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Playful Ways To Cultivate Mindfulness

2020-05-19 by Dr. Jenny
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In times of stress, one of the most helpful things we can do to keep our brains and bodies calm is to build moments of mindfulness into our days. With kids’ brains buzzing and bodies reacting to every little frustration, mindfulness can help them not be wound so tightly. As parents, it can help us be more open-minded to what happens next — such as child tantrums (I wonder what he’s trying to tell me?) or unexpected changes in the world (How do I use this as a learning moment?)

Little kids often don’t want to do yoga or sit still to do deep breathing exercises, but mindfulness can be practiced many ways. Here are some playful ways to help children slow down and pay attention to their senses and the world around them.

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5 Mindfulness Ideas for Kids

  1. Play “What’s that Sound?”
    Sometimes we are all moving so fast that we don’t recognize all of the interesting sounds in our environment. Especially in springtime, it can be amazing to listen for the different noises around your home or yard. Encourage your children to be as silent as possible, and then whisper what noises they hear: a distant lawnmower? Bird song? The wind in the trees? A car on the road? This only takes a few minutes to do, but it can really calm children’s nervous systems down.
  2. Watch nature
    Lots of children calm down by using their visual senses — whether through reading a book or looking at the sparkles fall in a “mind jar” — but you can also inspire awe of nature by channeling their visual senses into the tiny wonders around them. Get on your hands and knees together and look at a blade of grass or dandelion up close. Wonder what a bug is doing as you watch it crawl through the dirt. Lie on your backs and watch the clouds take different forms, and see how fast the wind is pushing them. It’s great to watch your child’s mind open and hear them say, “Wow, I never noticed …”
  3. Get in touch with skin senses
    The skin is an amazing organ! It has so many different pressure and touch sensors in it, which are tightly packed in the skin on the fingers, but are spaced out widely on the back (so it’s harder to tell what’s touching you back there!). I like to draw letters on my kids’ backs and see if they can tell what they are. We also do a “brushing” game where we lightly run fingers up and down the other’s forearm or lower leg to see who gets ticklish first. Petting a soft stuffed animal or pet, or braiding each other’s hair can also be calming mindfulness touch activities — see what your kids like best!
  4. Squeeze those muscles
    Is your child having trouble settling down to sleep? Join the club! One method that works for my children and patients is progressive muscle relaxation — where you squeeze different muscle groups really tight and let them go, and enjoy the warm, calm sensation afterwards. Look up a “progressive muscle relaxation script for kids” online, and try one out. Kids like the challenge of tightening their muscles as hard as they can!
  5. Taste a raisin
    This is a classic mindfulness technique for adults, but might help kids who tend to stuff food in their mouths without taking the time to really taste it! You can use other fruits or foods that dissolve in the mouth over time — but the basic approach is to try not to chew, and just see what the raisin or other food tastes like as it dissolves and touches the different parts of your tongue. It’s an interesting challenge not to swallow it!

Parents, I hope these ideas help calm your nervous system down a bit, too. We’re thinking about you. Thanks for everything you’re doing!

The American Academy of Pediatrics is partnering with Melissa & Doug on the Power of Play to raise awareness about the health benefits of open-ended play and how important play is for both parents and kids.

Learn more about the Power of Play >

This web site is not an attempt to practice medicine or provide specific medical advice, nor does use of the site establish a physician-patient relationship. The use of this web site does not replace medical consultation with a qualified health or medical professional to meet the health and medical needs of you or others.

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Dr. Jenny

Jenny Radesky, M.D., is a Developmental Behavioral Pediatrician whose research focuses on family digital media use, child social-emotional development, and parent-child interaction. She graduated from Harvard Medical School cum laude in 2007 and is an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor. Her clinical work focuses on autism, traumatic stress, ADHD, and self-regulation. Dr. Jenny’s ultimate goal is to help parents understand the individual ways their child thinks, learns, and feels; to help parents provide the best therapy and play experiences for their children; but to also allow parents to sit back and let their child’s mind take the lead sometimes. She authored the 2016 American Academy of Pediatrics digital media guidelines for young children.

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