Bonding with your kids with these mindfulness games
If you’re finding it hard to put time into your own mindfulness, then why not use your kids as an added incentive? Mindfulness exercises are good for all the family and it’s benefits are even greater when starting from a young age. By participating in these simple mindfulness exercises with your child, you will both reap the physical and mental rewards it brings, and enjoy some beneficial bonding time together.
This isn’t just reading out of a book or falling asleep at bed time. It is an exciting and creative journey that you send the child on whether through a forest, space, safari, secret garden, underwater world, in the sky etc!! In a comfortable lying or seated position, get them to close their eyes and focus on the details of this visualisation and tell them they will have to draw what came to mind afterwards. Depending on the child’s age, you can vary how many or few details you give, allowing for them to fill bits in i.e. “when you get through the gate you see your favourite animal by a source of water” compared with “when you open the gate you see a horse drinking from a river”. Before you start, tell them that once you have finished the story, you want them to draw it for you without telling you anything, and ruining the surprise! This helps them to keep their focus on the visualisation until the drawing is completely finished. The idea is that they don’t jump up excitedly afterwards to tell you about everything they imagined. At the end of your story, guide them to gently wake their body and eyes before drawing their picture quietly, without you peeking! Make sure they stay relaxed throughout your story, cuing them to relax parts of the body that move or tense up. Allow 3 – 7 minutes for the storytelling, and as long as possible for the drawing. This helps to foster creativity and patience in your child.
This isn’t just any typical walk, and you child needs to be aware from the start that you are doing something different this time. It is better to be out in nature when doing this exercise as it is less distracting and gives you both a break from all the stimulation and advertising that we are exposed to daily. Whether a 10 minutes walk or a couple of hours, the idea is to really focus on what is around you and on your senses, moment by moment. What does the ground feel like under your feet? What sounds can you hear or smells are in the air as you walk along? It is not a time for idle conversation but for bonding quietly through the experience, and sharing it out aloud together. Keep your conversation on the experience, and if it does wander off, keep trying to bring it back to that present moment. Stop in your tracks every so often to feel and experience that exact moment in stillness, instead of movement, and try to walk as slowly as you can. Children and adults spend a lot of their week rushing around and this is a time to force yourself to slow down, even if it feels a bit uncomfortable the first time. Make sure that your phone is either switched off or on vibrate in case of an emergency. Even better is if both of you take some time to write about your experience when you get home to cultivate a better memory.
This is one of my favourite mindfulness exercises to do with children as it is an easy way to get them to understand awareness of details, and always gives interesting results! Fold a plain piece of A4 paper in half and ask you child to draw a banana on one half, without a banana being in their line of sight. A banana is a simple object that most children are used to seeing every day, but something else familiar can be used. I also make them draw their foot before they take their socks off. Then turn the piece of paper over, give them an actual banana, and ask them to draw it again but this time with all the details that they can see. They need to be encouraged to take much longer on this side and to draw every little detail, contour, colour difference etc. Depending on their age you may need to help point out some details but ideally leave them in silence to focus on the banana with full awareness. Once the drawing is done I may ask the children to feel, smell, taste etc their object and then we write the adjectives around the drawing, so it is a full representation of the ‘banana experience’!
This is an important exercise to do with your child, or even better, get siblings or their friends, to do it together. Especially as a coping mechanism whenever they’re feeling upset, frustrated, scared, angry etc. The goal here is for children to gain awareness of their breath, how important it is, and use it as a coping mechanism in times of negative emotions. I often remind children that they can go hours without eating or drinking anything, but not without breathing, as it’s the most important ‘food’ our bodies and brains need! By the age of 4 years old children can comprehend the importance of the breath and it’s a good exercise to come back to regularly. The longer and deeper they breathe, the more energy and goodness they’re taking in. Every cell in the body needs oxygen to restore, repair and be healthy!
If you child is tall enough, sit back to back with them so that you can feel each other breathing through your backs. The rib cage in your back should widen and expand like a balloon as you’re breathing in, and ‘deflate’ as you breath out. Alternatively you can both lie on your backs on the floor with a little teddy bear on your bellies. This way you can watch the teddy rise with the belly as you breath in and fill the lungs with air, and as you exhale, the teddy lowers back towards the floor. Be imaginative with these exercises, using different toys to help make the movement of the breath more obvious. Make sure the focus is on longer, deeper breaths and to expanding the belly and chest like a balloon on the inhale and deflating on the exhale, especially if you notice they are reverse breathing (sucking the belly in when inhaling, and letting it fall back out when exhaling). Children should do a minimum of 3 deep breaths, and get used to using this as a technique whenever they feel any negative emotions in the future.
5-Superhero’s + Super Senses!
“Pretend you’re Spiderman and tell me everything you can see, smell and hear in this room!”. Spiderman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Thor, ninjas etc are just some of the superhero characters these days! Pick whichever is your kids current favourite, and encourage them to use their superhero’s super senses. Use this to your advantage as a parent to make them more aware, especially in important situations i.e. crossing the road, walking to school alone, climbing a ladder etc. Young boys especially, can be quite impulsive, energetic and disconnected from their environment. Using ninja or super senses, helps kids stop and take in what is around them in that present moment. It is an important tool that can also be applied at mealtimes, to make you child more mindful of what they’re eating. There is research showing that this may help with avoiding obesity and weight gain later in life. But more importantly it helps kids appreciate what they are eating, not take food and all the different flavours for granted, and digest better! If they learn to not rush eating, take in the smells and tastes, and chew more mindfully, they will not only have better digestion, but have a much more enjoyable and respectful relationship with food.
This is version of the ‘smelling game’ and can be done blindfolded or not. The idea is for smelling to be the primary sense that the children focus on. Once that is achieved you can then add touching, tasting etc. I like to use a blindfold if the child is comfortable doing so and encourage them to really describe what they are smelling, and then the differences between them. You can use anything that you have around the house but preferably a variety of smells. I like to use flowers, cinnamon sticks, oranges, fresh & dried herbs, essential oils or candles, cheese, raw foods, rice, toothpaste etc. Try not to let them touch it or hear it make a noise. Give them 3 big breaths for each item with time in between to describe it verbally or written down. This is also a lovely way of integrating children into cooking and mindful eating as they learn to enjoy and understand different ingredients through their smells.