Beginning a 4-part series on Mindfulness – Part 1
We love our children. We really do, but being cooped up with them during the pandemic has left parents and children feeling stressed, anxious, and tired. Dealing with a pandemic at the age of 20, 30, or even 50 is tough, but dealing with a pandemic at the young age of 5 or 12 has its challenges. Our life experiences have taught us the skills and sharpened the tools we need to deal with the highs and lows, but what about children? Do five years of happy childhood prepare you for a life-changing global crisis?
Let us teach at least one skill to our children that will help them deal with the stressors of the current crisis, and as a bonus, all the roller coasters of life – mindfulness. Mindfulness is the simple act of being present in the moment, being aware of the sensations in your mind and body, and meeting it with playfulness and curiosity. What a lot of people miss in nurturing mindfulness is the element of playfulness and curiosity. Mindfulness does not have to be about sitting cross-legged in a room with scented candles, trying to push away any thoughts that enter your mind.
But how do we nurture mindfulness in our children? Children get distracted easily, closing their eyes seems like a punishment and they may deem simple breathing exercises as boring after a while. So, let me take you and your children on a journey of mindfulness. In each part of this series, we will focus on one breathing technique that you can do at the beginning of every day before you begin your mindfulness activity or at the end of the day. This article is the first in a series on mindfulness, where we have an activity for each day of the week. Before we start, here are some tips for parents and educators:
- Use mindfulness in positive situations and not as a means to punish or discipline your children. Remember how we feel when we have our emotions running high, and our friends tell us to ‘calm down’? Try not to do that with your little ones.
- Be a model for your child. Practice mindfulness yourself first. Practice what you preach.
- Make it part of your daily routine. You can make it part of your family time, playtime, study breaks, morning exercise routine, or anything that will engage your child.
So with all set, let us begin part 1 of our mindfulness adventure. These activities are a guide for teachers as well as parents on how to keep their children engaged.
- You can call this either belly breathing or balloon breathing.
- Stand, sit or lie down for this activity.
- Place both of your hands on your belly.
- Either close your eyes or look down at your hands.
- Tell your children we will be breathing in to the count of 1, 2, and 3 through the nose and breathing out to the count of 1, 2 and 3 through the mouth.
- Guide them to take three slow deep breaths and ask them if they can feel their hands moving.
- Do this for ten breath cycles.
Some questions to reflect on or silently think about while breathing:
• Do you feel your belly move like a balloon?
• When does your belly go in, and when does it fill up?
• What do you think is making your belly move?
• Is your breathing making any sound?
• Can you feel your breath in your nose as well?
Calm down Jar
Things needed: A jar, water, glitter glue or glue and glitter, food colour (optional)
Pro-tip: Use this time before the activity to talk to your children about how mindfulness affects their emotions.
How to make the calm down jar
- For younger children, avoid using glass jars.
- Pour water in your jar till it is half-full.
- Add glitter glue. If you don’t have glitter, you can add glue and mix it thoroughly.
- Add glitter and food colouring if you like.
- Give it a good stir and fill the rest of the jar with water.
Using the calm down jar
- Shake up the jar and show it to the children.
- Tell them that whenever they feel angry, upset, or frustrated, this is how their emotions look. It is difficult to see clearly. All their thoughts are swirling in their mind.
- Tell them to keep the jar still for some time and see, if with time, the glitter settles down.
- Ask if they can see clearly now. Tell them that whenever they feel strong emotions, if they slow down, take deep breaths, their minds will also be clear, and they will be able to better work through their problems.
- Tell them to use the jar whenever they feel strong emotions during the day and watch it as the glitter settles. Ask them if it helps them to calm down.
Pro-tip: This is an excellent activity for children to relax and end their hectic day with calmness and appreciation.
- Lie down on the floor or the bed.
- Close your eyes.
- Take two-three deep belly breaths.
- Tell your children to feel relaxed and let everything loose in their bodies.
- Tell them to pay attention to one part of the body at a time.
