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Ease your anxious child: 6 simple mindfulness exercises to try today

Just experiment until you find your child’s favorite.

Ease your anxious child: 6 simple mindfulness exercises to try today

Raise your hand if one of your goals is to be more mindful. I’m guessing it’s not just me. And if you have a child that is highly sensitive, has a lot of anxiety or stress, or has difficulty calming down when he’s upset or excited, building a mindfulness practice might be especially beneficial.


Mindfulness techniques give children tools for self-regulating, which in turn allows them to pause and reset when they are losing control.

I used to think mindfulness was this vague state of mind that involved putting my phone down and trying to be present. While that’s a great start, I've learned that there’s so much more to it. The work of Monti Pal, a therapist specializing in mindfulness and self-compassion, really resonated with me as a Montessori teacher—Monti shared so many simple tools that make mindfulness approachable.

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The best part? You can totally share these techniques with your child too.

Research shows that practicing mindfulness with children supports increased focus, decreased stress and anxiety, and positive prosocial behavior. It can also be a great way to connect with your child and find a moment of tranquility together in an otherwise hectic day.

If you’ve ever told your child to “just calm down,” you know that doesn’t work. Practicing mindfulness offers an alternative, a concrete set of tools you and your child can use together to return to equilibrium.

Can’t picture your active little one meditating in a corner? No worries, mama.

Here are six simple mindfulness tools that even young children can practice successfully:

1. Notice five things

Consciously noticing the world around you can help bring you back to the present, especially when you’re overwhelmed by stress or emotion. You can practice noticing five things you see, hear or feel through touch to help you be present.

Try playing this as a game with your child. Sit down with him wherever you are and tell him you want to show him the “notice five things” game. Then look around and tell him five things you see. Let him have a turn.

After you play, explain that this can be a helpful game to play, with you or by himself, if he’s ever feeling anxious or upset. Mix it up sometimes and notice five things you hear instead.

Pro tip: Try teaching your child a new technique when he’s already calm and better able to learn. Practice regularly, and he will eventually learn to call on these new tools when he’s stressed or losing control.

2. Take 10 breaths

Practicing mindful breathing is a simple and effective way to help children calm their bodies and be present.

Try taking 10 deep breaths together. Ask your child to close her eyes or look down at the floor and put her hand on her belly. Ask her to breath in so deeply that the air fills her belly. Show her how to breathe out slowly. If 10 breaths are too many, start with five and work your way up together with practice.

For a variation, try asking your child to hold her thumb and middle finger together in each hand and pretend she’s holding a butterfly or a feather. Ask her to imagine that each slow exhale makes it flutter gently. You can also show her how to trace up and down each finger of her opposite hand slowly, inhaling as she traces up and exhaling as she traces down.

There are lots of ways to make mindful breathing simple and fun for children, just experiment until you find your child’s favorite.

3. Drop anchor

For this exercise, stand across from your child. Show him how to stand with his feet firmly on the floor, about shoulder width apart. Ask him to push down through his feet and feel the ground steady beneath him. Ask him to notice how his leg muscles feel when he pushes down through his feet.

Ask him to notice different parts of his body, starting with his head and working down, and to feel the weight of gravity connecting him to the earth.

Slowly ask him to look around and notice what he sees and hears and what is happening around him.

4. Draw your emotions

Mindfulness includes awareness of what we’re feeling, as well as the world around us. Young children sometimes have difficulty naming their feelings, but drawing emotions can be a great way for a child to pay attention to what he’s feeling at a given moment, and express it without words.

Try doing this exercise at different times, not only when your child is upset. Sit down together and ask him to close his eyes and think about how he’s feeling. You might want to offer some words to give him ideas (happy, disappointed, silly, scared, angry, etc.) You can also model the exercise by drawing how you are feeling. If he feels like naming his emotion, you can write the word on his picture if he likes.

5. One mindful bite

You may have heard of mindful eating, but it can seem a bit far-fetched when meal time is shared with young children.

Instead of trying to have a whole mindful meal together, which can be difficult even for adults, try one mindful bite. It may be fun to do this with an especially delicious treat, but you could also practice trying a mindful bite for the first bite of each meal together.

Ask your child to choose one small piece of food and prompt her to explore how it looks, smells and feels in her hand. Then ask her to take a small bite and chew very slowly, noticing how the food feels in her mouth as well as how it tastes.

Practicing mindfulness with everyday activities like eating helps children become more aware of themselves and their environment, and appreciate the beauty of everyday life.

6. Silence game

The silence game is a classic mindfulness practice in Montessori classrooms around the world.

Unlike the traditional “quiet game,” which is often an attempt to trick unruly children in being quiet for a few minutes, the silence game is initiated when children are already feeling quiet and peaceful so that they can be successful.

When we play the silence game, we ask children to be as quiet as possible, not only with their voices but also with their bodies by keeping very still. Sometimes we use a little hourglass timer (one minute is good to start with), and a child tries to remain still and quiet until all of the sand runs out.

When the silence game ends, use a soft voice to ask your child what he heard or saw while he was so quiet. Ask him to try to keep the quiet, peaceful feeling with him as he goes about his next activity.

These simple games and activities are a great way for you and your child to connect in a different way and will help him build tools to center himself when he feels stressed or out of sorts.

Building a mindfulness practice with your child will be most successful if you teach him these exercises when he’s calm and practice regularly, both when he’s happy and peaceful and when he’s upset or nervous.

A mindfulness exercise can also be a valuable thing to do with your child when you are feeling anxious or stressed, as all of these activities work for adults as well as children. Don’t be afraid to model this for your child, saying something like, “I’m feeling anxious. I’m going to drop anchor.” If he sees you using these tools in your own life, he will be more likely to use them himself.

Mindfulness can sound daunting, but try to have fun with these activities and know that you’re giving your child valuable life-long skills to stay centered and present no matter what comes his way.

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