Breathe in, breathe out: 5 mindfulness activities for children

|6 min read

Editor’s Note:

This is an updated version of a blog post published on August 5, 2019.

As the term winds down, your children should too. Replenish their resilience and encourage positive mental health strategies with five simple activities that support the development of mindfulness in children.

It’s always amazing to see how much a child grows both mentally and physically over the school year. The fast-paced nature of school can leave children exhausted and ready to recuperate, unless they have the skills and strategies to find a sense of calm in the middle of it all.

Developing a child’s natural tendency to be mindful allows them to grow into mindful adults who can take on life’s challenges with effective mental strategies and greater metacognitive awareness.

Here are five activities you can try that support the development of mindfulness in children during the holidays:

1. Practice belly breathing

Breathing is one of the most natural things a person can do and using breathing exercises helps support the development of mindfulness in children.

It’s a reflex that’s hard-wired in our brains, and it’s also the foundation of most mindfulness exercises. Breathing changes energy from tension to relaxation by turning off our sympathetic nervous system, which produces stress hormones.

How to belly breathe:

  • Have your child sit or lay comfortably.
  • Explain to the child that they are to pretend they have a balloon in their belly. Get them to place their hands on their belly.
  • Next, have them take a deep breath in for five counts, blowing up their belly like a balloon. Then have them hold their breath for one count and slowly exhale for six counts; deflating the balloon in their belly.
  • Continue to do this for a few minutes until they are calm and relaxed.

2. Take a mindful walk

At some time during a child’s first year and a half of life, they pull themselves up on unsteady legs and take their first steps. During those tentative first steps, they are truly mindful of the position of their feet, the feel of the floor, and the movement of their body. They concentrate on walking and only walking with a clear, deliberate mind.

Mindful walking is an active, engaging strategy. It’s not about a destination; it is simply about each step and breathing. It is being mindful in the moment. You can practice walking mindfully in any large space. Walking outside, particularly where there is nature around, can be the most rewarding.

How to do basic mindful walking with children:

  • Have the child stand and take several belly breaths, allowing their bodies to relax from their head to their toes.
  • Ask them to soften their eyes and fix their gaze on the ground about eight metres ahead.
  • Tell the children to smile slightly. Smiling signals the brain that what is happening is pleasant.
  • As they walk, have the children focus on the step of each foot as it rises up and then comes back down to the ground.
  • Periodically, have the children stop and notice one object (a flower, stone, stick or leaf) or one sound (birds chirping, water trickling, or cars passing).
  • Get them to spend time appreciating that one moment.
  • Afterwards, take some time to discuss how this strategy made them feel. How did their body feel?

3. Create a handful of gratitude

Being thankful is a fundamental component of mindfulness.

By taking the time to be grateful and lingering in the grateful moment, we start to be mindful of the good things in the world. We begin to see more positive things; positivity breeds positivity. We start to see the good in people, we crave it and, when we see it, we want to repeat even more good. Creating a handful of gratitude is also a perfect mindfulness activity for a rainy day.

For this mindfulness activity, you will need paper, markers, and pencil colours or crayons.

How to do a handful of gratitude:

  • Take some time to discuss what fabulous things they have in their lives and are thankful for having. Don’t allow your child to only focus on material things. Encourage emotional aspects of life like love, friendships, and feelings. Discuss why they are thankful for those things.
  • Have your child place their hand on the paper with their fingers spread and trace around their hands.
  • In each finger, have them write or draw one thing they are thankful for having in their lives. In the end, they will have five fabulous things that they are thankful for having.
  • Have them draw something that represents their personality in the palm.
  • Place the completed drawing somewhere they can see often. Encourage them to look at it often during the day as a reminder to be thankful.

4. Practice a cloud meditation

Children have natural mindfulness when it comes to nature. Cloud meditation taps into this natural inquisitiveness, and supports their development of mindfulness.

How to do cloud meditation:

  • Have them sit or lie down with a good view of the clouds.
  • Begin by having them take five deep belly breaths and ask them to stare at the clouds while asking them these questions to guide the meditation.
    1. Are the clouds fluffy or thin?
    2. Are they moving?
    3. Are they making shapes of things you know?
    4. Are they all the same colour?
    5. What does the sky look like behind the clouds?
  • Give them some silent time just to gaze and mindfully explore the clouds.
  • Complete the meditation by discussing what they noticed and what emotions they felt.

5. Try the ‘squish and relax’

Children have a natural tendency to tense up in a crisis. This exercise helps children to lower their stress levels and relax. Initially, give the child something that will actually ‘squish’ in their hands, such as play dough, a stress ball or a sponge. Later on, encourage them to use the exercise without these props.

How to squish and relax:

  • Have the child sit comfortably with the squish object in one hand.
  • Ask them to take several deep belly breaths.
  • Tell them to squeeze the object tightly like they are trying to pick up a heavy weight. Have them hold this pose for a count of five, then relax.
  • Repeat the cycle for a minute or two. Then allow the child to rest for two deep belly breaths.
  • Repeat with the other hand.
  • Discuss with your child how their bodies felt during and after the activity. What did they notice? How could this help them when they are angry, upset or anxious?

My top tip for supporting the development of mindfulness in children is to allow them to practice these strategies before they need to use them. Practising these strategies during times of calm gives the strategies time to become a habit.

Mindfulness is a life-long skill that can and will support your child’s mental health and well-being now and for the rest of their lives.