Learn how practicing mindfulness helps children with anxiety.
Mindfulness is the ability to focus on the present moment while allowing yourself to experience emotions, thoughts and sensations as they develop. It’s important not to try to control your experience when practicing mindfulness. Instead, allowing thoughts and feelings to run their course teaches you to become more comfortable in the stillness. Breathing techniques, meditation and positive affirmation exercises are all helpful components of practicing mindfulness.
Mindfulness and Childhood Anxiety
Learning to tune into your senses can be challenging, especially if you’re distracted or worried about a particular situation. Children who struggle with anxiety and become easily overwhelmed may find it especially difficult to remain focused on the present.
If you’re the parent of an anxious child, you understand how debilitating this condition can be for the entire family. When your child becomes anxious, you likely look for anything to help fix the problem, even temporarily. You might even remove them from the situation to avoid a meltdown. However, avoiding anxiety triggers will make things worse, and temporary fixes don’t provide the long-term solution that will benefit them in the long run. Fortunately, skillful approaches to mindfulness can help your child develop appropriate tools to manage stress and build self-esteem.
Additional Benefits of Mindfulness for Children
There are several benefits children gain from learning how to practice mindfulness. Mindfulness allows them to lean into their emotions and safely work through the feelings they experience. One study in particular found that children who learn mindfulness techniques also strengthen their ability to regulate their emotions. Additional benefits of mindfulness for children include:
- Increased focus and attention
- Better self-control of actions and emotional regulation
- More compassion toward others
- Enhanced ability to solve conflicts with peers
- Decrease in stress and anxiety levels
- Lowered levels of depression
- Less disruptive behavior in the classroom
Mindfulness cultivates resilience in children, which is a necessary skill to help them grow into well-adjusted adults. Learning how to use these tools can build their confidence and help them cope better under stress. Mindfulness also strengthens their executive functioning, which promotes better planning, reasoning and problem-solving skills.
Mindfulness Activities for Kids
A positive aspect of mindfulness activities is that you can tailor them to fit your child’s needs. Some children gravitate more toward guided meditation, while others enjoy sensory activities. By trying out several different exercises, you can find the ones that work best for your child.
- Focusing on their senses — Young children may need help learning to focus before delving into more complex mindfulness exercises. You can introduce this concept during daily activities, such as slowly chewing and focusing on an afternoon snack’s taste, texture and smell.
- Glitter jars — Making a glitter jar is a unique way to represent the mind settling. You can fashion a glitter jar from an old mason jar, glitter and glycerin. As you assemble your jar, discuss how the specks of glitter represent thoughts, feelings and urges. Further, explain that as it settles, it becomes similar to the mind’s stillness while practicing mindfulness. When your child gets anxious, you can shake up the jar and have them focus on mindful breathing exercises until the glitter completely settles.
- Practicing gratitude — This activity focuses on appreciation and can be helpful when your child is disappointed or annoyed by a minor inconvenience. Have your child think of three things they are grateful for. Sometimes children have difficulty naming three things, so brainstorm with them if they need help. This activity is also a great way to show your child that they can still feel grateful even when experiencing disappointment or sadness over life’s circumstances.
- Breathing exercises — Once your child becomes accustomed to meditation, you can help guide them through mindful breathing exercises. These exercises are beneficial since they can come in handy throughout the day in various situations. Consider looking for a guided breathing meditation video created for children online and practice with them until they are comfortable performing it independently.
Cultivating mindfulness in your child is a great way to help them learn how to manage their emotions and anxiety. It’s also essential that your child sees you practicing mindfulness techniques throughout the day too. By modeling these behaviors and helping your child develop their skills, they will build the confidence they need to handle stressful situations as they arise.
Anthony Cupo is a trained mindfulness facilitator (TMF) from the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. He is a co-owner of Stepping Forward Counseling Center, LLC, and has been meditating for over 30 years.