Inspiring health and happiness in body, mind and spirit

Growing Mindful Kids

May 30, 2012
Plant seeds of mindfulness in your child's life, and you may be surprised how beautifully those seeds bloom. Kids are naturally primed for thoughtfulness and care, and this interest can be cultivated through simple practices sprinkled into your family's daily life. Give a few of the following practices a try the next time your family needs an infusion of love and understanding.

Sprinkle your day with blessings and simple reminders to be present and grateful.  When we arrive at school with just a few moments to spare, my kids and I take a few deep breaths together in the car ("mindly breaths" as my four-year-old calls them.), and wish each other a happy day. We were inspired to do this by Susan Kaiser Greenland, who wrote The Mindful Child, my favorite book about mindfulness for kids.

Include simple rituals at mealtime and bedtime, too. Our mealtime grace is simple: "Blessings on the meal and all who share in it." And our family crafted our own family blessing based on Buddhist metta meditations that we recite together each night.

Be generous with hugs and other expressions of care. In our family, every person has the inalienable right to call out, "9-1-1, I need an emergency hug!" and regardless of how busy, angry or sad the other family members are, they are required to shower that needy family member with hugs and kisses. We learned about this practice here. My kids also found these love tokens in their Easter baskets last year, and they drop them into my hand whenever they need a little extra TLC. (They are always returned so they can be used again.)

Practice 100 Acts of Kindness. We like to do this in the days leading up to Valentine's day, but it could be practiced any time. Simply commit to practicing "random acts of kindness" toward others in your lives. The kids love writing them down, or even posting them as hearts, as we learned here.

Set up a "Change for the World" jar. Collect your family's loose change in a bowl or jar in a visible place, and when it's full send the amount off to your favorite charity. We learned about this here, and have enjoyed sending our collection (along with a lot of pencils) to a charity that helps fund schools in Africa with basic supplies.

Talk about feelings often. Sometimes drawing pictures together, discussing struggles at school, or even just listening to music can help lead us into a discussion about emotions. Sometimes we talk about what tender feelings might have been brewing just beneath the surface of someone's confused behavior, or try to imagine how others might have felt when facing challenges or delights in their lives.

Grow a Thanksgiving Tree. We like to do this in November just before Thanksgiving, but it could be done any time. We started with this template of a tree, and then plastered it with leaves with things and people we're thankful for on them. Over time, we moved on to a real, 3-D tree, which is permanently perched in our hallway.

Practice yoga or meditation together. My favorite collection of guided meditations for children is available online here, for free.

Make family prayer flags. Inspired by traditional Tibetan prayer flags, make some of your own. Ours include words we hoped would inspire us to be mindful, thankful and kind, like PEACE, LOVE, SHARE, and SAVOR. Some beautiful examples can be found here and  here and here. (A slightly more spontaneous - and less labor intensive - approach is to scatter written reminders - SHINE, CARE, LAUGH - in random and surprising locations all around the house.)

Read books about yoga, meditation, kindness and emotions. Kids love a good story and there are plenty of good ones that help foster emotional and mental wellbeing. Studies have also shown that reading books helps cultivate feelings of empathy among readers, who learn the skill of considering the feelings and behaviors of others. A few of our family's favorite books relating to mindfulness can be found here.

Practice sharing friendly wishes for others. This variation on Buddhist lovingkindness meditation, crafted by Greenland and shared in her book, invites us to hold a person in our heart and send them wishes of happiness, health and wellbeing. It offers both kids and grownups a way to prime their hearts toward others, and also offers a potent answer to that question of, "What can we do?" when someone we know faces is struggling. We always feel better when we send friendly wishes, and we hope those around us do, too.