Creative Mindfulness Practice For Children

Sep 9 / Louise Shanagher
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"Mindfulness interventions have been shown to improve children’s sleep, wellbeing and self esteem, reduce anxiety, distress, reactivity and behavioural issues, and promote self-regulation, calmness and awareness"
I first became interested in mindfulness over 10 years ago while experiencing a period of stress in my life. As I developed my personal mindfulness practice, I noticed many benefits, particularly the positive impact it has on reducing stress and anxiety. On review of the literature on mindfulness, I soon realised that I was not alone in experiencing such benefits and that there was a growing body of research supporting the benefits of mindfulness practice.

At the time, I also had a strong interest in children’s mental health and felt that there was not enough awareness, support and resources available in this area. Although therapy is a fantastic resource, it is generally only available to a small minority of children. I felt that support, resources and education around positive mental health should be much more freely available to children, primarily in the classroom. In particular, I felt that offering classes that focused on teaching evidence-based practices such as mindfulness and self compassion to children would be an effective way to promote their positive mental health and wellbeing.

My work over the past 10 years has focused on facilitating these types of classes, visiting schools and libraries nationwide. I have now introduced thousands of children to mindfulness and self compassion practices, and have trained over 300 practitioners in the Creative Mindfulness Kids Method. I also deliver this training to organisations who work with children and am currently facilitating online training in the Creative Mindfulness Method for Barnardos staff nationwide.


Mindfulness is commonly defined as ‘the practice of paying attention to the present moment on purpose and non judgmentally’ (Kabat-Zinn, 1994, p.4.). When we are practising mindfulness, we are consciously paying attention to what is happening in the “here and now” with an attitude of curiosity and kindness and without judgement. In recent years, there has been a surge of interest in mindfulness-based practices, both in the popular press and in the literature on psychology and psychotherapy. Having originated from Eastern contemplative practices, mindfulness is now a mainstream psychotherapy construct (Davis & Hayes, 2012).

The last two decades have seen exponential growth in mindfulness research. A growing body of research now demonstrates that mindfulness practice
shows benefits in reducing stress and rumination, decreasing anxiety and depression, and boosting focus, working memory and cognitive flexibility, as well as enhancing interpersonal relationship skills and satisfaction (Davis & Hayes, 2012).

Research on mindfulness for children is not as extensive but is also suggests that mindfulness practice may be beneficial for children in a number of ways. Mindfulness interventions have been shown to improve children’s sleep, wellbeing and self esteem, reduce anxiety, distress, reactivity and behavioural issues, and promote self-regulation, calmness and awareness (Weare, 2012).

Research on mindfulness interventions has also demonstrated benefits for children and adolescents with conditions ranging from ADHD, autism spectrum disorders, anxiety, depression and stress (Carboni, Roach, & Fredrick, 2013; Haydicky, Wiener, & Badali, 2012; Semple, Reid, & Miller, 2005). Part of the reason why mindfulness is so effective for children can be explained by the way the brain develops. We know now that our brains have the quality of neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s ability to change, to relearn, rewire and strengthen important connections. Connections in the prefrontal circuits are created at their fastest rate during childhood. Mindfulness, which promotes skills that are controlled in the prefrontal cortex, like focus and cognitive control, can therefore have a particular impact on the development of skills including self-regulation, judgment and patience during childhood (Gelles, 2017).

Creative Mindfulness Method

As mindfulness can seem quite abstract and conceptual, I felt that it was important to teach the practice to children in a way that was very tangible and experiential. I developed a method of teaching mindfulness to children through creative activities, stories, games, discussion and craft that I now call the Creative Mindfulness Method. I noticed that when I introduced mindfulness to children in this creative and playful way, they not only quickly understood and benefited from the practices but they also really enjoyed the classes. I typically divide the practices I teach children into three main areas, awareness practices, mindfulness of emotions and mindful self compassion practices. I will outline some simple creative mindfulness practices here.

