Being a kid today is more challenging then ever. Big and small, our kids are exposed to growing amounts of stress and anxiety, elevated pressure—from school, peer pressure and added extra-curricular and after school activities—and sensory overload from too much technology, television and screen time. If you’re like us, or many of the other parents we work with, you’re constantly striving to ease your little ones worries and anxieties, help them sleep better, guide them to find tools that will boost focus and concentration at school and support them so they can build confidence, self-esteem and resilience. It can all be seriously overwhelming.
Luckily, meditation and mindfulness are becoming as mainstream as Yoga and self-care, and we’re learning more and more the benefits of these practices not only for adults, but for our kids too. Meditation and mindfulness exercises can lead to reduced feelings of stress, anxiety and overwhelm, while promoting feelings of relaxation, happiness, focus, concentration and general well-being. An added bonus? They can help improve our kid’s sleep, so they feel more rested and have more energy and resilience to face their day! So, how can we assist our kids in being more mindful and guide them to practice (and hopefully learn to love!) meditation, so they can gain these awesome benefits?
We have found that introducing mindfulness and meditation right before bed is a great first step. This is the time when we want to help our kids wind down, calm their minds and bodies and induce relaxation, so they sleep peacefully and soundly. Keep reading as we share our top tips, including a few of our favourite nighttime mindfulness exercises, that you can start to implement in your kids lives today!
Lead by example
What we have found is that in order to engage our children in mindfulness and meditation practices, we need to walk the talk, or practice what we preach, literally. It’s no surprise that our kids mirror what we do. So if you want your kids to start to meditate or practice mindfulness, it’s a no-brainer that you’re going to have to do it too! By leading by example you make meditation and mindfulness a normal part of your family and your daily lives. Our kids have watched us meditate daily since they were infants so, to them, it’s as natural as seeing us brush our teeth or practice Yoga. Kids as early as three or four can learn very simple mindfulness strategies. In fact, they often pick it up way quicker than adults do! A simple rule of thumb is one minute of meditation for every year of age. Therefore a four year old can practice a mindfulness exercise or meditate for about four minutes.
Make it a family affair (and try an app!)
If you’re a newbie yourself when it comes to mindfulness and meditation—and you’re feeling either super-intimidated or super-stuck when it comes to introducing these exercises to your kids—don’t fret. One of our top tips is to check out your app store and download a kid-friendly meditation or mindfulness app. With so many available, you can find one that can teach both you and your kids easy and effective mindfulness and meditation strategies. For little ones, we love one called Settle Your Glitter. This interactive app helps your child recognize how they are feeling (silly, worried, angry, sad or happy), shake up a glitter ball and then mimic deep belly breathing to calm down. Another app that tops our list is Calm, which features a section dedicated to kids meditation and sleep stories. Instead of reading a bedtime story, simply select a soothing story and allow your kids be lulled to sleep. Also, be honest with your kids—let them in on the secret (they love that!) that you’re new to this too and also a bit nervous to try something different. Create a plan and a goal to work together as a family to learn these super effective strategies that will help all of you. You can even create a family chart where you log your family mindfulness time together with stickers and encourage each other to stay motivated and on track.
Make sure it’s relaxing & enjoyable
It’s a fact that kids are simply not going to engage in something that they do not enjoy. So, when it comes to teaching your kids mindfulness and meditation, it’s time to throw any expectations out the door (because we can pretty much guarantee that your 5 year old is not going to sit and meditate like the Dalai Lama) and put your patient-cap on. Kids have enough pressure to do things ‘right’, so make a conscious decision to make this relaxing, enjoyable and lighthearted. By doing this, you will erase any stress or pressure and instill a sense of peace and confidence. Your goal is to make mindfulness and meditation a lifelong habit. So check your expectations at the door and have fun teaching your kids the following exercises (ideally before bed). As they settle into a deep and restful sleep, they will wake with more energy and enthusiasm to conquer their day.
Bedtime guided meditations and visualizations
One of the first things we realized when we started introducing meditation to our own kids was that it was way harder than we thought it would be! Our visions of us sitting criss cross apple sauce on the floor with our hands resting on our knees, while we sat quietly belly breathing, were quickly replaced with uncontrollable giggles, rolling on the ground and lots of flailing arms and legs. Not what we had envisioned! Enter bedtime-guided meditations. For little ones, it can often just be too difficult to attempt traditional meditation exercises. We have found that bedtime guided meditations are the perfect first step. Simply download an app like we mentioned above, or make up your own simple guided visualization or meditation for your kids. Make sure it’s about something calming that they will connect with (like being at the cottage or sitting on the beach during a family vacation) and encourage them to breathe slowly and deeply.
Bedtime belly or balloon breathing
One of our favourite techniques to help soothe your little ones worries and help them feel relaxed and calm before bed is deep belly or balloon breathing. Lead by example and show your child how to place one hand on their heart and one hand on their lower belly. Guide them to inhale for the count of five and fill their belly up like a balloon. Then ask them to hold for three seconds and then slowly exhale for a count of five. Make sure you are doing this with your child and have them repeat it two or three times.
Nighttime square breathing
Square breathing is a super easy, effective and kid-friendly breathing exercise that we love to do right before our kid's heads hit their pillow. The benefits of this type of breathing exercise before bed are enormous. It helps kids switch off from their day, re-focus their attention, induces relaxation and feelings of calm and reduces worry and anxious feelings. When you make breathing practices a daily habit, your kids become better able to handle stressful situations when they pop up. As your child gets more comfortable using the breathing practices at home, they can even start to use them at school or at activities to calm themselves. To practice square breathing, guide your little one to breathe in for a slow count of four, hold the breath for a count of four, then exhale for a count of four and hold for a count of four. To add a fun visual, have your kids draw an imaginary square in the air while they breath, to help them stay on rhythm.
Sleepy-time positive affirmations
Kids of all ages can benefit from positive affirmations. Affirmations are positive and empowering statements that you say or affirm to yourself daily, for example ‘I am confident, I am brilliant, I am unique’ or ‘I believe in myself and I can reach my goals with ease’. To make affirmations kid-friendly, simply create simple and easy-to-remember statements that are relevant to your child. For example, if your child feels anxious right before bed, you can repeat an affirmation with them like ‘I am calm, relaxed and feeling sleepy’. If on the other hand your child is nervous about school the next day you can repeat an affirmation like ‘I feel confident and at ease at school’. By repeating these statements with your child every evening right before bed, you will not only help boost their confidence and self-esteem but they will wake up with a more positive frame of mind.
And of course, you can use a tool to guide you on this affirmation journey. Our favourite are the Love Powered Littles Box Set of affirmation cards, which you can find here: www.lovepoweredco.com
Lindsay & Danielle
Meet the Authors
Lindsay Evans and Danielle McGrath are Co-Founders of Nourish Live Flow, a holistic health and wellness company operating in Toronto and the GTA. They are Integrative Nutrition Health Coaches trained through the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, wellness experts and are currently in training to become mindfulness coaches. Their mission is to enhance the health and wellness of women, men and children everywhere and empower people to take responsibility for their health and wellbeing. Learn more about their health coaching practice and company at www.nourishliveflow.com.