Back when Travis M. Spencer’s daughter was in fourth grade, there were times when she struggled to fall asleep. On those nights, Spencer used to take a few minutes for mindfulness.
First, Spencer invited her to list a few things she was grateful for. That usually included friends or a favorite video game.
“I’m like: ‘I’m glad that you’re noticing those things,’” said Spencer, a mindfulness educator and the executive director of the Institute of African American Mindfulness in Washington, D.C. “Let’s hold onto that feeling and that goodness you’re feeling right now. And maybe just take a breath or two as we’re falling asleep.”
Spencer’s work in mindfulness goes beyond the home. He trains teachers and students in practices designed to increase awareness of the present moment. It’s an approach that’s grown in recent years, with mindfulness programs appearing in classrooms and other education settings.
It helps develop their attention and focus, Spencer said, but also helps kids notice their feelings, physical sensations and the world around them. Such practices could help kids with anxiety, stress and other mental health issues, research shows.
“Mindfulness to me is like a superpower for children,” he said. “The more they can feel connected to themselves, to others and to their environment, the more they can thrive and feel supported, and feel like they can do whatever they want to do.”
You don’t need to be an expert to try mindfulness with kids. Trying mindfulness together can be powerful, said Susan Kaiser Greenland, a mindfulness expert and the author of “Mindful Parent, Mindful Child: Simple Mindfulness Practices for Busy Parents.”
“Modeling is key,” Kaiser Greenland said. “The true benefit of it is not just bringing in an outside mindfulness teacher like you bring in a piano teacher. Where it really starts is with the parent themselves.”
In fact, it can sometimes help for parents to experiment on their own first, Kaiser Greenland said. (You can begin right now with one of these five 1-minute mindfulness techniques.)
Or you can make it a shared endeavor. We’ve got five great ways to practice mindfulness with your children — and Kaiser Greenland said it’s never too early (or too late) to start.
1. Try mindful breathing
Breathing is among the most common mindfulness practices. Often, mindful breathing means choosing one sensation — such as the breath in your nostrils or the rise and fall of your chest — and bringing your attention there.
You can try it for 30 seconds or five minutes. When you get distracted, simply redirect your attention back to the sensation of breath.
With children young enough to have stuffed animals and dolls, Kaiser Greenland recommends a simple breathing practice using a favorite toy.