Teaching children awareness practices

The first step in introducing mindfulness to children is to introduce simple awareness practices. The first awareness practice I typically introduce is awareness of the breath. Ask children to put their hand on their belly and to feel their belly move as they breathe in and out. Another breath practice is hot chocolate breathing. Ask children to imagine that they have a cup of hot chocolate in their hands, and to breathe in while smelling the hot chocolate and breathe out cooling it down. Props also work well when teaching children how to bring awareness to the breath. You can use a Hoberman sphere and instruct children to breathe in and out in synchrony with the sphere as you move it in and out. A fan can be used in a similar way, encouraging children to breathe in as you fold the fan in and out as you open the fan out. Children also love using windmills, straws and bubbles as they do their mindful breathing.
A nice way to introduce mindful listening to children is to ring a bell and ask children to listen and raise their hand when the sound is gone. Long resonating sounds work best for this practice with Tibetan singing bowls working particularly well. You can be creative with this, asking children to wave their hands when the sound is gone or ask them to close their eyes, opening them only when the sound is gone. Another nice practice is to ask children to close their eyes and notice how many sounds they can hear from themselves, inside the room they are in and from outside the room they are in.

You can also help children connect to their senses. Nice items for this activity include feathers, material, objects from nature, such as stones, shells and pinecones, or small pieces of food such as raisins, orange segments or grapes. Give each child an object and ask them to notice how it feels in their hands, ask them to notice whether it is smooth or rough, along with its shape and size. Ask do parts of the object feel different from other parts and to think about the temperature of the object. You can also engage other senses by asking children to notice what the object looks like. Ask them if they can notice any patterns, how many colours the object has, if they notice the light and shadows. You can also ask children what the object smells like. If the object is edible, such as a raisin, piece of mandarin orange or apple, ask them to notice what it tastes like.

When we introduce awareness practices like these to children, we are helping them focus their attention in the present moment. We are supporting them to let go of worries and connect with themselves and the world around them. Each time children practise mindfulness they are strengthening their capacity to connect to the “here and now”.

Teaching children mindfulness of emotions practices

The most important message to give children regarding their emotions is that all their feelings are ok, that there are no bad or wrong feelings to have. You can ask children is it ok to feel sad, worried or angry? Explain that everyone, no matter what age they are, feels sad sometimes, feels angry sometimes, feels shy, worried and nervous sometimes. Ask children if is ok to hit or say mean things when they are angry? You can explain that although all our feelings are always ok, it is not ok to hit or hurt someone or say mean things to someone. There are a few nice art ideas that illustrate this idea well such as the “Everything belongs” heart. For this activity, draw an outline of a heart on a piece of white paper and give one to each child.

Ask children to close their eyes and to notice what feeling or feelings are in their heart today. Then ask children to write, draw or colour the feeling or feelings that are in their heart. Remind the children that there are no bad or wrong feelings and that, no matter what, all of their feelings belong. You can also do this with different coloured tissue paper, explaining to the children that the different coloured papers are like their different feelings and asking them to show what feelings are in their heart today by sticking the papers in the heart.
Another important message when discussing emotions with children is to explain to them that their feelings are like visitors that come and go, that their emotions are part of them, but not all of them. Tell children that each day we have different feeling visitors, they may stay for a while but they will soon be on their way again. You can use cutouts of emotions to illustrate this, giving the emotions names such as Worried Walter or Angry Angelina. Explain to children that when our emotions come to visit we can notice them, remember that all our feelings are ok and look after ourselves well. Ways we can look after ourselves include mindful breathing, putting a hand on our heart or giving ourselves a hug, saying kind things to ourselves and letting our emotions out. Ask children to put up their right hand and, for each finger, think of one person they could talk to when they feel sad or worried.

Explain to children that the next time that they are feeling sad, worried, angry or nervous they can take a breath, then hold out their hand and pick a person to talk to about how they are feeling. Other ways of helping children to express feelings include using a worry monster. Children can make a worry monster out of an empty cardboard box, which they decorate with wool, pipe cleaners and feathers. They can cut a big mouth-shaped hole in the box and can write or draw their worries on paper and feed them to the worry monster. Other options include children showing their feelings on a feelings wheel and writing or drawing their feelings in an “All about me” diary.

