8 Tips for Calmer, Happier Children
You don’t have to sit still or “om” away for an hour to get your child to be mindful and focused. Here are some fun activities from a top teacher to anchor your child’s mind.
Mindfulness is a powerful tool for developing self-awareness, empathy, calm, and focus. In one study 1, 78 percent of participants reported a reduction in ADHD symptoms. However, many of us have trouble committing to the cause, because the thought of sitting still for 10 minutes is daunting. For kids, it seems impossible.
The good news is that mindfulness is more of a perspective than a singular action – like sitting and om-ing. There are plenty of activities that can be done mindfully, at home or at school, that don’t require anyone to sit still. Like the following:
Mindful coloring. There are so many beautiful coloring books available to kids and adults right now! Choose your favorite tool (crayons? pencils? gel pens?) and notice how it feels as it moves on the paper. Watch the ink fill up the empty space. If you’d like to go beyond the lines, try doodling or Zentangling, drawing soothing, repeatable shapes to create stunning artwork. Drawing can be done sitting, standing, or upside-down, really.
Walk a maze. Go outside with a stick of chalk and draw curvy snaking lines, a spider web, or just a big swirl and challenge your child to walk it, tightrope-style. For a rainy-day activity, use masking tape on the carpet for the same purpose, or, at school, use the lines between the floor tiles, or just an imaginary line. It has to be a slow, focused, controlled, heel-to-toe, end-to-end challenge. You’d hate for them to fall into the imaginary lava, after all.
The Breath Button. One of the mainstays of mindfulness is learning to take big, satisfying breaths and recognizing how good it feels to let them go. You can do this sitting still, or you can designate a Breath Button. You and your child pick an object anywhere in the house – a doorknob, a special toy, a piece of paper on the wall that says “breath button” – and make a rule that whenever you touch that object, you have to take a big, mindful breath.
For example, every time you leave the house, touch the doorknob and take a breath to settle your brain before you do anything else. This encourages kids and adults to stop and think, embedding calm and focus into their daily routine. As a bonus, you can teach an anxious child to seek out and use the Breath Button as a tool to self-calm. The Breath Button can also be a sound – an old wind chime, an alarm on your phone – that reminds you to take a breath together. Sound is better suited to a classroom, where a physical object might be overrun with student hands.
Play “I Notice…” This is basically “I Spy,” but with a range of answers, teaching your child to develop awareness. Chances are, once they look, they’ll find things you never noticed before either. Try to find an object in each color of the rainbow, notice different textures (soft, hard, prickly, squishy), or shapes (square, circle, triangle). For tired parents (or teachers), this can be a wonderful quiet, still game, as the kids use their super-powers of observation.
Try yoga. Yoga is pretty much the best. Balance poses, like Tree, encourage focus and control. Upside-down poses, like legs raised against the wall or a shoulder stand, encourage calm. There are a million resources available for it; I am fond of Cosmic Kids Yoga on YouTube for inspiration. You can also get yoga cards to stretch for just a few minutes at a time in a more personal way. In the classroom, yoga is a wonderful brain break between activities. If you’re not comfortable leading kids in poses yourself, try GoNoodle and look up Maximo. He’ll help.
Knitting. Did you know that knitting is taught in all the Waldorf Schools? It’s not because the kids need socks, either. Knitting teaches concentration, control, coordination, and a little math, too. As an added bonus, it involves sensory input and fine motor development. If regular knitting is too complicated, try crocheting or even finger knitting. The repetitive motion is calming, the feel of the yarn is soothing, and kids feel proud of themselves for making something.
Digging in the garden. Gardening is a bit like knitting – repetitive, sensory, with an exciting end result – but is better suited to kids who need a lot of gross motor movement. As it turns out, kids who aren’t good at sitting tend to be awesome at digging. Have them dig to pull up weeds, plant a butterfly or bee garden, or find a local community garden that needs help. More schools are planting gardens for kids to learn about how food is grown, but if you don’t have one, try planting easy things in a little sunny patch of dirt at home – like radishes, potatoes, lettuce, or zucchini. Don’t forget to check on them every day, and feel proud of yourself for what you’ve made!
Pause app. There’s an app for everything, right? In a world flooded with technology, there’s an app for slowing down, too. Pause turns breathing and moving slowly into a fun, blobby game. Use it for a minute or two at a time to focus, calm, and maybe even get better at that sitting still thing.
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1 Zylowska, L., Ackerman, D. L., Yang, M. H., Futrell, J. L., Horton, N. L., Hale, T. S., … Smalley, S. L. (2008). Mindfulness Meditation Training in Adults and Adolescents With ADHD: A Feasibility Study. Journal of Attention Disorders, 11(6), 737–746. https://doi.org/10.1177/1087054707308502