Toddler meditating in a tent in the living room

How to use Mindfulness with toddlers

Practicing mindfulness can help us focus on the present, navigate through difficult thoughts and shift our attention toward what's happening right now. Instead of overthinking, we notice ourselves, and our bodies and ease stress and anxiety. 

Most of us, picked up mindfulness practice later in life. But have you thought about how we would experience life if we started benefiting from mindfulness and meditation at a younger age? 

And most importantly, what if we start teaching our children about mindfulness? 

Childhood is a pretty sensitive stage of human development, and practicing mindfulness can help children to notice and deal with their emotions. 

What is Mindfulness?

Let's get a little more familiar with the meaning of mindfulness. Mindfulness is the practice of being fully engaged in the present. It relates to meditation and helps us focus on what we're doing and experiencing at the moment. 

Mindfulness helps us free ourselves from distractions or judgment. This process helps us teach our minds how to be aware, allowing us to build better coping mechanisms. 

"How we pay attention to the present moment largely determines the character of our experience, and therefore, the quality of our lives," says Sam Harris, a neuroscientist, philosopher, and New York Times best-selling author.

Benefits of early mindfulness habits for children

The study of mindfulness’ benefits and its effect on youth has progressed considerably over the past decade. A study conducted by Randye J. Semple and Christine Burke in 2019, suggests that mindfulness may be helpful in enhancing the mental and physical health of children and adolescents. 

Numerous other studies show these expected benefits of mindfulness for children

  • Reduced level of stress - Kids who practice mindfulness display low levels of anxiety, worry, and disruptive behavior. 
  • Increased focus and attention span - After mindfulness practices, children display more self-control, are eager to participate in classroom activities, and have an overall enhanced attention span. 
  • Keen sense of emotional intelligence - Some studies talk about the increased level of compassion and empathy within children who do mindfulness exercises.
  • Enhanced academic performance - Mindfulness can help cope with conflict, adopt resolution skills and help children navigate challenging situations (such as exams, quizzes, and such). 
  • Improved self-soothing methods - Every child displays various methods of self-soothing. Mindfulness practice can help them learn better ways to soothe and become kinder and more accepting towards themselves and others. 
  • Improved working memory capacity - Mindfulness and meditation help "calm down" the brain and aid in activating the brain's key executive functions for cognitive development.

Try these 6 mindfulness activities with your toddler

1. Start doing breathing exercises

Breathing can help reduce stress and anxiety in the body. Focusing on their breath and the motion of their belly and shoulders can help children learn to stay in the present moment. 

Try pinwheel breathing as a fun activity. Get pinwheels for you and your toddler and relax for the mindfulness exercise. Blow on the pinwheels together using long and deep breaths, short and quick, then normal breathing, and notice how you two feel during breathing variations. 

Make a game out of it. You can pretend you're blowing out candles or that you can smell your child's favorite snack or a tasty pastry. 

2. Take a walk together

Include nature walking in your toddlers' routine. Walking is great for physical health, as well as for mental health and clarity. 

Notice how walking in nature helps you clear your mind. It also helps kids practice mindfulness and notice things around them. 

Again, make a game out of it. Try walking in complete silence, notice and count things around you, and touch the trees and falling leaves. 

Try the Five Senses Exercise too. Notice 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste. 

Check in with your body and ask your toddler how they feel about it.

3. Use coloring as a mindfulness exercise

The goal isn't to achieve something specific; it's to relax and be in the present moment. Kids can have a tough time staying in one place and focusing on one thing, so it's important to make mindful exercises about the things they love to do. 

Try coloring exercises for mindfulness. Creative processes especially align with the idea of mindfulness and meditation. Concentrating on a doodle, colors, and coloring motions can help shift the attention to thoughts and sensations. 

Studies show that coloring for mindfulness suspends our inner dialogues and helps us cut out the flow of disruptive thoughts. 

4. Try Body Scan Meditation

The body scan meditation is one of the most effective ways to relax and reconnect with your body. 

Create a calm and relaxing environment for your toddler. Get rid of distractions, and you can even dim the lights in the room. Some experts suggest aroma therapy as well. 

Lie down with your toddler on a comfortable mat and relax. Start breathing calmly and guiding your baby through it. Again, make a game out of it, and when it's time to start "scanning the body," tell them to direct their attention to their feet by moving the toes a little bit. 

Slowly start shifting their attention to the other parts of their body. Follow the instructions of the "scan," and when both of you are ready, you can return to the room and share your experiences. 

5. Try dancing for mindfulness with your toddler

Dancing is a form of expression. Free body movements help release tension from the body and reduce stress levels and anxiety. 

As mindfulness is a practice of noticing without judgment, you can implement this into dancing and discover mindful awareness with free movement. 

We're sure your toddler loves moving around, jumping, and dancing. Try putting on their favorite music, or try something a bit more relaxing and move to the music with your whole body. 

6. Eat mindfully

Mindful eating is an effective practice among child therapists and CBT therapists. Mindful eating can help with improving your relationship with food and staying in the moment. 

This mindfulness exercise helps engage all five senses, and you can do it during your toddlers' regular snack time

While eating, ask your kids to describe the snack, its shape, color, taste, appearance, smell, and texture. Tell them to think about the sensations while they're chewing the food and ask them how they liked their snack. 

Mindfulness works in many ways. For children, it's essential to implement something playful in the process. Make sure you guys stay in the moment and unwind. This way, you can use mindfulness in any activity your toddler enjoys

We always talk about how children absorb new information like sponges. Their brains are also very well suited to benefit from mindfulness exercises. 

Habits formed early in childhood stick well during adolescence and adulthood. You have an opportunity to teach your children mindfulness activities and how to stay in the moment. 

Use these tips and exercises to help them practice mindfulness and spend quality time together.