Resilience Is Mindfulness: 12 Calming Exercises for Kids

Resilience is the ability to overcome serious stress or difficulty, and bounce back stronger than ever. In this series, Connecticut Children’s pediatric experts share keys to resilience, and tips to help your child be resilient during the coronavirus pandemic.

Just like adults, it’s easy for kids to get lost in troubling thoughts, and overwhelmed by the physical sensations that accompany stress.

But kids can learn to calm themselves by focusing on what’s happening right now in their body, breath and surroundings – aka, mindfulness. Mindfulness helps focus and soothe a worried mind, and makes it easier for kids to control how they react to stress long-term. It’s an important key to resilience.

To share mindfulness and relaxation exercises for kids, pediatric integrative medicine specialist Ana Maria Verissimo, MD, MA, joins the blog.

Deep breathing

  1. Belly breathing
  • Have your child lay on the floor and put one hand on their stomach. For younger kids, find a favorite stuffed animal to place on their belly, and ask them to take their stuffed animal “for a ride.”
  • Slowly breathe in, and notice how the stomach expands like a balloon.
  • Slowly breathe out, and notice how the stomach deflates.
  • Practice standing up with one hand on the stomach and one hand on the chest. Can your child take deep breaths that move just their belly, not their chest?
  1. “Flower and Bubbles”
  • Have your child imagine that they have a flower in one hand and a bubble wand in the other. (You can use actual bubbles or a pinwheel, too!)
  • Smell the flower: Breathe in slowly and deeply through the nose.
  • Blow bubbles: Breathe out slowly through the mouth.
  • Repeat three to five times.
  1. “Bunny Breathing”
  • Have your child pretend they are a bunny; they can even kneel with their hands drawn up and their chin tucked down.
  • Twitch the nose to get ready for breathing!
  • Take several short, quick “sniffs” in through the nose.
  • Exhale in one long, smooth breath.
  • Repeat!

> Connecticut Children’s Office for Community Child Health is committed to building resilience in children and families so they can be better positioned to thrive in challenging times. Learn more about our community-oriented work.

The five senses

  1. The “54321” technique

This exercise is great to help kids be present in their bodies and space. Have your child find, or describe:

  • 5 objects they can see right now.
  • 4 objects they can feel or touch right now.
  • 3 things they can hear right now.
  • 2 things they can smell right now.
  • 1 thing they can taste right now.
  1. Mindful baking

Put on soothing music and lead your child through baking or cooking something simple, like cookies or a pizza.

  • Have your child count out quantities, and show them how to carefully measure ingredients.
  • Point out the tactile sensation of kneading or rolling out dough. (This is especially great for kids who are working on fine motor skills, including kids with special needs.)
  • Savor the aroma of baking, and the taste of the delicious results.
  • You can even turn it into an opportunity for compassion (a focus of many mindful practices): Make an extra batch to drop off with an isolated neighbor, or to set out with a thank-you note for a delivery person.
  1. Nature walk

If you have access to someplace green, take your child for a walk in nature.

  • What do you hear?
  • What do you see that’s growing?
  • Touch the rough bark of a tree trunk, or collect acorns or leaves. How does it feel?
  • Rub a pine needle. How does it smell?
  • Return regularly, and observe the small and big changes – what new sounds can you hear; what new green things are growing? Bring in the lesson that change is always happening, and that the earth continues its cycle, no matter what is going on in our lives.

Muscles and movement

  1. “Making Lemonade”
  • Have your child imagine that they are standing beneath a lemon tree.
  • Pick lemons: Stretch both hands in the air and grab imaginary lemons.
  • Squeeze the juice: Make tight fists and squeeze hard.
  • Take a break: Throw the lemons on the ground and relax the hands.
  • Repeat until you have enough juice for a glass of lemonade.
  • Relax: After the last squeeze and throw, shake out those hands!
  1. “The Big Squeeze”
  • Starting with their toes, coach your child to pick one muscle and squeeze it tightly.
  • Count to five, then release.
  • Pay attention to how the body feels.
  • Repeat by moving up the body and squeezing different muscles, one at a time.

9-12: Mindful movement

  • Have your child try moving like different animals, like a kangaroo, snake or penguin. How does their body feel different with each animal?
  • Gently trace their palm with a finger and ask what they feel.
  • Have them rub their hands together quickly for a minute, then stop and notice how their hands feel.
  • While walking, ask your child to describe how the ground feels beneath their feet. How does it change with each step?

Recommended resources

  • Yoga 4 Classrooms Card Deck by Lisa Flynn: Yoga and mindfulness activity cards to help kids slow down, unwind and manage their emotions
  • “Sitting Still Like a Frog” by Eline Snel: Activity book and CD with mindfulness activities for kids (and their parents)
  • “Breathe Like a Bear” by Kira Willey: A children’s book with 30 mindful movements to help kids be calm, focused and imaginative
  • The work of Lynn Lyons: YouTube videos and other resources for helping children with anxiety

Be like spaghetti.

To help kids understand what we mean by “resilient,” I often talk about spaghetti. When it’s not cooked, it’s rigid: Try to bend it and it breaks. But when it’s cooked, it bends (and it’s delicious). We want to be able to bend in tough times – so even if we’re sad that we can’t see our grandparents or stressed about a big homework assignment, we can think to ourselves, “This won’t break me.”

How do we build resilience? Practice. By putting in the effort – which includes developing mindfulness, and these other keys to resilience – we can be like spaghetti.

Read the next article in the series >

Check out all of our coronavirus resources for families >

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