Did you know that mindfulness practice can dramatically improve physical, emotional, and mental health? Studies show that people who meditate tend to have more gray matter in the parts of their brains associated with memory, compassion, self-awareness, learning, and introspection than non-meditators—but that’s not all. Meditation also seems to support healthy brain aging and improve neural connections, while scaling back brain regions that produce fear, stress, and worry.1,2,3,4
As if this wasn’t already enough reason to embrace mindfulness, it turns out this type of practice is also great for your gut—providing relief from ongoing stress that could otherwise harm friendly flora.5,6
It’s exciting that something so simple can bring so much good, but most of us tend to think of mindfulness as a serious discipline reserved for adults only. Actually, that couldn’t be farther from the truth! Mindfulness is absolutely wonderful for kids, too—and the earlier they get started, the sooner they can enjoy all its positive effects.
How Can Mindfulness for Children Make a Difference?
Developing mindful habits early on can impact the brain, microbiome, and behavior in ways that are nothing short of amazing. Educators have discovered that including meditation periods in their daily schedule led to:
• Better school attendance
• Reduced aggression
• Higher grades
• Fewer suspensions
• Higher levels of happiness
Additional research also found that children’s meditation can improve attention, reduce overactive behavior, lower stress, and increase working memory.7 Mindfulness practice has even been found to increase kids’ sense of social responsibility!8 And all that relaxation has a positive impact on microbial health, which bolsters immunity to keep kids feeling their best.
Getting kids to embrace mindfulness is an interesting challenge though—if it isn’t fun, they simply aren’t going to do it. Healthy habits for kids need to feel like, well, child’s play, or they’ll never get off the ground. These seven entry-level mindfulness practices are simple, engaging, and enjoyable ways to introduce children to mindful living—and they can be easily adapted to your kids’ ages and interests.
1. Mindful Time in Nature
A habit of spending lots of time in nature brings benefits you’ll see right away. Kids will love playing, relaxing, and recharging outdoors, while they introduce their skin and gut microbiomes to countless varieties of friendly flora. Being around nature also encourages a happier mood, stress relief, and a healthy weight.9,10,11 And kids who spend lots of hours outdoors even tend to be better behaved.12
Combining nature time with mindfulness lets kids partake in a double whammy of goodness. You might want to bring your little ones on a mindful nature walk, encouraging them to notice what they smell, feel, hear, taste, and see. It could be a game of searching for signs of the changing seasons, or hunting for their favorite colors, shapes, insects, or animals. As a gentle introduction to seated meditation, you may want to try sitting quietly with your kids for five minutes, and simply watch how a leaf sways in the wind—or track the movements of a bird in the treetops.
2. Tuning in to Now
Getting centered in the present moment is a wonderful way to regain a sense of calm and personal power when life gets crazy. But if you tell your kids that, they’ll probably just roll their eyes. Instead, you may want to try this “Super-Senses” meditative game with them:
• Begin by inviting your child to pretend to be Spiderman, a dolphin or bat, Nancy Drew, Encyclopedia Brown, Harry Potter, or any other favorite character with enhanced senses or skills. You can choose a character and pretend with your kids too!
• Take turns using your special “Spidey-sense”, sonar, radar, magic, or detective skills to determine what’s going on with each of your five senses right at this very moment. You might start with touch and say, “My Spidey-sense is tingling! It’s telling me the sun feels warm and nice on the back of my neck”. Your child might respond with, “My dolphin sonar is going crazy! It’s telling me that this sweater feels so soft on my arms”.
• Go through all five senses, and if it feels appropriate, conclude with a sixth round acknowledging the sense of intuition.
This exercise works especially well during long car rides, or when you’re stuck in waiting rooms, but once your child has this mindfulness tool in her toolbox, she can use it to re-center any time things feel out of control.
Gratitude is another one of those important mindful habits that most kids will turn their noses up at if you suggest it. But focusing attention on life’s blessings isn’t just good for you—it feels terrific too! And practiced regularly, gratitude can transform your child’s outlook into something much more joyful and optimistic.
To make gratitude more kid-friendly, try introducing a “happy book”. Let your child pick out a notebook—and whatever glitter, stickers, markers, or sequins they’d like to decorate it with. Then at bedtime, encourage her to write down three to five things that happened during the day that made her happy. Very young children may need you to help them write their thoughts down—or they may just want to draw pictures of their favorite parts of the day and tell you about them.
Kids (and adults!) who give this a try are often amazed to discover that even a day they might have otherwise labeled as rotten was actually filled with some pretty great things. And as an added bonus, working with a “happy book” right before bed eases kids off to dreamland in an appreciative state of mind, which sets the stage for a restful night’s sleep.
