Does mindfulness for kids work to help calm them down?
Can it stop a tantrum or chaotic explosion in kids?
We’ve all seen and heard kids having a tantrum.
The heart-stopping, blood vessel constricting panic it sends me into makes me panic on the inside as well.
Kids that are yelling, shouting at each other, throwing things, and running around all in the same place is equally, if not more, terrifying.
So, what do you DO if this is happening to your child or student in your presence?
More importantly, how do you prevent a tantrum in a child?
Mindfulness is a great tool that can be used with classes that are having a tough time or kids that are having a tantrum.
But you have to set it up right to be successful.
Most kids don’t just start breathing deeply and thinking mindful thoughts in the middle of chaos.
You have to practice and prepare them ahead of time in order for mindfulness to work.
Start Teaching Mindfulness to Kids Early and Often, not Just as Needed
Praise your child when they are calm and focused
Notice when they are calm and working, or being focused, and give them praise! Let them know what it is that you like about the way they are behaving. Use targeted language to specifically call attention to their body, their movements, their voice, etc:
“I see that your body is sitting very still while you are reading; that is a safe way to sit.”
“I like that you just took a deep breath to help yourself pick a new color. I bet that kept your brain calm.”
“I can hear you very clearly while you are telling me about your problem because you are talking in a normal voice. That helps me understand you better.”
All of those examples do these three things:
- Use a sensory word to describe how and why you are noticing them
- Name the positive action that the child is exhibiting
- Tell them what that action is helping them achieve (why they should keep doing it)
Practice mindfulness with your kids when they are calm
Introduce mindful breathing, or mindful noticing, when the child (or class) is in the correct brain state. If they are not feeling safe or cared for, they will have a hard time learning. If they are really silly or running with high emotions, it’s incredibly difficult to teach them something new and have it stick.
Demonstrate mindful practices yourself, and name them!
Anytime I am feeling particularly frustrated or emotional I try to take deep breaths that the class can see.
I’ll say, “I am feeling frustrated by the number of times I need to give reminders today, so I need to take a few deep breaths. You can do it with me if you need to.”
Or, if I’m feeling anxious and/or full of energy, I’ll do a hand mantra to help relieve some energy and stress. I will often take my hands out in front, press my thumb into each nail of my finger and then flick it away one at a time. If I teach them this while I do it they usually join right in the next time.
Use visuals to show your child what you are practicing and why
Watch a mindfulness video with them to prepare them what to do and why it is important. Draw a chart of their brain with the colors like this to show when they should use these practices. (Primarily in the red state when they need to feel reminded that they are safe).
Give a reminder that mindfulness helps you clear your mind of thoughts and worries so that you can learn better. It also helps prepare you to stay calm and focused in the moment. When big emotions or problems DO arise you will be better prepared!
Here’s a video I created for my YouTube channel that goes through some of the basics of mindfulness breathing, listening techniques, and focusing attention. It’s a great way to practice mindfulness meditation.
Download the Mindfulness Breathing printables here! Kids LOVE these cute breathing pages with visuals and poems for descriptions.
The Top Mindfulness Strategies to Practice with Kids Often so they Can Calm Themselves Down
Teach them to breathe in an out through their nose. They can be sitting up straight to allow for lots of room in the breath. Or they can be laying on their back to feel their breath go in and out of their tummy.
I use a breathing ball to help lead breathing (or ask a kid to lead in my class). It also helps demonstrate the way their lungs (or diaphragm) should expand with breath in, and contract with breath out. This cute book, I Can Breathe Like A… is a great option.
Help them learn how to listen to silence. Start with a soothing sound of a singing bowl or chimes. Something that lasts for a long time that they can listen to until it is silent. Prepare them for a nice sound and let them know that they should listen carefully until they can no longer hear the sound, and then raise their hand.
Once you’ve mastered that, try to have a listening session for a minute or two. Tell them to listen for sounds that are very quiet and after you ring the bell they can raise their hand to share what they heard.
Teach them a basic sun salutation, or some easy chair yoga. Use slow inhales and exhales to guide each movement:
- Inhale circle sweep your arms up; exhale to a forward fold.
- Breathe in, roll back up and reach up; exhale hands to heart.
- Inhale circle sweep to the sky; exhale reach to the side.
- Breathe in to reach back up; exhale arms to the other side.
After they know the movement, get them to try it with their eyes closed to listen to their breath. To try to feel the movement in their bodies. A book with some great movement options is Mindful Movements by Thich Nhat Hanh.
Mindful movement can also be encouraged when you do repetitive sequences of movement or poses with kids, like in a Yoga Flow.
Do a pose once. Let them know what they did well, and ask them to try it a little differently next time. Do the pose or sequence a couple more times and see if they can do it differently! (Slower, faster, bend knees more, reach arms higher, etc).
Noticing language is a great tool for practicing mindfulness around kids. In the Responsive Classroom model of teaching, it is called Reinforcing Language, because it helps to reinforce positive behaviors. It also tells kids why what they are doing is important or helpful.
Noticing language is also great for reinforcing mindfulness when you model noticing emotions, feelings, or things about the environment.
- I notice that when I took two deep breaths, I could feel my heart rate slow down. (Reinforces Mindful Breathing)
- After that activity I feel a little silly, so I am going to squeeze my hands a few times to redirect that energy. (Reinforces Mindful Movement)
- It looks like you are feeling a little sad. Would you like a hug? (Reinforces Mindfulness of emotions)
- Hmm, it looks like the yoga mats are all out of place. Who could help straighten them? (Helps students recognize and be mindful of their environment)
All of these mindful practices are SO useful to have on hand for when a class or kid need some calming down.
Take these steps if things are getting out of hand you need a class or child to calm down:
- Pause your own movement, be still or find a place to stop
- Lower your voice or get down closer to their level
- Take a deep breath and ask them to as well
- Explain that everyone will pause for a moment to gather their calm energy back
- Choose a mindful breathing activity, or use a singing bowl to help them listen and relax
- OR put on some music and take moment of just listening
- OR do a few stretches and yoga poses with breath to switch the mood
- OR give them the space to take a break, look at a book, or use a fidget toy
Remind them that these big feelings are ok and they will pass, but it’s important to get their brain back to a more calm space.
Once everyone is calm again, then you can talk about what it was that caused the outbreak.
- What were you (we) feeling that caused things
- How and why did things escalate?
- What can be done to repair any damage to feelings or items?
- What can be done ahead of time to prevent that outburst from happening again?
Hopefully with these mindfulness practices and skills you can start to prevent tantrums, outbursts, and loud classes with emotionally draining distractions.
The most important part is to start practicing mindfulness daily and talk about the benefits for yourself andwith your kids or students.
You’ll be on your way to calm days and nights in no time.
For more mindfulness teaching tips and techniques, check out the Mini-Course:
Mindfulness Tools for Kids and Classes
Also, don’t forget to grab some free kids yoga downloads from the Free Resources Library here!