Teaching Mindfulness to Teens

Written by Amoreena Berg, LMFT, Site Director for Adolescent Counseling Services.

Starting simple is the best way to be successful with teaching mindfulness to kids. For example, an adult who begins learning meditation may start off with 15 minutes of meditation a day, for a child it would be better to start off with 5 minutes. They also write that whomever teaches the child should be comfortable with teaching mindfulness exercises and the person should also have some experience practicing mindfulness.

Three areas of mindfulness activities are suggested for use with kids. These areas are: mindfulness of the environment, mindfulness of the body, and mindfulness meditation. The first area activities deal with directing a child’s attention toward the things in their environment. The exercises are designed to help the child become aware of the things they are aware of and the things they are not aware of. Take for example this exercise — awareness of an object

Ask the child to select an object to draw. Examples of objects might be a telephone, a shoe, scissors, or a clock. Tell the child to draw a picture of their object. Remind them that the activity is not focused on their ability to draw, as this could cause frustration in some children, and to simply do the best job they can. Then the child should spend time looking at the actual object, paying attention to smaller and smaller details. If this exercise is done in school or some other setting, it may be a homework assignment to spend time looking at the object. Then the child should draw the object again. Compare the drawings, and ask the child to identify the details missing from the first drawing that they remembered in the second. In most cases,the second drawing will be more accurate and life-like. Ask the child what it was like to spend time really looking at the object that might otherwise have been something they never took time to notice.

The second area children focus on is mindfulness of the body.  An exercise used in Jon Kabat-Zinn’s MBSR program is called raisin meditation to demonstrate this principle. Raisin meditation “involves being aware of an object in the environment— in this case, a raisin—and then being aware of one’s own experience of that object.”  This exercise helps the child focus on their senses.

The final area of focus for kids is mindfulness meditation. The authors describe this as “the focused awareness on the thinking process.” The point of this practice is multifaceted. The exercises in the area are about letting go and not engaging thoughts, and having children learn how to slow down, observe thoughts, and “release them or let go without judgment.”

They present the bubble meditation for this area of focus.

Begin by sitting in a comfortable position, with your back straight and shoulders relaxed. Softly close your eyes. Imagine bubbles slowly rising up in front of you. Each bubble contains a thought, feeling, or perception. See the first bubble rise up. What is inside? See the thought, observe it, and watch it slowly float away. Try not to judge, evaluate, or think about it more deeply. Once it has floated out of sight, watch the next bubble appear. What is inside? Observe it, and watch it slowly float away. If your mind goes blank, then watch the bubble rise up with “blank” inside and slowly float away.

Hopefully by now teaching mindfulness to your child or the children you may be teaching isn’t too scary of a concept. But if you still find the idea scary, you can usually find a Buddhist center that has a children’s program that you and your child can participate in. And if you are a teacher in the Bay Area, you contact the Mindful Schools program.

Good luck!

For more great articles by Amoreena, visit Amoreena’s Adolescent Counseling Blog