Teaching children self kindness and compassion practices

After introducing awareness practices and mindfulness of emotions, this is a good point to begin teaching children about the importance of self kindness and self compassion. There are a few nice practices that I find work particularly well. You can explain that each child is like a star in the sky, that no two stars are the same, that each child is special, unique and perfect just as they are. Explain that there is no child any worse than anyone else and that there is no child any better than anyone else, and that to shine brightly in the world we need to do three things:

  1. be a good friend to ourselves
  2. be kind to others
  3. and try our best.

Ask children how they can be a good friend to themselves. Often children have a good understanding of how to be a good friend to others but not to themselves. Explain that one way that we can be a good friend is to speak kindly to ourselves, the way we would speak to a good friend. Hold up a teddy and give examples of how the teddy could speak kindly and unkindly to himself.

Ask the children how the teddy would feel inside if he spoke kindly to himself and how he would feel if he spoke unkindly to himself. Making affirmation cards with children is a great way to encourage positive self talk. Cut out some pieces of card and, depending on the age of the child, write positive affirmations on the top or ask children to write them themselves. You can use affirmations such as “I am just right”, “I believe in me” or “I am loved”. Ask children to draw a picture on the card underneath the writing. When the cards are ready, practise saying the affirmations with the children, asking the children how they feel inside when they say the affirmations.

Another nice practice is to encourage children to use self-soothing touch, like putting a hand on their heart, giving themselves a hug, or stroking their arms. You can combine saying the affirmations with self-soothing touch, for example, putting your hand on your heart and saying “I am loved”. It is important that you model this for the child. If a child is experiencing a difficult emotion, ask them to notice where this emotion is in their body and to put their hand gently on this place.

When teaching children about self kindness and self compassion, it is very important to help children to understand their own inherent value. I like to bring a large pretend diamond with me to my classes. I put the diamond in my hand and show it to the children. I tell them that each child is like this diamond, that they are very precious and special. I say that they are precious just because they are them, not because of what they look like or how good they are at school or sports, or how many toys they have.

A nice craft activity based on this idea is the “We are all special garden”. Give each child a paper flower and ask them to write their name in the middle of the flower. Ask the children to write one thing about themselves in each of the petals. This can be something they like doing, something they find difficult, their age, their favourite food or something they don’t like. When the flowers are finished, stick them on a green background. Ask children what it would be like if all the flowers were the same. What is the good thing about having different flowers in the garden? Are any of the flowers more important than the others? Emphasise that we need all the different flowers in the garden to make it beautiful, that each flower is important and valuable, and that there is no flower any better than any of the others.

The key message is that we are all just right as we are, and that it is ok to find some things difficult or to struggle at times, we all do! We just need to try our best. You can tell children about some things that you find difficult and then ask them to share something that they find difficult or struggle with. Ask them is it ok to find some things difficult? Do we need to be the best? Consider what we should do if we are finding something hard. Explain that it is important not to compare yourself to others and to just try your very best and that is always good enough!


Introducing the practices described above to children in creative, playful and experiential ways gives them a tangible understanding of mindfulness and self compassion practice. I often advise parents to help children keep their mindful crafts in a dedicated “mindfulness corner” or “calm space”. Parents and children can then interact with the mindful crafts, such as the worry monster, sensory objects or affirmation cards, on an ongoing basis. In this way, these practices can be integrated into normal family life. This really is the aim of the Creative Mindfulness Method, to normalise speaking about and caring for children’s positive mental health. We all have mental health in the same way as we all have physical health. My hope is that, in time, it will become just as normal for children to practise their mindful breathing and say their positive affirmations as it is to brush their teeth. I passionately feel that by introducing these practices to children from a young age, we are giving them a self care tool kit that will support them throughout their lives and that will help them lead happier and healthier lives.