The uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has everyone feeling a wide mix of feelings: anxiety, boredom, grief, confusion, frustration, and loneliness to name a few. Helping children recognize and identify their feelings is an important life skill that will be useful long after the pandemic is over. This repost from April 2018 from Magination Press author Lauren Rubenstein, JD, PsyD, explores how we can use mindfulness to examine emotions in a calm, thoughtful way.

Take a minute right now to pay attention to what’s going on around you. What do you hear or see? Do
you notice anything new? Now, turn your attention inward. What are you thinking, and how do you feel?
Mindfulness—as you just experienced—is tuning into yourself and paying attention to the present moment without judging or analyzing what you are thinking or feeling. Although it seems quite simple, it is not easy. Our busy minds are constantly darting and drifting, telling stories about what has happened in the past and what might happen in the future.

For children and teenagers, mindfulness is a powerful tool that can enhance many aspects of well-being. As parents and professionals, we can encourage children to be mindful, to cultivate emotional intelligence through their senses, and to reflect on what they learn.

Linking Mindfulness and Emotions

In order to connect mindfulness to our emotions, we can use the idea of “visiting” our feelings. We can encourage children and teenagers to sense, explore, and befriend all of their feelings with acceptance and equanimity. Emotions and feelings are neither good nor bad, neither acceptable nor unacceptable. Rather, they are simply present-moment experiences of felt sensations.

Instead of trying to suppress or undo feelings, we invite children to explore their feelings with their senses and even converse with them. Awareness of how feelings can lodge in the body, as conveyed by common expressions like “a pit in the stomach” or “a lump in the throat” is a form of emotional intelligence. This awareness helps children and teenagers handle any feelings that may arise with equanimity. It also helps them mindfully gain sensitivity to their bodies as rich kaleidoscopes of information. They can cultivate this emotional intelligence through their senses by learning to explore the range of emotions they encounter within themselves on a daily basis.

Encouraging Mindfulness

Mindfulness can take many forms. Physical practice includes yoga, tai chi, martial arts, and even mindful walking. In fact, any activity can be done mindfully—for example, brushing your teeth, putting on your socks, or practicing the piano. There are many simple exercises you can do at home to help teach your child to be mindful.

Reflection activities can be introduced seamlessly into your family routine. Remember: “Short times, many times” is ideal, both in terms of cultivating a mindful brain and fitting practice into busy schedules. For example, before a family meal, have each person at the table name three things they are grateful for. Discuss where the food came from and express gratitude for all those who helped along the way. Practicing gratitude provides a sense of meaning and connection, and increases our overall sense of well-being.

Try this well-known exercise: Hand your child a raisin, and ask that she use all five senses to explore the raisin before even putting it in her mouth. You can do the same. See how many adjectives you can come up with to describe the raisin’s appearance, taste, touch, smell, and even sound (squish it close to your ear). You can try this with a bite-size portion of any food. For a fun variation, have everyone at the table close their eyes and hand them something unknown to experience and describe.

Mindful Breathing

Mindful breathing practices help regulate the nervous system, which kicks into fight-or-flight mode when we are stressed. Many simple exercises can be done at home to encourage mindful breathing. Ask your child to imagine a balloon expanding and contracting while counting his inhales and exhales, or place a small stuffed animal on his belly and ask him to “breathe” the animal to sleep.

Here’s another simple exercise borrowed from yoga practice that combines breathing with a visual cue:

  1. Have your child make a fist and breathe in through her nose. Count to five out loud for her, or have her count it out in her mind.
  2. Next, instruct her to put up her hand with five fingers spread wide.
  3. As she breathes out through her nose, she counts backwards from five, putting down one finger at a time down with each count.
  4. Repeat this pattern one to three times.

More Ways to Encourage Mindfulness

Cognitive exercises also encourage mindfulness. Reflection, insight, and empathy are essential skills
that are often under-emphasized in formal education. To help develop these skills, try these exercises:

  • Ask your child to tune in and count five sounds, five body sensations (e.g. warmth, tingling, pulsing), or five objects in the room that start with the letter “b.” This is good practice for identifying but not acting on feelings and impulses that arise in the body.
  • Encourage your child to change her own personal TV channel in her mind. When she practices switching from her favorite show to something she doesn’t like or to a neutral show, she is strengthening her ability to direct her attention.
  • Ask your child to watch his thoughts like a parade passing. Ask him to notice whether the thoughts are big or small, loud or quiet, single or repetitive. His job is to keep watching the parade, rather than being swept into it—that is, caught up in his thoughts.

As newborns, we were more fully engaged in the world of the senses through voices, scents, colors, and, of course, internal sensations of hunger. As we mature, however, verbal skills enable us to label our emotions, so that joy is often deemed “good,” while anger or sadness is considered “bad.” Motor skills enable us to flee from or act out our emotions. We have all witnessed this in a child’s full-body temper tantrum. As our children become acculturated to our busy pace and constant moving and doing, they gradually forget how to simply be. Practicing mindfulness can help us get back to the present.

