Mindfulness for Children: Helping Kids Feel Calm

by Lynn Wonders on October 29, 2016

mindfulness for childrenThe practice of mindfulness has been scientifically proven to change the brains of adults in positive ways. The Center for Mindfulness at University of Massachusetts Medical School has ongoing ample scientific research data to prove how mindfulness supports many healthy, positive changes to human beings.

While we don’t yet have a lot of research about how mindfulness can help children, it’s a safe assumption that mindfulness for children is just as effective (if not more!) in helping kids to find calm more readily, regulate behavior and emotion, improve focus and get along more harmoniously with peers, family and adults. Children’s brains are still forming at a rapid rate. A recent study showed after 8 weeks of regular mindfulness practice a group of adults’ brains showed on MRIs to have grown gray matter in the parts of the brain responsible for rationalizing and regulating and shrunk the parts of the brain that react with fear. Can you imagine how mindfulness practice can affect the formation of the child’s brain?

Despite some misplaced concerns of parents objecting to mindfulness being taught in schools based on a misunderstand as to what the practice is about, mindfulness is actually a secular practice that can compliment any spiritual belief system or stand alone and it’s important for parents to understand better what mindfulness is and how it can help children.

By definition of Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, mindfulness is the practice of paying attention on purpose in a very particular way without judgment. It’s the practice of slowing down our fast moving brains and noticing with great attention where we are in time and space in this present moment without jumping to conclusions or analysis right away.

Now, pause just a moment and just imagine if children with hyperactive behavior or anxiety could learn to do that?

In our offices at Wonders Counseling Services, we work with children to do just this through particular play therapy techniques. I have been training therapists in mindfulness within play therapy for several years and have reports from therapists all over the country who are seeing profound results with their child clients and their families who embark upon this practice.

Mindfulness for children is something that must be taught and ideally practiced by the parents and teachers as well for optimal results.  Here are some practical tips for how parents and teachers can begin practicing, teaching and observing mindfulness in daily life.

Slow Down. . .

  1. Provide enough time before and after transitions from one place or activity to the next.
  2. Practice slow breathing. As a matter of regular ongoing practice, breathe in fully filling the lungs and slowly release the breath to a count of 7 on the exhale. Practice this with your children regularly, not just when someone gets upset – by then it may be too late!
  3. Practice walking more slowly, softly and with great attention instead of rushing about.
  4. Stop over-scheduling yourself and your children. Too many commitments and activities does not necessarily make a happy, fulfilling life. Create white space in the schedule – time to breathe, be spontaneous and creative with your kids.
  5. Practice sitting and just being. Notice the feelings of antsy-ness and boredom and just keep sitting and breathing and being. It trains your brain to go beyond the urgency of impulsivity and to be in the present moment.

Mindful Mealtime

  1. Mealtime is the perfect time and place to practice and teach your children to be mindful. Take your meals at the table together as a family.
  2. Light a candle. Play some soft music. Ban electronics. Create an atmosphere that will cue your nervous system to relax and be present.
  3. Take time to taste your food. Sit and savor your food, tasting and chewing thoroughly before swallowing.
  4. Enjoy the togetherness of family. As you eat, look at your family members and really listen to what your children choose to share with you. Let go of the urge to correct or discipline at this time.
  5. Include clean up as a chance for mindfulness with everyone pitching in and helping get the dishes rinsed and loaded. Teach your children to move through this process slowly and with awareness.

Mindfulness at Bedtime

  1. Bedtime is another ideal time to practice and demonstrate mindfulness for children. Again, set the atmosphere to be conducive to quieting the mind and relaxing the body observing soft lighting, soft music and scents such as lavender or vanilla.
  2. As you tuck your child in, invite her to notice 5 things she sees and hears in the present moment helping her mind to be fully present.
  3. Practice mindful breathing to settle the mind and body, preparing for sleep. You might introduce a counting cycle of breath such as one I teach my child clients called square-breathing. Inhale slowly to the count of 4. Hold the breath in for 4. Exhale slowly to the count of 4 and then hold the breath out for the count of 4. Repeat 4 times completing the square breath and closing the eyes.

Mindfulness for children is a learned experience and one that undoubtedly will assist you and your children in cultivating a more peaceful life experience while also training the brain to be able to more readily overcome anxiety, inability to focus and daily stress.



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Play at All Ages

by Lynn Wonders on October 5, 2016

“You can learn more about a person in one hour of play than in a year of conversation.” – Platoplay for all ages

Photograph by Judy Bruner of JBruner Photography www.judybruner.com

Play is good for us. At all ages.

It’s bad enough that many adults don’t understand the essential value of play for children and how play is a child’s language but it’s just as disconcerting to see how many adults don’t play! Children naturally play wherever they are ( the dinner table, in the grocery store, during nap time if not tired) because play is the means through which children explore and express. It’s an essential part of their brain development. As we grow up we often get so wrapped up in the responsibilities of life that we forget to play. Often we may forget HOW to play!

