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11 ways to encourage mindfulness for kids

Here's how to get kids in the habit of being present in the moment.
/ Source: TODAY

All kids — at every age — can benefit from mindfulness.

Mindfulness for kids can look like journaling, playing a game or counting breaths.

What is mindfulness?

Eileen Kennedy-Moore, PhD, a clinical psychologist based in Princeton, New Jersey, told TODAY Parents that mindfulness is about being aware of one’s present moment experience without judgment.

"It often involves noticing where one’s attention is focused and gently redirecting it when the mind wanders," Kennedy-Moore said. "Often mindfulness interventions focus on noticing the breath, but they may also focus on noticing sensations in the body, or a sound, or walking or moving and paying attention to what that feels like in the body."

How do you explain mindfulness to a child?

While it might seem like a huge task to get your little one to focus, Kennedy-Moore said that little kids can be adept at being mindful.

"If you’ve seen your child utterly engrossed watching a bug or digging in the sand, those were probably moments of mindfulness," she said.

She continued, "Around age 7, children become able to compare themselves to their peers in a realistic way, which can lead to self-consciousness and a drop in self-esteem. Around age 8, children understand that people can have different emotional reactions to the same situation because they think about it differently."

Related: 6 stress-relief tips that will turn any ordinary walk into meditation

Kennedy-Moore, author of “Kid Confidence: Help Your Child Make Friends, Build Resilience, and Develop Real Self-Esteem,” shared the benefits of mindfulness for kids.

"Research shows that teaching kids mindfulness practices can reduce stress and aggressive behavior and improve academic performance," she said. "When kids can observe their own moment- to-moment experience, it can slow down their automatic reactions. This makes it easier for kids to make wise decisions about how they want to respond to their own thoughts, feelings, or actions related to what’s happening around them."

Mindfulness activities for kids

  • Daily emotional journal (i.e. “Something that is making me angry/sad/smile is...”)
  • Practice belly breaths
  • Identify the five senses and something that is stimulating them (i.e. "Right now, I can smell...")
  • Daily gratitude journal (i.e. "Today I am grateful for...")
  • Blow bubbles into a bubble wand focusing on slow breaths and larger bubbles
  • Drawing prompts (i.e. Draw what you can hear right now)
  • Have kids describe their meal before eating
  • Go for a walk
  • Identify colors and shapes in nature
  • Do a body scan (i.e. "Touch your hair. Tell me what it feels like.")
  • Practice a short meditation

Mindfulness tips

Aim for kid-friendly exercises.

"Exercises that are brief and involve movement are easier for kids," Kennedy-Moore told TODAY Parents.

Lead the way.

“Let your child see you using mindfulness and do it together,” Kennedy-Moore said.

Don’t expect an “instant cure.”

“Although there are studies showing benefits from even a few short sessions, in general, mindfulness is a skill that takes practice,” Kennedy-Moore said.