Our sister publisher Franklin Watts and Wayland publishes a series of mindfulness books titled Mindful Me. This series explores how a mindful attitude to life can enhance enjoyment, promote a sense of calm and confidence, and provide young people with a 'friend for life'.
We’ve compiled a few mindfulness exercises for you to try with your children this #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek:
1. Magic Minute (from Mindful Me: Exploring Emotions)
Scientific research shows that if we are able to observe the physical sensations of difficult emotions without getting caught up in our thoughts about them, then the chemical component of that emotion flushes itself out of our system, returning us to a state of relative ease. All it takes is a minute or two. So when a child is in the grip of a strong emotion, suggest taking a Magic Minute to notice it: Where in the body is the angry feeling? What happens when the child pays attention to this feeling? Does it get stronger or softer? Does it move? Are other parts of the body affected? After timing a minute, if the emotion is still intense, take another 30 seconds. The intensity is likely to have waned. A minute often can make all the difference! (It is also possible to take a minute to notice pleasant feelings.)
2. Nuts and Marshmallows (from Mindful Me: Sleep Easy)
To help the body relax, encourage children to let go of any tension they are holding (often this is muscular tension). You can demonstrate how to do this by having them feel a nut (hard) and comparing this to handling a marshmallow (soft). Then, as they breathe out, suggest that they gradually change their bodies from nuts into marshmallows: imagine breathing out all the tightness, leaving their bodies less ‘nutty’ and more ‘marshmallowy’. Can they notice their bodies sinking a little deeper into the mattress each time they breathe out? Another way of letting go of tension is to intentionally stiffen, or clench, the body from head to toe. Hold this for a few seconds, then let go of stiffening and feel the muscles slacken back into a more relaxed state. Do this three or four times, each time noticing all the sensations that accompany the tensing and relaxing.
3. Balloon in the Belly (from Mindful Me: Breath by Breath)
Breathing deeply into the belly (diaphragmatic breathing) supports a calm and relaxed body and mind. This practice helps children to shift their breathing from the chest into the belly (and is equally beneficial for adults too!). To really feel the effects of this, lie down on a bed or the floor, close your eyes and begin to notice your breathing. After a few breaths, place one hand on your chest and feel how far your hand moves as you breathe. Then, place your hand on your belly, and notice the amount of movement there. If there is more movement in the chest than in the belly, then that tells you that you’re not breathing deeply enough with the diaphragm.
You can encourage your child to breathe more deeply by inviting her to imagine that there is a balloon in her belly that inflates when she breathes in, and deflates on the out-breath. Ask her to choose the colour of the balloon, and then with eyes closed to imagine it filling with the breath, and emptying. She can keep her hands on her belly as she does this. If she becomes distracted by sounds or thoughts, then she can notice the distraction and choose to return her attention to her balloon.
A variation on this practice might be to do it in the bath, where your child can watch the belly rising out of the water. Placing a bath toy on the belly can also be fun: try to breathe smoothly and evenly so that the toy doesn’t fall off into the water.
4. Senses in a Box (from Mindful Me: Get Outdoors)
You can play this game with as many players as you like. Write down each of the five senses on five pieces of paper, fold them and put them in a small box. When it’s your turn, choose a piece of paper from the box. Read out the sense that’s written on that paper. If, for example, you have picked SMELL, then set a timer for three minutes and during this time, all players should use their sense of smell to pay attention to what’s around them. Write down all of your observations. At the end of the three minutes, spend some time sharing what you found. What was the most common smell? The most pleasant? Unpleasant? Unusual? Then choose a different player to pick a new sense from the box.
If you really want to sharpen your attention during this game, try playing it in silence. Talking can dilute our attention and distract us from noticing things.
This game is best played outdoors to take advantage of the endless wonders of nature around us. However, if it is not possible to be outside then exploring indoors can work well too. What’s important is to remain curious and open to our environment, wherever we may be.
Looking for more mindfulness strategies to try with your child? Browse our Mindful Me titles below:
, Wellbeing and Character Education