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The practice of mindfulness has increasingly gained mainstream popularity over the years, though it has been a tenet of Buddhist practice for thousands of years. Outside its spiritual connections, mindfulness practice can reduce stress and anxiety and promote a sense of wellbeing. As mindfulness continues to reach new demographics, more and more studies are exploring its effects and benefits, not just for adults but for children, too.

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What Is It Exactly?

Mindfulness is the practice of centering awareness on the present moment without judgment. This is done by focusing on one's immediate surroundings, namely the body, breath, and information obtained through the senses, such as the feeling of the surface you're sitting on, the warmth of the air around you, and the sounds of the birds outside.

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Don’t We Already Do That?

We're actually pretty disconnected from our physical surroundings these days. To some, this overview of mindfulness might seem overly simple or trite; however, once they make an effort to detach from thoughts and distractions and focus only on the present moment, most people realize how quickly and easily our minds wander. That's why mindfulness is defined as a practice and not an activity: it takes intentionality and concentration.

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Developmental Benefits for Children

As previously mentioned, this form of meditation involves the practice of intentionality and concentration, both of which are controlled in the prefrontal cortex of the brain. Adults and children alike stand to benefit from the development of these skills, although some experts believe children can get the most out of it because their brains are still developing.

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Behavioral Benefits for Children

Children may also benefit from the practice by learning how to better ignore distractions, remain calm in challenging situations, and exercise patience. Mindfulness could also improve impulse control, cognitive control, working memory, and attentiveness. Studies also show that the reductions in anxiety and stress often seen in adult subjects are evident in children, too.

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Research Into the Benefits

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Better Sleep and a Healthy Heart

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How To Teach Mindfulness to Children

Teaching mindfulness to children can require a lot of patience. The minds of adults and children alike wander; the trick is to avoid judgment — don't feel bad or reprimand the practitioner when this happens. Simply encourage the child to come back to the present moment or their breath. Mindfulness is supposed to be enjoyable and enriching. The more you and your child practice focusing on the present moment, the easier it will become. Start with a short period of time — even just one or two minutes — and work up from there.

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Exercises for Kids: Mindful Eating

This exercise might be a bit difficult for an eager eater, but it's definitely worth trying as it can help a child better experience and enjoy their meals and prevent tummy aches from shoveling in food. Exercises can be done together or the parent can instruct and monitor.

  1. Pick a food item, such as an apple.
  2. Hold it in your hand. Feel the texture. What does it feel like?
  3. Bring it to your nose and smell it. What does it smell like?
  4. Slowly take a bite. Notice how it feels to bite into the apple. What sounds do you hear, what does it feel like, what does it taste like?
  5. Repeat step 4 as you eat the apple. Try to appreciate the action of eating through all your senses, slowly and intentionally.
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Exercises for Kids: Mindful Breathing

Once again, exercises can be done together or the parent can instruct and monitor. Mindful breathing is a bit more straightforward than mindful eating, and might be a great activity for children who struggle to sit still.

  1. Sit comfortably, close your eyes.
  2. Focus on your breathing. Counting may help maintain focus. For example, breathe in for three counts, breathe out for three counts.
  3. Feel your chest rising and falling with each breath.
  4. It's normal for the mind to wander. When you notice it has, simply start counting your breathing again.
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Exercises for Kids: Mindful Walking

Outdoor activities are vital for kids, and incorporating mindfulness into part of a walk can enhance the experience and make your practice more engaging and enjoyable.

  1. Start slowly. Mindfulness is all about taking your time. Which foot do you start walking with? Do you walk heel to toe?
  2. Notice how the ground feels under your feet. What sound is made with each step? Are you stepping over grass or gravel? On a sidewalk? How does it feel to walk on?
  3. Notice how your body moves with each step. How do your arms move? Take notice of how you keep your balance, how your knees bend, and the length of each step.
  4. Whenever your mind wanders, bring it back to these movements.
father and son walking down street together

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Disclaimer

This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.