4. Mind Those Microbes!
Do your kids realize they have a powerful team of tiny microbes inside them, which constantly work to support healthy minds and bodies? Most children will love the idea of having their own personal superheroes on board, and they’ll want to do all they can to help their probiotic friends thrive.
One excellent way for kids to “mind their microbes” is through mindful eating. This is really a twofold process:
• Part one is for children to become mindful of what they’re eating. With small children, you’ll want to keep it simple, but even the youngest kids can understand that fruits, veggies, and other natural foods are good for their microbes, and can give them superhuman powers and make them run extra fast—while sugary desserts and junk foods put their friendly flora at risk. They’ll also grasp the value of supplementing with a high quality, time-released probiotic like PRO-Kids to keep their microbial forces in top fighting form.
• Part two involves using eating as an easy mindfulness meditation. Kids can make a game of noticing the colors, textures, tastes, and temperatures of their meals to bring them into the present moment—while triggering the relaxation response for comfortable digestion and glowing gut health.
Caring for their teeth is another essential way kids can actively mind those microbes. Keeping the teeth and mouth clean and healthy is important for wellness in the whole body—and supporting the oral microbiome encourages strong teeth, gums, and immunity. Proper brushing and flossing, regular dental visits, and avoiding antimicrobial rinses are easy ways for kids to care for their oral microbial teams. They’ll love it when you make the process fun by adding songs, water play, and silly stories. You may also want to take your kids’ oral health routine up a notch with a high-quality (and delicious) chewable oral probiotic like PRO-Kids ENT.
The ancient practice of lovingkindness meditation is no less relevant today than it was in past millennia. And as the damaging effects of bullying make headline news with increasing frequency, it becomes more apparent than ever that kids need some form of lovingkindness in their daily lives.
Even the very youngest children get the concept of wanting to be happy, so that’s the perfect place to start. Self-love is where all lovingkindness meditations begin anyway! You can then guide your child to extend those good wishes to others.
It’s fine to practice lovingkindness anytime. You might be wishing on a star together, pretending you’re good witches casting a spell, or saying a bedtime prayer with your kids when you introduce lovingkindness—whatever best fits your personal beliefs and lifestyle. Here’s a very quick child’s lovingkindness meditation that you can tweak to fit your child and family:
1. “I wish to feel happy and have all the things that make me happy".
2. “I wish for my family and pets be happy and have all the things that make them happy".
3. “I wish for my friends be happy and have all the things that make them happy".
4. “I wish for my favorite teachers be happy and have all the things that make them happy".
5. “I wish for even the kids and teachers I don’t like to be happy and have all the things that make them happy".
6. “I wish for everyone in my neighborhood to be happy and have all the things that make them happy".
7. “I wish for everyone in this country to be happy and have all the things that make them happy".
8. “I wish for everyone on the planet to be happy and have all the things that make them happy".
9. “I wish for everyone in the whole universe to be happy and have all the things that make them happy".
The surprising takeaway of lovingkindness practice is that it feels so absolutely wonderful! Once your kids experience that rush, odds are they’ll have a habit that sticks for life.
6. Emotional Weather Reporting
Let’s face it, childhood isn’t all rainbows and giggles. Sometimes kids have to deal with some very tough emotions. During these times, they may become so overwhelmed that they act up or simply tune out. Finding a way to identify and observe strong emotions without the usual knee-jerk reaction helps kids stay centered—and able to handle even the most intense feelings with maturity and grace.
This weather report game is a fun and non-threatening way for kids to develop this important skill:
• Give your child a toy microphone and a blazer to wear so she can play the “weatherperson".
• Your child can then do a weather report about the current emotional “weather conditions” she’s experiencing in her inner “neighborhood". For example she might say, “Right now conditions in here are super stormy! There’s a tornado and a hurricane flying around at the same time".
• After reporting the current weather, she can then do a future forecast—perhaps something like, “We’re expecting a calm, sunny day tomorrow".
• If they like, kids can jump around, dance, and stomp for a “special report” detailing the weather conditions.
• Your kids (and you!) may get even more out of this if you take a turn being the weather person too!
7. Mindful Movement/Yoga
It’s not easy for many kids to sit in silent meditation, so they may prefer mindful movement practices like yoga. With postures that have names like downward dog, eagle, pigeon, cobra, and warrior, yoga is a particularly kid-friendly entry into meditative movement for those who love to pretend.
Kids’ yoga classes sometimes appear boisterous or even a little chaotic, but don’t let that fool you—things will settle down. And ongoing yoga practice offers some very tangible benefits to kids, including uplifted mood, reduced stress, and steady energy.12,13,14 Kids who stick with yoga may also experience improvement in both working memory and the ability to self-regulate, which could lead to better school performance over time.15
When mindfulness in any form is approached with a relaxed, playful attitude, your kids will be enthusiastic about getting on board. For now it will just feel like a game, but the mindful habits learned today will continue to deliver some very serious gifts throughout the years to come.
