Mindfulness: Journaling, Breathing and More!Print Page
Our skills for managing stress, anxiety, excitement, and many other emotions are always with us, but it takes practice to learn how to access and call upon these tools. Teaching children simple skills in emotional awareness and mindfulness at a younger age helps them to craft lifelong, healthy habits and better manage the ebb and flow of life.
Mindfulness is the practice of being fully present in the given moment while working to identify and be aware of our own feelings and emotions. Mindfulness can be practiced in many ways – try one of the activities or develop a practice of your own.
Often, children feel safer and more open to exploring their thoughts and feelings when they can do so in a private place such as a journal. Journaling helps us us to dig deep into what is important to us in each moment and offers a space for reflection.
Allow children to choose or create a special journal for their thoughts. Whether it’s a journal created out of printer paper and a stapler, an old notebook in the back of the closet or digital – give children an opportunity to make it their own. Paint, collage, doodle or draw – creating a space that feels the most comfortable and unique to them.
Start by offering prompts. Begin with topics such as self-esteem, self-reflection, story-telling, etc. to help children get a jump start in their writing and reflection. Invite children to utilize the prompts or journal on a topic most important or top of mind for them. Looking for examples? Try out some of these:
- What makes you happy?
- Who do you look up to and why? Do you share any traits with this person?
- What is something you learned about yourself this week?
- Write something that makes you special.
- Trace your hand and write 5 things you like about yourself on each finger.
- Write 3 things that you are grateful for today.
- If you could have one superpower what would it be and why?
- Write your favorite thing about an important person in your life.
- Describe a time you noticed someone struggling and how you helped them feel better.
- Make a list of kind actions that you can and have performed for others.
- What is your favorite memory? Why is this your favorite memory? How did you feel at this time?
- Why is it important to thank others? What does it mean to be thankful?
- What is your favorite way to make other people smile?
Lead by example by offering to journal together. Modeling these practices helps children to formulate their own. Journaling together can be a great way to connect with others and explore empathy. Start by choosing a prompt. Offer to journal separately for a few minutes. Come back together and offer to talk about it. Make it clear that discussing what everyone wrote is optional and not necessary for those who do not wish to share.
Deep and thoughtful breathing exercises help to calm the nervous system and can act as a “reset” in times of unrest. Often times, we do not think or pay attention to our breath, but it is amazing what even just 60 seconds of conscious breath will do for you both physically and mentally. Diaphragmatic breathing is a simple technique to promote relaxation and mindfulness that focuses on the expansion of the abdomen and diaphragm instead of the chest. This allows children to focus on longer, deeper breathes, rather than short and shallow breaths. Individuals will sometimes count to four or five for the inhalation and then back down to zero with each exhalation. This can help to match each breath.
Blow Out the Birthday Candles: Stick your hand out and use slow deep breaths to blow out the birthday candles. Lower one finger down at a time while you exhale. Repeat several times.
Deep Belly Breathing: The fullest inhales come from the depth of our bellies. Bringing awareness to the rise and fall of our bellies can bring us a sense of calmness and can slow our breath down in times of stress. Place one hand on your belly and one hand on your heart. On the inhale breath from the very bottom of your belly and feel how your belly rises. On the exhale, bring attention to the feeling of release as your belly falls. Repeat several times.
Hot Air Balloon Practice: Sitting in a comfortable cross-legged position, start by cupping your hands round your mouth. Take a deep breath in through your nose and slowly start to blow out through your mouth, growing your hands outwards in time with your exhale as if you are blowing up an enormous hot air balloon. This long deep exhalation as you blow up your hot air balloon has a relaxing effect and the image is incredibly vivid for children’s imaginations.
Bumble Bee Breathing: Sitting comfortably with your legs crossed, breathe in through your nose, then with fingers in your ears hum out your exhalation. The comforting sound and vibration has a calming effect.
Other Mindfulness Exercises
Opportunities to practice mindfulness are all around us! Almost any activity can be turned into a mindfulness activity just by placing the intention behind it.
Art: It may seem simple, but drawing and doing other art projects can be very calming and a great outlet for self-expression. No need to buy any fancy art supplies, a pencil and paper will do! To learn more about the psychological benefits of art read, 15 Art Therapy Activities, Exercises & Ideas for Children and Adults from Positive Psychology.
Movement: Movement gets our blood flowing and releases endorphins that make us feel lighter and happier. Whether it is through dancing, walking, jumping, or playing, physical activity has incredible benefits for the mind. Ready to step out of your comfort zone and try something new? Practice simple yoga poses with your children to incorporate mindfulness through breath and movement. Help children identify their feelings for themselves and others by exploring empathy through physical activity.
Sensory Play: Sensory play brings awareness to one’s place in the physical world through abstract activities. Create a sensory bin for children to explore their senses and gain a better understanding of themselves in relation to their physical environment.
Mindful Eating: Mindful eating is a mindfulness practice that helps children develop a deeper connection with food and begin to create lifelong, healthy habits. It encourages children to focus on the present – noticing thoughts, feelings and physical sensations.
Social Emotional Health Highlights
Activities such as these help children develop…
Self-Management and Self-Awareness: Practicing mindfulness allows children to begin identifying feelings and better control emotions while re-centering attention onto the present moment. Helping children to better understand how feelings and emotions influence behavior equips them to make responsible decisions to control impulses and communicate effectively. Mindfulness exercises are also a great way to support children in setting and working towards personal goals.
Relationship Skills: Learning how to communicate one’s feelings and emotions can be difficult, but mindfulness techniques such as journaling and breathing can give children the skills they need to identify their emotions and communicate them when necessary. Mindfulness activities also help children develop skills in problem solving and analyzing situations by helping them better communicate and interact with others.
Lead by example. Try to practice mindfulness yourself! As adults, it is much easier to invest energy into our children when we invest energy into ourselves.
Create a designated space for you and your child to practice mindfulness. This space does not have to be large and can even be a corner of your living room! Ask for ideas on how to make the space more calming and inviting for you and your children.
Offer mindfulness practice as an activity, but never force a child to participate. Use mindfulness for positive reinforcement only, do not use it as a punishment or in any negative context.
Share your own experience with mindfulness with your children. Explain how mindfulness helps you. Maybe share a story about a time when practicing mindfulness helped you through a challenge or a tough time.