Mindfulness Exercises to Reduce Anxiety in Kids

Anxiety is the body’s response to stress. As adults, we’re pretty familiar with our fluctuating stress levels. But unfortunately, many of our kids are experiencing anxiety more often and more severely than we did.

Mindfulness Exercises to Reduce Anxiety in Kids

Plenty of studies show how mindfulness exercises help reduce anxiety symptoms. Adults often lean on mindfulness practices like deep breathing, mindfulness meditation, tapping, and yoga. If a child is having anxious thoughts or showing other signs of anxiety, there are ways to incorporate mindfulness exercises into their routine.

Practicing mindfulness exercises in daily life together with your kids can be a wonderful way for them to learn mindfulness. Seeing you model a healthy way to cope with life’s stressors can build confidence when they have anxiety or stress, and also builds a connection and safe space between you and your children.

We all have anxious moments, as we raise children and balance work, activities, extended family, and processing whatever is happening in our own adult lives. So there are many opportunities to incorporate these kids’ mindfulness exercises into your family’s routine and make them a habit.

Lead your children with stress-managing and healthy anxiety-coping practices by incorporating these exercises to encourage mindfulness in children.

Signs of Anxiety in Kids

Usually adults have a pretty good sense of when we are feeling anxious. We might have racing thoughts, a wandering mind, and physical sensations like a quick heartbeat and butterflies in our stomachs.

Children aren’t always as good at identifying their feelings. When it comes to anxiety they can feel worried, irritable, or even angry. Other anxiety symptoms in kids to keep your eye out for are:

  • trouble sleeping
  • tiredness
  • trouble concentrating
  • headaches
  • stomach ache
  • eating less

While the symptoms of anxiety in children have a large range, it’s important to note that anxious feelings don’t always equate to an anxiety disorder. If your child is having severe or prolonged anxiety or in your gut you are concerned, use these tools along with recommendations from a doctor or therapist.

How to Help Your Child Cope with Anxious Feelings

We often want to step in and fix things for our little ones, but we’re not always there during stressful situations. And if we always intervene, they won’t learn how to deal with difficult emotions or develop the strategies to overcome anxiety on their own. 

I remind my kids that it’s not always the issue at hand, but how we cope with it that matters. When it comes to managing anxious thoughts and feelings, mindfulness exercises are wonderful tools for kids to keep on hand.

With mindfulness training to support them through their strong emotions, we can help them develop long term coping skills they can use throughout everyday life. Here are some ways to bring mindfulness skills to times when they experience big emotions.

  • Don’t avoid every situation that might make your child anxious. This only reinforces their fears and teaches avoidance.
  • Validate their feelings. Fears aren’t always logical, so it’s best to be empathetic and supportive instead of inserting our own opinions.
  • Practice mindful discipline. Harsh or punitive parenting can create anxiety and lead to more fears.
  • Ask open-ended questions. Leading questions might put more negative thoughts in their minds.
  • Avoid saying things like, “There’s nothing to be afraid of!” We wouldn’t appreciate it if our friend said this about our fears or worries. 
  • Use encouraging words and praise their efforts for even the smallest steps outside their comfort zone.
  • Set aside time to talk. Always be available and make sure to LISTEN when your child wants to talk. We may think they’re the little things, but to our kids, they can be much bigger.
  • Be an example of mindful awareness. Your child picks up on how you cope with your own fears and anxiety, and it often molds how they handle big emotions. 

Kids’ Mindfulness Activities for Anxiety

Here are some of the best mindfulness activities to incorporate into your family’s daily life. Some you may want to do every day to keep general feelings of anxiety at bay, and others you may want as in-the-moment tools for when situational anxiety arises.

Meet your child wherever they are, and help them use these powerful tools to process and stay in the moment.

Guided Meditation

Rather than silent meditation where the mind wanders, guided meditation is a great way for you to help your child relax, focus, process negative feelings, or even go on an imagined adventure.

Let your child get cozy in a quiet place with their favorite blanket or stuffed animal and read one of these relaxation scripts. If your child needs extra reinforcement, try this sweet meditation and printable cabin with two mindful bears scene.

Try a guided sleep meditation or this body scan for kids. You might be surprised at how quickly your child falls asleep when you incorporate this mindfulness practice into their bedtime routine.

Mindful Breathing

Breathing exercises can help at a moment’s notice. Bringing full attention to how it feels to take and release deep breaths is a simple way to connect to the present moment.

Mindful breathing can also bring about a normal heart rate and bridge us from a stressful moment to a more peaceful feeling. 

