Mindfulness: Focusing your attention and awareness on the present moment. A therapeutic technique for calming, acknowledging and accepting your thoughts and emotions.
Calm, peaceful, quiet.
Yeah… That doesn’t really sound like a young toddler or preschooler, does it?
Learning to practice mindfulness at a young age is incredibly beneficial. It helps to increase focus, provides tools to help balance emotions, and increases empathy and overall emotional wellbeing.
However, practicing mindfulness for toddlers looks a lot different than it does for adults. Their attention span is much shorter, and they learn the most through play. So here are four tips for teaching mindfulness to toddlers and young children.
Nature Observation Walk
While you are outside together – on a walk, at the park, wherever you happen to be – take a few moments to ask questions and encourage mindful observation.
- What color are the plants?
- Where is the moon or certain flowers, etc.?
- Stop, close your eyes – what do you hear? Where do you think that sound is coming from?
- How does the grass feel? How does the mud feel?
- If you see a ladybug, butterfly or bird, celebrate its beauty. Observe its colors and patterns. Stop and watch as it flies around until it’s out of sight. What does it do? Where does it go?
Stuffed Animal Belly Breathing
This is a wonderful way to wind down for bedtime! It helps calm the body and mind in a way that is engaging and fun.
Have your child lay down on their back, nice and comfy, and place their favorite stuffy on their tummy (a small one is best). Tell them you are going to count to three (or four…five… increase it as they are able to do more) as they slowly breathe in and raise their stuffy up in the air. At first, it can be helpful if you hold your hand up above the stuffy, giving the child a target for how high to make it go.
Next, have your child breathe out slowly, lowering the stuffy back down while you count to three (or four, five… again, adjusting as they are able to do more). Repeat this as many times as they can, with a goal of 10-15. Regular practice will increase their stamina.
This is a yoga pose that enhances balance and stability, both physical and emotional. I often use this one with my toddler and preschool classes in combination with the sunshine breath (next tip) when they are bouncing off the walls and it greatly improves their ability to reclaim control and center themselves. In fact, they soon began to realize when they were starting to feel out of control, and would tell me when they needed to do a tree pose.
Have the child stand with one foot flat on the ground, directly underneath their body. The other foot’s placement depends on their skill level. Ultimately, they will work their way up to having it placed against the knee of the straight leg, but start by having that foot rest on the opposite leg’s ankle, toes touching the ground, raising it higher over time as their balance improves. Their arms will slowly stretch up above their head, palms together, and stay together while the hands are slowly brought down their chest.
I have found that repeating this pose a few times can be helpful. You will notice that as they become more calm and centered, they will stop wobbling.
This is a great technique for incorporating mindful breathing into their self-regulation toolbox.
Start with hands down low in front of you. As you slowly bring your arms out wide around you (making sunshine rays), take a deep breath in. Your hands will end up palms together over your head. As you lower your hands, palms still together, straight down toward your chest, breathe out slowly. (See how this fits in nicely with the tree pose?)
The sunshine breath has been a total game changer in our family! Our child has always been full of energy and overwhelmed easily, making shopping and other over-stimulating activities very challenging. But the sunshine breath can be done anywhere at any time. We started implementing it when our child was a little younger than two, and seven years later, “Pause, let’s take three sunshine breaths” is still a regularly implemented self-regulation tool.
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