Mindfulness is a strategy that can help us become more fully aware of what’s happening around us and, in turn, feel more fully alive. We’ve probably all heard the word “mindful,” but when we’re
talking about mindfulness as an approach to life, we’re talking about something different. We’re talking
about very purposefully paying attention to what is going on in the present moment, without worrying about the past or the future, and without judging ourselves in the present. When we are mindful, we focus
on our thoughts, feelings, and what is going on in our bodies—and accept whatever that might be. We
slow down, and notice the world around us. In the process, we also become aware of things we had no idea we were missing!

You may have heard of mindfulness in relation to Eastern philosophies, and that’s where it started. But mindfulness has moved well beyond any one religion and entered the mainstream. It is practiced by people from all walks of life, and from many systems of beliefs. Anyone, including children, can benefit from becoming more mindful.

Practicing mindfulness may sound a bit strange if you haven’t tried it before, but there is ample evidence that it works. In fact, it works so well that it’s been used in psychology, healthcare, neuroscience, business, the military, education, and beyond. Mindfulness has been shown to be beneficial for our bodies, minds, moods, and stress levels. It can help us get along better with others; it can also improve our self-awareness and help us manage our thoughts and behaviors. Being mindful can help us slow down and make decisions reflectively, rather than reflexively. Mindfulness can even lead to positive changes in our brains that are linked to learning and memory. And, perhaps most importantly, it can help us feel calm, peaceful, hopeful, and happy.

So, how can you and your child or teen practice focusing your attention and becoming more mindful? Well, how do we generally attend to the world around us? Through our senses, of course! Our senses are a great way to become more aware of ourselves and our surroundings. Unfortunately, most of what our senses tell us barely registers in our awareness. But by noticing—really noticing—what our senses are revealing, we can keep some wonderful things from slipping by. Here are some strategies to heighten awareness as you and your child take a mindful tour through the senses.

Mindful Tasting

Mindful tasting involves noticing what you are eating, rather than just popping food in your mouth and gobbling it down so you can move on to something else. The next time you share a meal or snack with your child or teenager, slow down and follow these steps together. Hold the food in your mouth for a few seconds before you begin to chew, then taste it without biting. Finally, chew slowly before you swallow. Savor the food. Notice its flavor, texture, and temperature. How would you describe it? Use lots of different words—crunchy, smooth, creamy, bitter—as you really taste it. Try this strategy with foods you like, and with foods you don’t like, too. Try variations of the same food, for example by sampling three kinds of apples. Make sure to involve all your other senses. Consider the appearance, feel, and smell of the food. Listen to it sizzle as it cooks, or the sound it makes as you take a bite. Food can be a wonderful part of the day if you truly experience it, so take it off autopilot.

Mindful Seeing

You can practice mindful seeing by simply stopping and describing what is around you. When you’re at the park with your child or in the car with your teenager ask what he sees. Or try looking for objects of a specific size, shape, or color. Taking pictures can help you tune into details, too. Try painting what you see. Experiment with mixing colors until you create the perfect match for a favorite stuffed animal or piece of clothing. Watch a snow globe until the last snowflake settles. Use nature as your canvas; find shapes in the clouds or watch raindrops slide down a window and gather speed as they merge together. Follow an ant around your backyard. There are also many fun books for children that focus on careful looking, like I Spy or Where’s Waldo?

Mindful Feeling

The next time you sit down with your child or teen, try noticing how the chairs feel. Are they comfortable? Are they hard or soft? Does the back rest against you, or push against your spine? Or try mentally scanning your bodies from head to toe, noticing anything you feel. Are your clothes comfortable? Are your shoes too tight? For younger children, play games involving touch. Hide various items in a paper bag and have your child guess the hidden objects just by feeling them. Go on a treasure hunt through the house searching for items that are soft, hard, smooth, rough, fuzzy, or bumpy. A bath or shower can also provide opportunities for mindfulness. Is the water hot or cold? How does the soap feel? Is the towel nice and soft?

Mindful Smelling

Discuss smells you like and don’t like with your child. How would you describe them? Bake a treat together and notice the aroma wafting through the house. Go outside, then come back in and experience the wonderful aroma all over again. Play games with smell. Have your child close her eyes and smell vinegar, vanilla, coffee, or cocoa. Can she identify them? Which scent is her favorite? For younger children, have fun with scratch-and-sniff stickers!

Mindful Listening

Close your eyes with your child or teen and listen to the sounds around you. What do you notice? Close your eyes again. Is there anything you missed the first time? Choose sounds to focus on. Listen to music and try to pick out different elements, like the vocals or drums. Play a sound that resonates, like a note on a piano, triangle, or bell, and listen until the sound is completely gone. Try sound matching, too. With younger children, find something that makes a particular sound, like a piggy bank, and hunt through the house until you find something that sounds similar, like a jar of buttons.

Mindfully experiencing the world through all of your senses is a great way for you and your child to become calmer, happier, and more focused. So turn off the autopilot and really start tasting, seeing, feeling, smelling, and listening to the great big world around you!

For additional ways to help your child or teenager become more mindful, learn more about taking a mindful pause. You can also explore mindfulness books for children available from Magination Press.

by Susan Sweet, PhD

This Article's Author

Susan D. Sweet, PhD, is a clinical child psychologist and mother of two. She has worked in hospital, school, and community-based settings and is passionate about children’s mental health and well-being. Susan hopes worries never overshadow anyone’s dreams.

Dr. Sweet co-authored with Brenda Miles, PhD Jacqueline and the Beanstalk: A Tale of Facing Giant Fears, Princess Penelopea Hates Peas: A Tale of Picky Eating and Avoiding Catastropeas, King Calm: Mindful Gorilla in the City, Cinderstella: A Tale of Planets Not Princes, and Chicken or Egg: Who Comes First?
Brenda Milesby Brenda Miles, PhD

This Article's Author

Brenda S. Miles, PhD, is a pediatric neuropsychologist who has worked in hospital, rehabilitation, and school settings.

She is an author and co-author of several books for children, including The Moment You Were Born: A Story for You and Your Premature Baby, Stickley Sticks to It!: A Frog’s Guide to Getting Things Done, Chicken or Egg: Who Comes First? and Princess Penelopea Hates Peas: A Tale of Picky Eating and Avoiding Catastropeas, all published by Magination Press.

Related Books from Magination Press

  • King Calm Book Cover

    King Calm: Mindful Gorilla in the City

    by Susan D. Sweet, PhD

    Marvin isn’t like other gorillas. He doesn’t stomp his feet and he never ever pounds his chest with a thump thump roar. Marvin is mindful. He’s focused. He’s calm…and he’s about to teach his grandpa to be a king of calm, too! Includes a Reader’s Note loaded with information about living mindfully and ways to become more calm, focused, and tuned in to the Great Big World around you.