Outdoor Art Time

Art and nature are both healing and work hand in hand in these outdoor mindfulness art activities to calm kids and encourage their innate love of the outdoors. Focusing on an art project or sensory activities can absorb children in the here and now, making it a wonderful mindfulness activity for anxiety.

As it turns out, being in nature, creating art, and learning to practice mindfulness all have similarities in improving how kids feel. Take some time to get outside and draw a nature scene, get creative with nature coloring pages or a coloring book, create a nature mandala, or take a nature poetry walk. Everyone will feel the ease of reducing anxiety! 

Mindful Movement

Learning tools to regulate their nervous system is a great way for children to practice mindful movement. When our nervous systems are overloaded, it can make us feel unsafe at that moment, spiking anxiety and a fight, flight, or freeze response.

Yoga is a practice of mindfulness that has been shown to improve physical and mental health in school-aged children. Yoga incorporates deep breathing, body awareness, and core strength. It’s also a worthwhile somatic exercise for kids as well as great for daily practice with a mind-over-mood effect.

While a super long and serious yoga session isn’t developmentally appropriate for most kids, there are yoga websites and apps that are engaging and fun for kids, and they learn mindfulness techniques while they’re at it.

Practicing Mindfulness Activities for Anxiety with Kids

A calm down corner in your home is a great space to try some of these simple mindfulness exercises. You can also create an outdoor space that’s easy for your child to access so they get the added benefit of nature along with their mindfulness break.

Learning to bring mindfulness tools that will work for children into your own daily life is a great way to lead by example. I like to practice these regularly even when not in times of stress and anxiety, so that way when these times do arise, it feels natural to use them.

All of these ideas are ways to teach your kids to care for themselves. When they have anxious feelings, instead of shutting down or behaving in ways that are hard on them and everyone around them, they can work through it.

More On How Mindfulness Can Help

When it comes to your child’s anxiety, be conscious of your parenting style and interactions with your child. It’s worth reading up on this topic to ensure you are not creating extra pressure or anxiety for them as they learn to manage and self-regulate these big feelings.

The goal of mindfulness is to pause for an awareness of the present moment, to focus on what is rather than external stressors.

An intentional slow down, awareness, and gathering of yourself, your sensory system, and how it is relating to the world around you. A 2021 study found that elementary school kids who practiced mindfulness training slept an average of 74 extra minutes a night.

While kids may not always be able to journal, meditate on their own, or have an hour-long yoga session, they can pause and appreciate. In many ways, this comes more naturally to children than it does to adults! Sometimes, they need a bridge from one place to another though, and that is where mindfulness exercises for kids come into play.

Unwinding Anxiety with Mindfulness

When it comes to helping your child unwind their anxiety, the very first step is to help them identify their emotions.

Some of the best advice ever given to me by a child therapist is to identify my emotions out loud when my kids can hear me, and to talk out my process of fixing a mistake or coping with an issue. Sounds too easy, I know, but I’m here to tell you this will not only help your child, but also you.

Mindfulness in Action

One simple example of this is when I knocked over and spilled a  juice container in the kitchen. It probably doesn’t sound like a huge deal, but with two young boys and pregnant with my third baby, I was exhausted and just wanted to cry! 

Knowing that my son was working on not melting down in frustration over small changes in plans, I voiced that I was so frustrated that this happened and that it was not in the plan. I shared how I most definitely did not feel like cleaning it up. I didn’t yell, I stated this calmly to model my executive function process. 

Then I said, “Well, we all make mistakes. This was not in the plan, but it will be ok. First I’m going to take a second to breathe. Then I’m going to soak up the juice with a towel and wipe the floor with a wet washcloth so it won’t be sticky. This is frustrating, but not the end of the world. After it’s cleaned I’ll feel better and can relax.” 

The beauty of this process is that I learned to give myself grace and to give my children their own space for making mistakes and being ok with it too.

Making mistakes is part of life for all people, as frustrating and anxiety-ridden as it can feel when we just don’t have the energy for mistakes, issues, or plan changes. We breathe through it.  

We are all learning and growing here, not just kids. And parenting is the perfect outlet to hone our mindfulness skills. Once we can all identify that the icky feeling in our tummy or the super tired draggy feeling is the beginning of a full-on anxiety grump or meltdown, we can pause and use our mindfulness tools.

Anxiety and difficult times are a part of everyone’s lives. While we’d all love for our kids to not experience any difficulty, the reality is that they will at some point just like everyone else. Teaching them to cope with anxious feelings, big or small, and learning right along with them is something that can be practiced every day.

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