Over the last few weeks, I’ve been finding myself especially disappointed with how hard it is to plan for anything in the middle of the Omicron wave of the pandemic. Things feel unpredictable and uncertain, and it may feel hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Children can feel the same way, if they don’t know for sure if their school might go to remote learning, or if an exposure will require a sudden quarantine, or if a caregiver might get sick and plans may have to change.
Planning is inherently about the future, about thinking ahead, rather than about where we are right now. When it’s hard to guess what might come next, getting settled into the present moment can help ease the worry or stress that may come along with not knowing. And if we as adults can help children slow down and know that in this moment, there is safety, joy, and connection, we can help them cope with the uncertainty about what might come next.
Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as awareness that arises from “paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.” The practice of mindfulness has numerous benefits to our bodies, minds, emotions and social connections. So it’s a good practice for this particular moment, but also helpful more generally for helping our children grow into healthy, happy adults.
Here are a few of my favorite mindfulness activities for kids. They’re quick, accessible, and fun!
7 Tips for Anxious Children:
Focus on 5 senses:
Sit with your child for a few minutes and go through your five senses together. Share one thing you see, one thing you hear, one thing you feel, one thing you smell, and one thing you taste, and have them do the same. You can be silly or serious, and can incorporate a cuddle if you want to.
Bonus 5 Senses Activity:
If you have a pet or your child has a favorite stuffed friend, those are great tools to use to help your child connect to their five senses. Ask your child to play gently with the pet or stuffed friend and tell you what they notice with each of their senses (though I always remind them not to taste their pet or their stuffed friend; maybe stick to four senses for this one). This activity gives the bonus of connecting with something nurturing at the same time as they are practicing being mindful.
Find 5 things:
Have your child pick colors and take turns looking around the space you are in to find five things you see that match that color (e.g., “find five things that are red …”). You can do as many or as few colors as you want to, and can try it with shapes or patterns, too.
Get a small snack (a raisin, cracker or other snack with lots of texture is good for this one). Sit with your child and go through your five senses very slowly as you eat the snack, first looking at it and touching it, then smelling it, and then eating it and noticing the taste and sound as you eat.
Find a lotion that you and your child both like the smell of and take turns putting it on each other’s hands. Do this slowly and (you guessed it) pay attention to and name with your child how the lotion feels, smells, looks and sounds. If your child is young enough that are you are still helping them with their bath, you can do the same activity in the bath with soap or shampoo. This is another activity that nicely pairs nurturing with mindfulness.
This is the classic deep breathing activity to help settle the body and focus on the breath. I like to have children place their hands on their bellies so they can feel their breath going in and out. You can also ask them to lie on the floor and put a stuffed friend on their belly so they can lift the stuffed friend up and down with their breath. Try five deep slow breaths, trying to pay attention to only the breathing.
Notice your body:
Sit with your child and cue them through a body scan, letting them choose whether they start with their heads or their feet. I usually encourage children to wiggle each part of their body as we check in with it, because children often have a hard time sitting still as adults might do in a classic body scan activity. Ask your child to notice how each part of their body feels without needing to do anything to change it. If you want to do a longer body scan meditation with your kids, here is one from mindful.org you can listen to together.
Remember to take these brief moments of mindfulness for yourself, too. Every time you ground yourself into the present moment, you become more able to be present for your child, and every time you help them ground themselves, you are helping them feel safe and joyful in the present even if the world is swirling around them.
If you enjoyed this post, you will also enjoy 5 Ways to Support an Anxious Child.
 Mindful (2017, January 11). Jon Kabat-Zinn: Defining Mindfulness. https://www.mindful.org/jon-kabat-zinn-defining-mindfulness/
 Greater Good Magazine (retrieved 2022, January 19). Mindfulness: Why Practice It? https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/topic/mindfulness/definition#why-practice-mindfulness