Monday, October 20, 2014

Mindfulness & Guided Relaxation for Kids

“Happiness, not in another place but this place...not for another hour, but this hour." ― Walt Whitman

It can be quite empowering, as an individual, to learn that you can find peace within yourself while navigating this busy world. We can help children to center their minds and bodies so they can learn to be resilient. Some ways adults and children can de-stress and find peace is through guided relaxations and practicing mindfulness. First, lets learn a little about mindfulness. Then, I will share about our first guided relaxation experience while sharing some helpful resources and tips along the way.

In recent years, the concept of Mindfulness has become a popular topic in the United States. Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of the Mindfulness Center in Massachusetts, defines mindfulness as "paying attention in a particular way; On purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudmentally." This is a simple concept but it doesn't always come easy; it's a skill we need to hone and practice. There are formal practices, such as sitting meditation while focusing on the breath, and there are informal practices, such as eating or driving mindfully and being an active listener. Combined, these techniques teach us to be more self-aware of our thoughts and emotionally resilient to the stressors in our lives.

The practice of being mindful is being recognized as a great tool for helping children with everyday stress, hyperactivity, and mental health issues. Susan Kaiser Greenland, author of The Mindful Child, found that mindfulness could not only help her but could help her children. She set out 
to assist teachers, counselors, and parents with learning how to use these techniques with kids of all ages. This may be a great resource for you.

At our after school program at the Allentown Learning and Engagement Center (ALEC), our students were guided through a belly breath exercise and a guided relaxation exercise to teach them how to calm their bodies and minds. The hardest part of the exercise was getting them to be quiet and focused at first so we could start. We weren't sure how it would go with this young, hyper crowd but I have had some experience guiding young adults through similar exercises with much success and I was hopeful.

Once we began the exercises we were so happy to see the students calm down, breathe together, and let their imaginations take them to a good place they can always come back to. It was quite amazing to watch this transition from chaos to peace.

First, I played some relaxing music for the students before we began. I found this great mix by PURERELAX.TV which offers a free hour-long mix of relaxing music for children. We let it play until our discussion time.

Second, I had the students sit in a circle. I asked them to lay back and close their eyes. At this point, I also needed to tell a few students to keep their feet to themselves because it was distracting other students. This was also to be expected and it was part of the process of learning.

Next, I wanted to start with a short mindfulness exercise with the students to bring them to a calm state before we dove into the guided relaxation. I began by talking about stress and what that feels like and looks like. I said, "sometimes we can feel really sad or mad and not know what to do about it. This is stress and it's important that we learn ways to bring ourselves peace when we feel stressed." 

Belly Breaths

Belly breaths are a simple and great way to help kids learn to calm their body and mind when they are feeling sad, mad, anxious, or just plain stressed. Let's get started!
  1. Have your child or group lay down and place their hands on their bellies.
  2. Then ask them to gently close their eyes.
  3. Have them take a deep breath in through their nose and then blow it out through their mouth.
  4. Now breathe in through the nose to the count of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.
  5. Hold the breath for the count of 1, 2.
  6. Then breathe out through the mouth very slowly to the count of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.
  7. Repeat steps 4-6 until the child is relaxed.
If they seem distracted, ask them to bring their awareness back to their belly and to imagine their belly as a balloon inflating and deflating. Sometimes a visual can make it more interesting. Another trick is to have them imagine blowing a feather into the air or blowing a bubble on the out breath.

Once they make the connection that belly breaths help calm their bodies and minds, they will start to use the technique when they need it. So, do this exercise as much as possible so they can easily grab for this tool on their self soothing tool belt.

More Resources on Belly Breathing:

Guided Relaxation

After the belly breath exercise, I invited the students to go through a guided relaxation exercise which involved them using their imagination to create a visual journey. Over at Green Child Magazine, they offer about 8 guided relaxation scripts for children free of charge. 

Autumn has begun, so I thought it would be fitting to guide them through an "Enchanted Fall Forest." I only had to alter the last two sentences of the script since our exercise was being done during the day. Instead I said aloud, "You may now begin to wiggle your fingers and toes. It is now time to bring your focus back to this room and enter back into the busy world. Remember, you can always come back to this place. When you are ready you can open your eyes and sit up."

As I looked around the room, everyone who participated was relaxed and I saw all of them wiggling their fingers before they made the choice to open their eyes and sit back up. Just a few needed a little extra time to join us and only one or two students actually fell asleep, which was just fine by me. 

Lastly, I asked if anyone wanted to share their experience in the Enchanted Fall Forest. Micah, one of our 1st graders, pointed to a picture of a valley and said excitedly that he saw the sky, the birds, the trees, and the grass. Robert said he saw the waterfall and it was peaceful. A few others shared their unique stories of what their forest looked like. TreJawn, a 5th grader, shared with the class his journey and after I asked him how that made him feel he said, "I felt happy!" 

We will continue to practice these mindful moments with our students throughout the school year. I hope our experience has inspired you to help children in your life learn these great techniques to de-stress and be mindful.

If you have any stories or resources you would like to share please comment below! We would love to hear from you.

If you liked this, you may also like A Quiet Minute with our 4th and 5th Graders.

- Corey

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