Meeting life’s challenges requires tools that help us learn, grow, and thrive. One of the most potent “medicines” we can offer our little ones, tweens, and teens is the tool of mindfulness. Distractions can remove our focus from our internal state and instead center our attention on external circumstances and events that are often out of our control. Over time, this can wear down on a child’s inner peace and joy. External pressures and expectations can lead to stress, and while kids may not be familiar with the concept of stress, they can still experience what it feels like without giving it a label or name. 

Mindfulness, a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, can help both our keiki and ourselves master the mind, maintain our inner peace, and fully immerse ourselves in the art of life. 

Research shows that kids who participate in mindfulness practices such as meditation and mindful movement (i.e., yoga, tai chi, breathwork) demonstrate improved mental health, resilience to negative emotions, and better academic performance. Not only will mindful movement strengthen the physical body, but it also offers multi-sensory input, increases self-esteem and self-worth, which can reduce negative behaviors, and enhances attention, concentration, and memory. 

Combining the practice of mindfulness with movement further engrains these thought patterns. Sensory- and motor-based learning is also fun, which naturally encourages your child to develop the intrinsic motivation to return to these activities. 

So how do we begin? Start small! To avoid overwhelm and decision fatigue, choose a set time  each day to incorporate a mindfulness technique into your family’s routine. This could be completing 4-6 grounding yoga poses, such as child’s pose, downward dog, and tree pose, before bedtime, or listening to a 5-10 minute meditation app on the way to school or the beach. 

If transitions are tricky for your child, consider creating a portable “calm kit” with several strategies that will promote deep breathing—think bubbles, balloons, pinwheels, etc. Encourage your child to inhale through their nose (“smell the flower”) for a count of 3-5 and exhale through their mouth (“blow out the candle”) for a count of 4-7. Don’t forget to model and practice with your child; this will help them learn and then you reap the benefits, too! 

Introducing our young ones to mindfulness offers them a variety of tools they can use for the rest of their lives. By having a strong foundation and toolkit, these preventative techniques help families to cope with the inevitable challenges that life presents.

Tabitha Tatum, MOT, OTR/L, RYT-200 is an occupational therapist and yoga teacher. She is the founder of Mālama Yoga & Nature-Based Therapy. Learn more on Instagram @malamayoganaturetherapy.