Hi! Thank you for staying tune to our HeadStart for Life blog – Beyond Therapy! Recently, I came across some articles about the connection between mindfulness and social skills and would like to share what I learnt.
Mindfulness practice has been suggested to benefit three core skill sets, which are emotional regulation, attention control and self-awareness (Posner et al 2015). Therefore, it helps enhance social competence in children. I selected six mindfulness activities focusing on breathing exercise from the book Mindful Games Activity cards: 55 Fun Ways to share Mindfulness with Kids and Teens by Susan Kaiser Greenland and hope this will be helpful for you. Check these out!
Your children can sit with their back straight and body relaxed and gently rest their hands on the knees. Ask them to breathe naturally while you count the length of inhale (“one, two, three”) and exhale (“one, two, three, four”) and also give a natural pause between inhale and exhale. As children increase the length of their exhale to four counts, adjust the pace of your counting so that it syncs with the pace of their breathing. You can help children to learn that focusing on a long out-breath can be relaxing and it helps them feel calm.
Counting breaths can help develop concentration. Start with a comfortable posture: sit with the back straight and relaxed body, resting the hands gently on the knees. Breathe in naturally and silently say “one” in your mind. Then relax the forehead as you breathe out. Then, do it again, breathe in naturally and silently say, “two” in your mind. Then relax the neck and shoulders as you breathe out. Next, breathe in and silently say, “three” in the mind and relax the tummy as they breathe out. At the second time, ask your children to count silently on their own.
Sit or stand comfortably, relax, and feel your breathing. Choose something nearby that is pleasant to look at and rest your gaze on it. Keep your eyes soft and lightly focused on the object. Sometimes you will have thoughts, and sometimes you won’t. When thoughts come, let them be. If you don’t focus on them too much, they’ll stay a while and leave on their own. If you notice you are distracted, that means you know where your mind is. Just return to gazing softly at the object. How about trying this activity when you are stuck in the traffic or standing in line, let’s see what would happen then.
Lie on the back with the legs flat on the floor and the arms by your sides. Place a stuffed animal on your children’s belly. Ask them to feel the back of their head touching the floor. Then, feel their shoulders. Also, they can pat the stuffed toy and notice what that feels like. Later, start noticing the feeling of breathing in and out. Look at how the animal moves up and down with the breathing.
Alternatively, you can also ask the child to silently say “up” and “down” every time the animal moves up and down so that they can keep their mind on the breathing.
Let’s develop body awareness and practice moving our bodies with control! Tell your child that you are going to practice swaying side to side like a pendulum of a grandfather clock. Sit with the back straight and the body relaxed. Ask them to put both hands on the floor next to them and lean the body to the right. Then push the body to the left and catch the weight with the left hand on the floor. And then rock back to the right hand again. Say “tick-tock” while swaying from side to side. “Tick-tock, tick-tock”. You can say, “Tick – tock – like a – clock – until – I find – my center – STOP” to end this activity.
Demonstrate by resting the palms of your hands on top of your head, with the tips of your fingers touching. Keeping your fingers together, raise your arms to mime a balloon inflating, then lower your arms to mime a balloon deflating. Ask the children to sync the movements with their breaths, breathing in as the “balloon” inflating, breathing out as the “balloon” deflating. Alternatively, use a material that can be inflated and deflated easily as a visual aids. Move your hands up, like a balloon filling with air, then down, like a balloon getting smaller.
You would have noticed that these exercises are nothing special but paying attention to our breath with some tweaks. Also, all these exercises are FREE! No toys are needed! With this mindfulness practice, they will help your children for their attention, focus, emotion regulation. Let’s take 5 to 10 minutes to do it every day with them and experience the change in our mind and body together. Try it out!
See you soon!
Greenland, S.K. (2016). Mindful Games. Shambhala Publication.
Tang, Y.Y., Hölzel, B.K., & Posner, M.I. (2015). The neuroscience of mindfulness meditation. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 16(4), 213-225.