD, anxiety, and autism spectrum disorders. As we learn more through research the benefits are proving to be tremendous.

But how exactly do you explain mindfulness to a four-year-old? Most say that when it comes to quirky kids it’s best not to define the word but rather invite the child to feel what it means to find their still and quiet place.

Where do we start? 

Begin by paying attention to the breath. Have the child put their hand on their chest and breathe in and out. Talk about the expansion of the in-breath (lungs fill with calming air), the stillness between the in-breath (as they hold their breath) and the out-breath (when they exhale).

Then invite them to simply rest in the space between the breaths that they take. You can explain to them that the very still, quiet place is always with us, it never leaves. The still, quiet place is there when we’re sad when we’re angry, very excited, really happy, and even sort of frustrated. 

Why does this work?

Through learning to feel it in their bodies they begin to identify awareness. This can help them understand that they control many of the things that happen including their thoughts and feelings. The biggest thing for many is that they quickly learn they can begin to choose their behaviors.

How Can I Start Right Now? 

A great way to begin learning is to sit with your child when they are in bed, allow them to place their hand over their chest and then slowly inhale and exhale. You may even want to do a little visualization and talk about how they can pretend that they are floating on a cloud or a big pile of fluffy white whipping cream. Talk to them about visualizing that they are floating in the quiet spaces between breaths. 

A few more visualization ideas, kids often love visualizing that they are:

  • A butterfly in the garden
  • An airplane taking off and flying through the sky
  • A bird flying in the blue sky
  • A rainbow growing from the ground up into the sky
  • A fish or sea turtle swimming in the clear blue water

If laying in bed does not work, you can try sitting on the floor or add in a small bell or chime to signal the start of meditation. Find what resonates with your child and expand upon it when they are ready!

As tired parents, you might also find that this practice also helps you. During those times when you feel like you can’t go on, finding your own quiet place might just be what you need to regroup and face the day!