The fact is play is good for us. At all ages. Play is how we connect with others. It produces feel-good chemicals in the brain. It lifts depressed mood. It alleviates anxiety. It can be a means to keep the physical body and brain in good shape.

I’ve written on this topic previously and I suppose I will write on this again because it’s just so important. So, how do we get out of the rut of heavy responsibilities weighing us down and get to playing? Here are some simple ideas below. And before you glance at this list and dismiss these ideas as “silly” please just give them a try.

  1. Bubbles. Blowing bubbles is something I personally often do between therapy sessions to relieve stress, to shift gears and to enjoy myself if only for 30 seconds. Keep bubbles on hand. In your bag, In your car. Watch what happens if you start blowing bubbles among a group of children. It elicits giggles and chasing, popping, jumping about Great fun. Let’s learn from the children how to embrace the moment.
  2. Play Dough. Not only is playing with play dough a great stress reliever there is something magical about the feel, the smell, the experience of rolling, smashing, squeezing the brightly colored stuff.
  3. Dance. Crank up the tunes and go crazy in your living room or office. Move your body freestyle. Invite others to join you in the office or at home. Dance while you cook dinner. Dance on the back deck. Dance in your car seat.
  4. Sing. You need not have a great singing voice to enjoy singing. Singing along with the radio or belting out a tune while chopping vegetables is fun and it’s good for you.
  5. Follow a child’s lead. One of the things I LOVE about providing play therapy for young children is they show me endless ways to play and I follow their lead. You need not be a play therapist to do this. Join a group of kids on the floor and let them show you how to build a Lego tower or jump into a game of tag with the neighborhood kids in the back yard.
  6. Watch a kitten or a puppy. Kittens and puppies know how to play. It’s their nature. Join in the fun. Grab a string and engage a kitten in a game of chase and pounce. Roll around with a puppy in the grass.
  7. Game Night. Designate one night game night for your family or your group of friends and commit to playing a new game each week or at least rotating. Get a group together for a game of Trivia. Join a Bunko club or a Bridge League. Schedule some fun and enjoy!

Play at all ages is key to our mental, physical and social health. Play helps us build relationships with others and keeps our outlook optimistic. From infants to elderly, play is an essential part of the human experience and we must work to keep this part of us alive and well.


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Mission Statement for a Parent

May 10, 2016

In my years of leading parenting workshops and supporting parents in family counseling the most important aspect of these workshops and sessions is helping parents get clear on creating a mission statement for the very important job of raising their children. I tell parents of young children, “Imagine your child in cap and gown on […]

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Couples Who Play Together Stay Together Happily

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According to Howard Markman, PhD of University of Denver’s Center for Family and Marital studies, the more couples invest time and energy in having fun together the happier the couple will be over time.  Research also supports that happily married couples live longer, healthier lives. It can be all too easy to slip into the […]

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Life Support for Women Over 50

January 24, 2016

   A Mid-Life Support Group For Women Over The Age of 50 8 Weeks of Face-to-Face Group Support Sessions Facilitated by Lynn Louise Wonders, LPC Come and learn something each week AND participate in supportive group discussion. Share, learn, listen and feel supported and connected with other women facing similar issues of mid-life. Some of […]

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Adolescent Stress & Anxiety Support

January 6, 2016

Adolescent stress and anxiety is a serious matter. Teenagers are under more pressure than ever. We see this with our clients every day and we are here to help. Stress & anxiety for teens can be helped through effective group therapy and training. Click To Tweet Leigh Swanson, LPC will be launching the Adolescent Stress […]

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Mindfulness Meditation Changes Your Brain for the Better

December 14, 2015

People who regularly practice meditation can attest to the positive effects of increasing calm, reducing stress and enhancing ability to develop insight on one’s life. Now, we have ample research to back up the positive impact meditation has. Dr. Sara Lazar, expert in neuro-science at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, recently conducted a […]

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Me, My Shell & I: The Journey of Solitude & Self-Reliance

October 30, 2015

The metaphor of finding the importance of relying on oneself can be seen in the life of our mollusk friend the snail. Throughout her life’s journey, the snail finds shelter and security for herself utilizing her entire body as a sensory tool for what lies ahead. Though she may encounter obstacles along the way and […]

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Parenting Young Adult Children

September 13, 2015

by Lynn Louise Wonders, LPC, RPT-S, CPCS Every Monday night we have family dinner at my house. All three of our children know this is sacred gathering time. It doesn’t hurt that they know this may be their one delicious home-cooked meal for the week. My sons (now nearly 19 and 22) live together  (by […]

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Are You a Conscious Parent?

May 7, 2015

Dr. Shefali Tsabary is awakening Western Society with a new way to parent your children. It’s all about awakening and getting clear about who we are and what our mission is as parents. In her book The Conscious Parent she teaches us that we can change our thinking, change our behaviors, change our outlook, heal our […]

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