As the virtues of a mindfulness practice seep into the mainstream, it’s no surprise that many parents and teachers want to extend these benefits to their children.
But getting your kid to sit on a meditation cushion sans smartphone (or another distraction) for any length of time can seem like an impossible feat. The good news? Your child doesn’t have to twist into the lotus position to reap the benefits of mindfulness meditation.
“A growing body of scientific research supports what contemplatives have known for centuries: mindfulness and meditation develop a set of life skills that allow children, teens, and parents to relate to what’s happening around them with more wisdom and compassion,” Susan Kaiser Greenland, an author who teaches mindfulness to children, and instructs parents, teachers, and other caregivers to do the same, writes in her book Mindful Games.
Mindfulness isn’t about breathing, calming down, or getting rid of emotions, Kaiser Greenland recently told Tricycle. Instead, the practice is about “developing more awareness of what is happening in the mind and body in the moment.” And when it comes to children and teens, physical practices—such as holding on to a melting ice cube, walking slowly, and dancing to the sound of a drum—can help develop mindfulness qualities and life skills that include focusing, connecting, and caring.
Kaiser Greenland and co-author Annaka Harris’s Mindful Games Activity Cards, available this week from Shambhala Publications, is a collection of bite-size practices to develop mindfulness in children and plant the seeds of a meditation practice.
Below, Kaiser Greenland outlines two “games” from her book that draw upon movement.
Setting Up the Practice
“Kindness with Every Step” and “Thankful with Every Step” are two simple “concrete” mindfulness exercises that are appropriate for all ages and can be done with minimal (or no) props. You can set up line boundaries with tape or chairs. You also might have children do this activity when they walk to the front door or the car.
“With every step they take, have them silently say something they’re grateful for. I’m grateful for my home, I’m grateful for my friends, I’m grateful that I have the day off today, I’m grateful that it’s sunny and not raining for my birthday party,” Kaiser Greenland said.
For younger children, Kaiser Greenland advised, the parent might give the child some gratitude ideas, or instruct the children to say what they’re grateful for out loud as a way to further engage with them.
“Kindness with Every Step” is a modification of a classic lovingkindness practice that allows children to send kindness to themselves, their friends, and the wider world. First, with each step, the child thinks of a wish for themselves—I wish that I’m happy, I wish that I’m safe, I wish I have everything I need.
After that, have the child send wishes to someone else. I wish that he be happy, I hope that he has everything he needs, I want him to win his soccer tournament. The last affirmation isn’t an example you would find in the Buddhist texts, Kaiser Greenland said, but a wish that might very well be on a child’s mind. Finally, the child should extend the well wishes outward: I want everyone in the world to have everything they need, I really hope that everyone in the world is peaceful and happy.
In a perfect world, the child should be taking slow steps, similar to a speed used in walking meditation.
“If a child is particularly hyper, the really slow walking can be difficult for them,” Kaiser Greenland said. “In that case, have them go at whatever their natural speed is. They might need to let go of some excess energy.”
Push a Little Bit Beyond Distraction
When distraction inevitably infiltrates the exercise, encourage the child to continue a little bit longer as a way to build up capacity.
“The goal is to start doing this exercise for short periods of time frequently and then over time build longer periods,” Kaiser Greenland said.
[This story was originally published in 2017]