Benefits of mindfulness for preschoolers who learn and think differently

Benefits of mindfulness for preschoolers who learn and think differently

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While we often think of kids as being care-free and unbound by the stresses of the world around them… many of us with sensitive little kiddos know that they really can be quite deep and emotional thinkers. Whether you notice them getting a bit quiet before daycare, or getting stressed out when they need to focus on an activity – it can be a bit challenging to know how to help them as a parent in these situations. 

Mindfulness is the practice of centering yourself in the present moment — and it is a great skill for any of us, including our little ones, to learn. Helping your little one practice mindfulness can encourage them to take a step back from any negative thoughts or dwelling emotions they have and refocus their attention on the task at hand. 

What are the benefits of mindfulness in preschoolers?

Anxiety and stress are a natural part of life — even for our preschoolers! And while many of our little ones can bounce back from worries quickly, others can really struggle with big emotions or negative self-talk.

If your little one tends to get overwhelmed, is easily affected by stress (remember, their stresses may look different than yours e.g. putting their shoes on!) or can be really negative about themselves or about things like preschool or social situations, then mindfulness may have some really positive benefits for them. 

As mindfulness is all about living in the current moment, it can help your little one put some distance between themselves and how they are feeling and thinking or what they are worrying about. It can put what can feel like a huge challenge (i.e. going to daycare, doing an activity, meeting new people) back into perspective.

*Importantly: mindfulness is not about ignoring your feelings, but taking a moment to reconnect with the present moment. 

Why is mindfulness good for preschoolers who think and learn differently?

While mindfulness is a good skill for everyone to learn, it is especially important for little ones who think or learn differently. Children who are anxious or impulsive often find themselves caught up in their thoughts and imagination. This can be a wonderful thing when it is helping them be creative or empathetic, but it can also mean they have a harder time focusing or being in the present moment. 

In these early years, our little ones are already forming how they see themselves and it is not uncommon for children who think or learn differently to begin comparing themselves to others, or to begin having negative self-talk. 

They may avoid doing tasks they feel that they are not good at, or say negative things about themselves before or during challenging situations. Things like, “No one is going to play with me at preschool” or “I am no good at soccer.” Or they may not be able to communicate their thoughts, but say things like, “My tummy feels swirly” before preschool or “I want to go home” just as you arrive at a social event. 

This makes mindfulness a particularly powerful tool for them to have in their toolbox as it will allow them to take a step away from their worries, and get back to the fun parts of being a kid. 

How do you explain mindfulness to preschoolers?

Many adults still struggle with the concept of mindfulness, so it is no surprise that it can feel like a tough one to explain to your preschooler. The best approach is to keep it simple, and to make it something the whole family participates in. 

Maybe it is doing a couple of deep breathing exercises together before hopping out of the car for preschool, or doing a calming meditation together before bed if you notice they get a bit introspective or worry about tomorrow right before bed. We aren’t the only ones who find ourselves staring at the ceiling, unable to sleep, because our minds are racing with thoughts. 

Have a plan in place and talk to them about what you are going to do together when they are feeling upset, anxious, or are having negative thoughts. That way, when you notice they are overwhelmed or caught up in their thoughts, you can say, “What do we do when we feel like this?” and encourage them to do their pre-discussed mindfulness activity. 

This way, you are both supporting them in the moments when they need you, but are also setting them up to be able to do this when you’re not around to help. They definitely won’t learn it overnight, – but consistency is really key here. 

Mindfulness activities for preschoolers

With mindfulness for preschoolers, you’re going to want to keep it simple and easy to follow. You may also want to think about having a few different activities for different situations — maybe a 1-minute activity before going to preschool, a 5-minute activity before bed, and a 30-second activity you can do anytime and anywhere.

Breathing 

One of the best activities to have under your belt is a simple breathing technique. This can be used anywhere and you can do it for as long as they need before they are ready to go back into the world. 

Next time you or your little one could use a reset and a breather, try this: 

  • Close your eyes 
  • Breathe in for four seconds 
  • Hold your breath for four seconds 
  • Breathe out for four seconds 
  • Hold for four seconds 
  • Repeat until you feel a bit calmer 

Noticing 

Sometimes, just noticing what is around you in the natural world can really help you reconnect with the present. 

Next time you or your little one get caught up in worries, try this: 

  • Go outside — if you can!
  • Take a deep breath and close your eyes 
  • Open your eyes and notice 5 different things around you 
  • List them mentally or verbally 

If your little one still hasn’t calmed down, you can go again. Sometimes, it can be fun to turn it into a game e.g. ask them if they can spot 5 soft things, then 5 green things, and then 5 moving things. 

Energy release

Sometimes, when we have a lot of big thoughts and emotions, our little ones can feel like they are full of nervous energy. 

Next time your little one is bouncing off the walls with energy, or are feeling anxious in their body (e.g. swirly tummy, shaky hands, or fast heartbeat), try this: 

  • Get them to close their eyes 
  • Wait a few seconds before getting them to curl their feet as hard as they can 
  • Hold for five seconds 
  • Then release 
  • Then get them to ball their hands into fists as hard as they can 
  • Hold for five seconds 
  • Then release 
  • Get them to scrunch their face up as hard as they can 
  • Hold for five seconds 
  • Then release 

Finish off the exercise by getting them to shake it out. 

Stress, worries and big feelings are just a part of life. That’s why helping your little one practice mindfulness from a young age is really going to help them both manage this in a healthy way and set them up to be resilient in the future. Plus, by encouraging our little ones to be mindful, you will probably notice an improvement in your own mood and stress management as you pick up little tips and tricks along the way!

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