1. Hölzel, B. K., Carmody, J., Vangel, M., Congleton, C., Yerramsetti, S. M., Gard, T., & Lazar, S. W. (2011). Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density. Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging,191(1), 36-43. doi:10.1016/j.pscychresns.2010.08.006
2. Pagnoni, G., & Cekic, M. (2007). Age effects on gray matter volume and attentional performance in Zen meditation. Neurobiology of Aging,28(10), 1623-1627. doi:10.1016/j.neurobiolaging.2007.06.008
3. Luders, E., Kurth, F., Mayer, E. A., Toga, A. W., Narr, K. L., & Gaser, C. (2012). The Unique Brain Anatomy of Meditation Practitioners: Alterations in Cortical Gyrification. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience,6. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2012.00034
4. Luders, E., Clark, K., Narr, K. L., & Toga, A. W. (2011). Enhanced brain connectivity in long-term meditation practitioners. NeuroImage,57(4), 1308-1316. doi:10.1016/j.neuroimage.2011.05.075
5. Bailey, M. T., Dowd, S. E., Galley, J. D., Hufnagle, A. R., Allen, R. G., & Lyte, M. (2011). Exposure to a social stressor alters the structure of the intestinal microbiota: Implications for stressor-induced immunomodulation. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, 25(3), 397-407. doi:10.1016/j.bbi.2010.10.023
6. Bailey, M. T., Dowd, S. E., Parry, N. M., Galley, J. D., Schauer, D. B., & Lyte, M. (2010). Stressor Exposure Disrupts Commensal Microbial Populations in the Intestines and Leads to Increased Colonization by Citrobacter rodentium. Infection and Immunity, 78(4), 1509-1519. doi:10.1128/iai.00862-09
7. Bellinger, D. B., DeCaro, M. S., & Ralston, P. A. (2015). Mindfulness, anxiety, and high-stakes mathematics performance in the laboratory and classroom. Consciousness and Cognition, 37, 123-132. doi:10.1016/j.concog.2015.09.001
8. Supplemental Material for Enhancing Cognitive and Social–Emotional Development Through a Simple-to-Administer Mindfulness-Based School Program for Elementary School Children: A Randomized Controlled Trial. (2015). Developmental Psychology. doi:10.1037/a0038454.supp
9. Gould van Praag, C.G., Garfinkel, S.N., Sparasci, O. . . . Critchley, H.D. (2017). Mind-wandering and Alterations to Default Mode Network Connectivity When Listening to Naturalistic Versus Artificial Sounds. Scientific Reports 7(45273). doi:10.1038/srep45273
10. Toftager, M., Christiansen, L.B., Ersbøll, A.K., Kristensen, P.L., Due, P., Troelsen, J. (2014). Intervention Effects on Adolescent Physical Activity in the Multicomponent SPACE Study: A Cluster Randomized Controlled Trial. PLOS ONE 9(6). doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0099369
11. Amoly, E., Dadvand, P. Forns, J. López-Vicente, M. . . . Sunyer, J. (2014). Green and Blue Spaces and Behavioral Development in Barcelona Schoolchildren: The BREATHE Project. Environmental Health Perspectives 122(12). doi: 10.1289/ehp.1408215
12. Taylor, M.S., Wheeler, B.W. White, M.P., Economou, T., Osborne, N.J. (2015). Research Note: Urban Street Tree Density and Antidepressant Prescription Rates—A Cross-sectional Study in London, UK. Landscape and Urban Planning 136. doi: 10.1016/j.landurbplan.2014.12.005
13. Dai, C., Nabors, L., Vidourek, R., King, K., & Chen, C. (2015). Evaluation of an afterschool yoga program for children. International Journal of Yoga, 8(2), 160. doi:10.4103/0973-6131.158488
14. Felver, J. C., Butzer, B., Olson, K. J., Smith, I. M., & Khalsa, S. B. (2014). Yoga in Public School Improves Adolescent Mood and Affect. Contemporary School Psychology, 19(3), 184-192. doi:10.1007/s40688-014-0031-9
15. Bergen-Cico, D., Razza, R., & Timmins, A. (2015). Fostering Self-Regulation Through Curriculum Infusion of Mindful Yoga: A Pilot Study of Efficacy and Feasibility. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 24(11), 3448-3461. doi:10.1007/s10826-015-0146-2
Roberta Pescow is a writer at Hyperbiotics and proud mom of two amazing and unique young men. Natural wellness is a subject she’s passionate about, so she loves sharing information that helps others discover all the ways probiotics support glowing health and well-being. To learn more about how a healthy microbiome can enrich your life, subscribe to our newsletter.
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