About Mindsight

For children and teenagers, practicing mindfulness can help develop insight and empathy, or what Dr. Dan Siegel, founding co-director of the Mindful Awareness Research Center at UCLA, has termed “mindsight.” Mindsight can actually transform the brain, creating new neural circuits and promoting reflection. Mindfulness can become a way of approaching life, one that fosters resilience and ultimately promotes well-being in the larger community. The emotional insight children gain will help them as they navigate their teen years and adulthood.

As you develop a mindfulness practice with your child or teenager, you might want to explore the benefits of parent-child yoga or develop a basic breathing practice. You can also explore mindfulness books for children available from Magination Press.

In addition to Dr. Rubenstein’s book, Visiting Feelings, you’ll find other Magination Press books about feelings listed below this post.

Lauren Rubenstein Author by Lauren Rubenstein, PsyD, RCYT

This Article's Author

Lauren Rubenstein, JD, PsyD, is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in Bethesda, MD. She also teaches yoga and mindfulness to children and adolescents, including kids in Haiti living in extreme poverty. Her humanitarian work in Haiti has been featured in the Huffington Post. Dr. Rubenstein donates proceeds from Visiting Feelings to the Go Give Yoga Foundation.

Related Books from Magination Press

  • Visiting Feelings Book Cover

    Visiting Feelings

    by Lauren Rubenstein, JD, PsyD

    Visiting Feelings encourages children to treat their feelings like guests — welcome them in, get to know them, and perhaps learn why they are visiting. Through this purposeful and mindful exploration, Visiting Feelings harnesses a young child’s innate capacity to fully experience the present moment and invites children to sense, explore, and befriend all of their feelings with acceptance and equanimity. A Note to Parents provides more information about emotional awareness and mindfulness.

  • A Box of Butterflies

    Jo Rooks

    “I love that story,” said Ruby. “Did you love it too?”

    “Robot is just a machine. Robot cannot feel love.”

    Robot paused for a moment and said, ” What does love feel like?”

  • Grow Happy Book Cover

    Grow Happy

    by Jon Lasser, PhD and Sage Foster-Lasser

    My name is Kiko. I’m a gardener. I grow happy. Let me show you how. Kiko shows the reader how she grows happiness: by making good choices, taking care of her body and mind, paying attention to her feelings, problem solving, and spending time with family and friends. Kids will learn that they can play a pivotal role in creating their own happiness, just like Kiko. A Note to Parents and Other Caregivers provides more strategies for helping children learn how to grow happiness.

  • How Do You Doodle?: Drawing My Feelings and Emotions

    Elise Gravel

    Meet Otti, Ugga, and Flibb — They like to doodle. They doodle all the time!

    They doodle when they are mad, they doodle when they are glad, and they doodle when they are sad. They doodle just about anything they want!

    What about you? Do you doodle, too?

    How Do You Doodle? has over 40 doodle games for you to doodle, scribble, and draw out your thoughts, emotions, and feelings. You can draw or write whatever you want in this book — cute drawings, silly drawings, even ugly drawings.

    Be creative and express yourself! Your doodles will help you to understand and recognize your emotions and feelings.

    Click hereto download pages from How Do You Doodle.

  • How to Feel Good: 20 Things Teens Can Do

    Tricia Mangan, MA

    Being a teenager can be tough. It can be really hard sometimes to feel good about yourself and your abilities. New relationships and experiences are happening all around you, and that can make you insecure, overwhelmed, or stressed out.

    How to Feel Good will help you slow down and pay attention to how you feel and what you think about yourself.

    This book presents 20 simple, mind-healthy skills to guide you toward self-awareness and to teach you to stay calm and self-confident. You will also find additional strategies, self-reflection questions, and easy-to-do tools to help end frustration and develop patience so that you can achieve your goals.

    Are you ready? Do 1 or learn all 20 skills and take charge of you. You are just a step away from feeling more confident, secure, and GREAT!

    Click here to download Chapter 13: Be Kind to Your Whole Self, and here to download Chapter 15: Control What You Can.

  • Move Your Mood!

    Brenda S. Miles, PhD and Colleen A. Patterson, MA

    Feeling blah? Here’s what to do. Move your body and your mood moves too!

    Move Your Mood! invites kids and adults to twist, wiggle, shake, hop…and smile! Reading this book with your child is an active and fun way to teach your child about emotions, and introduce the idea that moving our bodies affects the way we feel inside.

    Ready to start feeling better? Move and groove your way into a better mood!

    Includes a Note to Parents, Caregivers, and Teachers with suggestions for how to use the book with your child, and additional ideas for teaching your child about emotions.