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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.

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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This is how we’re defining success this school year

Hint: It's not related to grades.

In the ever-moving lives of parents and children, opportunities to slow down and reflect on priorities can be hard to come by. But, a new school year scheduled to begin in the midst of a global pandemic offers the chance to reflect on how we should all think about measures of success. For both parents and kids, that may mean putting a fresh emphasis on optimism, creativity and curiosity.

Throughout recent decades "school success" became entangled with "academic achievement," with cases of anxiety among school children dramatically increasing in the past few generations. Then, almost overnight, the American school system was turned on its head in the spring of 2020. As we look ahead to a new school year that will look like no year past, more is being asked of teachers, students and parents, such as acclimating to distance learning, collaborating with peers from afar and aiming to maintain consistency with schooling amidst general instability due to COVID.

Despite the inherent challenges, there is also an overdue opportunity to redefine success during the school year by finding fresh ways to keep students and their parents involved in the learning process.

"I always encourage my son to try at least one difficult thing every school year," says Arushi Garg, parenting blogger and mom of a 4 year old. "This challenges him but also allows me to remind him to be optimistic! Lots of things in life are hard, and it's important we learn to be positive during difficult times. Fostering a sense of optimism allows kids to push beyond what they thought possible, like biking without training wheels or reading above their grade level."

Here are a few mantras to keep in mind this school year...

Quality learning matters more than quantifying learning

After focusing on standardized measures of academic success for so long, the learning environment this next school year may involve more independent, remote learning. Some parents are considering this an exciting opportunity for their children to assume a bigger role in what they are learning—and parents are also getting on board by supporting their children's education with engaging, positive learning materials like Highlights Magazine.

As a working mom, Garg also appreciates that Highlights Magazine can help engage her son while she's also working. She says, "He sits next to me and solves puzzles in the magazine or practices his writing from the workbook."

Keeping an open mind as "school" looks different

Whether children are of preschool age or in the midst of high school, "going to school" is bound to look different this year. Naturally, this may require some adjustment as kids become accustomed to new guidelines. Although many parents may wish to shelter our kids from challenges, others believe optimism can be fostered through adversity when everyone is committed to adapting to new experiences.

"Honestly, I am yet to figure out when I will be comfortable sending [my son] back [to school]," says Garg. In the meantime, she's helping her son remain connected with friends who also read Highlights Magazine by encouraging the kids to talk about what they are learning on video calls.

Following children's cues about what interests them

For Garg, her biggest hope for this school year is that her son will create "success" for himself by embracing new learning possibilities with positivity.

"Encouraging my son to try new things has given him a chance to prove that he can do anything," she says. "He takes his previous success as an example now and feels he can fail multiple times before he succeeds."

There's no denying that this school year will be far from the norm. But, perhaps, we can create a new, better way of defining our children's success in school because of it.

This article was sponsored by Highlights. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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5 brilliant products that encourage toddler independence

Help your little one help themselves.

One of our main goals as mothers is to encourage our children to learn, grow and play. They start out as our tiny, adorable babies who need us for everything, and somehow, before you know it, they grow into toddlers with ideas and opinions and desires of their own.

You may be hearing a lot more of "I do it!" or maybe they're pushing your hand away as a signal to let you know, I don't need your help, Mama. That's okay. They're just telling you they're ready for more independence. They want to be in charge of their bodies, and any little bit of control their lives and abilities allow.

So, instead of challenging your toddler's desire for autonomy, we found five of our favorite products to help encourage independence—and eliminate frustration in the process.

EKOBO Bamboo 4-piece kid set

EKOBO bamboo 4-piece kid set

This colorful set includes a plate, cup, bowl and spoon and is just right for your child's meal experience. Keep them in an easy-to-reach cabinet so they'll feel encouraged (and excited!) to get their own place setting each time they eat.

$25

Puj PhillUp hangable kids cups

Puj PhillUp hangable kids cups

Before you know it, your little one will be asking (okay, maybe demanding) to fill their own water cups. This amazing 4-pack of cups attaches directly to the fridge (or any glass, metal, tile or fiberglass surface) making it easier for your child to grab a cup themselves. Just be sure a water pitcher or dispenser is nearby, and—boom!—one task off your plate.

$29

Wise Elk puzzle tower blocks

Wise Elk puzzle tower blocks

These beautiful blocks, made from sustainably-sourced wood and water-based, non-toxic, lead-free paint, will keep your little one focused on their creation while they're also busy working on their fine-motor skills. The puzzle design will encourage patience as your kiddo creates their own building, fitting one block in after the next.

$18

Lorena Canals basket

Lorena Canals Basket

This *gorgeous* braided cotton basket is the perfect, accessible home for their blocks (and whatever else you want to hide away!) so your kiddo can grab them (and clean them up) whenever their heart desires.

$29

BABYBJÖRN step stool

BABYBJ\u00d6RN Step Stool

Your kiddo might be ready to take on the world, but they might need an extra boost to do so—cue, a step stool! An easy-to-move lightweight stool is the must-have confidence-boosting tool you need in your home so your growing tot can reach, well... the world.

$20

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In Montessori schools, parents are periodically invited to observe their children at work in the classroom. I have heard many parents express shock to see their 3- or 4-year-old putting away their own work when they finish—without even being asked!

"You should see his room at home!" or, "I ask him to put his toys away every day, and it's a battle every single time" were frequent comments.

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