- Start with the feet and ask how they are feeling in their feet. Do they feel warm, cold, heavy, or light?
- Move to the lower legs, spend time noticing how it feels and take a few breaths.
- Slowly move upward covering the upper legs, pelvic area, belly, chest, back, shoulders, arms, fingers, neck, face and head.
- Finally, spend some time noticing the whole body.
- Did you feel different sensations in different parts of the body?
- Did you notice something new today that you hadn’t noticed before when you slowed down?
- Do you feel calm and relaxed?
Caution: If you are doing this at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, do not blow the bubbles outside the home.
Things you will need: Water, dish soap, a bubble wand – straw, a piece of wire and a pipe cleaner.
- Create the bubble water by mixing water with dish soap.
- Ask your child to sit up tall and take a long, deep breath and blow slowly into your bubble wand.
- Encourage them to pay attention to how the bubbles are forming, where they are floating, and when it pops before blowing the next bubble.
• Does blowing fast or blowing slow get you big bubbles?
• How far did your bubble go?
• Did you see any colours in the bubble?
Things you will need: A bag, several items of varying textures like cotton, sandpaper, rock, wool, stick.
- This sensory game engages your child’s attention and curiosity.
- In a bag, put a small collection of items with various textures.
- Ask your children to close their eyes and take a deep breath.
- Ask them to take one item from the bag and describe what they feel instead of what the thing is.
- With every new collection you present, the children will have a unique experience in this mindfulness game.
- If your child has siblings, each one can select the collection for their brother/sister.
This is something I have been doing for over a year, and let me tell you it is life-changing.
Pro-tip: This is a great activity to do just before you tuck your children in or right after they wake up. I have seen that thinking about the things I am grateful for has always made me realize no matter how bad the day seems, there is always some sunshine to be thankful for.
- Ask your children to share what they are grateful for in their lives.
- You can push them to think harder by setting a number, for example, “Tell me 20 things, people, or experiences you are grateful for.”
- Start by sharing all the things you feel grateful for.
- Once they have shared, ask them how they feel.
- You can also set themes to make it interesting. For example, “Tell me about the people you are grateful for or tell me who are you thankful for in your school and why.”
- Take this opportunity to talk to your children about how all of us are interdependent in this world.
Colour your feelings
Things you need: Paper and colours (crayons, markers)
Pro-tip: This works very well to help children name their emotions.
- Explain to your child that everyone has different types of feelings and it is normal.
- Brainstorm with your child and list all the emotions.
- Ask them to choose one colour for each emotion – for example, yellow for happiness, red for anger, blue for sadness.
- Draw a heart.
- Inside the heart, ask the child to colour how much in their heart, they feel an emotion right now. For example, if they feel a lot of happiness and a little sadness, they will color most of their heart yellow and some of their heart blue.
- You can use this activity as a conversation starter to talk about the children’s emotions.
- When did you feel sad?
- What made you feel anxious?
- What made you feel happy?
Things you need: Small pieces of food like a raisin, a grape or a piece of chocolate.
- Blindfold your child.
- Place three dishes in front of them with three small pieces of food items like a raisin, pineapple, and a grape.
- Ask your child to pick one food item and feel the texture.
- Ask them to put the food in their mouth but tell them not to eat it right away. Ask them how the food feels in the mouth.
- Ask them to eat it very slowly, noticing the different taste, smell, sound and texture of the food.
- Repeat the same with the other two.
- Ask them to guess what they ate, and in the order they ate them.
- You can ask your child to place some other food items and blindfold you, so that you get a chance to do as they did.
These are a few fun and engaging mindful activities for you and your children to do together. In part 2, we will discuss the benefits of mindfulness and venture into our adventure with new activities.
Enjoy the present of being present!
The author is a passionate educator who believes in nurturing good human beings before anything else. She works as a Programme Officer at Udaan India Foundation where she leads the Children’s Programmes. Udaan India Foundation is a Mumbai-based not for profit organization working with children and youth from low-income communities in the field of education. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.