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These parents are teaching their kids mindfulness. Here's how it impacts their families.

Experts explain how mindfulness exercises "can help children reduce stress and anxiety."

How does teaching kids mindfulness benefit them? Experts explain. (Image: Getty; illustration by Aida Amer for Yahoo)
How does teaching kids mindfulness benefit them? Experts explain. (Image: Getty; illustration by Aida Amer for Yahoo)

Mindfulness has been a buzzy term for years now, with a slew of mental health experts and celebrities raving about the perks of focusing one's attention on the present without judgment. But while a lot of the focus on mindfulness has been in adults, plenty of parents say they've seen benefits when using mindfulness with their kids, too.

One of them is Sarah Ezrin, author of The Yoga of Parenting and mom to a 1-year-old and 3-year-old. "I'm a longtime yoga teacher and I have seen the benefits of mindfulness both in my personal life and with my students," she tells Yahoo Life. "I wasn't taught any self-regulation techniques as a kid. I had to learn them all as an adult and, while they've been inordinately helpful, I can only imagine what learning these right out the gate can do for our development, mood regulation and emotional regulation skills."

Ezrin uses breathing techniques with her toddler, like "hot cocoa" breath. "We inhale and 'smell our cocoa,' then exhale through the mouth making an 'O' shape like you'e cooling your cocoa," she explains. Ezrin says she focuses on "sensory meditations" with her baby, which includes tracing his fingers or scalp to calm him. "I try to get him to take deep breaths and hope that he'll learn through our modeling, but he has a mind of his own," she says.

Ezrin says her toddler "visibly settles" when he uses mindfulness techniques, noting that she's seen "his toddler tantrums go from a 10 to a 3 thanks to deeper breathing." She also says that her baby is "more settled when I am."

Mom of two Bonnie Whitfield says she started practicing mindfulness with her 4- and 8-year-olds as a way to help them learn to manage stress. "My son was a bit resistant at first but, once he saw how it helped him focus and calm down when he was feeling overwhelmed, he really got into it," she says. "My daughter, on the other hand, loved it from the beginning and would remind us to do our 'mindfulness exercises' whenever she felt we needed them."

Whitney Surane is a mom of five, ranging in age from 9 to 18. She tells Yahoo Life that she decided to teach her children mindfulness after being diagnosed with an anxiety disorder as an adult. "I was and have always been concerned that my children might struggle just as I did," she says. "I have always been determined to openly discuss mental health, honoring our feeling and sharing my own struggles with mental health and a suicide attempt over 13 years ago."

Surane says that her older children are "sometimes more hesitant to learn something new like tapping," a type of meditation that involves tapping points on the body in a sequence. "But the earlier I start with them, the easier they adapt and are more open to it," she says. "I’ve noticed them practicing on their own at times and I love that they are learning so much and feel that they have control over their feelings and how to manage them."

But is there any science to support teaching kids mindfulness? And how do parents actually share this practice with them? Experts break it down.

There is research to support having children practice mindfulness. One small study followed children between the ages of 11 and 15 who underwent an eight-week mindfulness training program. The researchers found that, at the end of the study, the subjects had less attention and behavior problems, and their executive functioning (working memory, self-control and the ability to juggle tasks) improved.

Another study linked mindfulness techniques to better empathy and active listening skills. Research has even connected a mindfulness practice in kids to better sleep, and to weight loss in children who have obesity.

Pediatricians give mindfulness the thumbs up, too. "Mindfulness can help children reduce stress and anxiety," Dr. Gary Reschak, a pediatrician at Northwestern Medicine Huntley Hospital, tells Yahoo Life. "It is also useful for improving emotional regulation, which can lead to better social skills as well as increased focus and attention."

Melissa Santos, division chief of pediatric psychology at Connecticut Children's, tells Yahoo Life that mindfulness works best in kids when they start practicing from a young age. "It’s a great tool to teach children when they are young so they can have it as a skill when they get older, and for them to see the trusted adults in their life model it," she says.

Kids have shorter attention spans than adults, and that makes mindfulness practices in the younger crowd slightly different than what may work for adults, Reschak says. "It's best to keep mindfulness practices short and straightforward," he says. "Start with a few minutes of breathing exercises or stretching exercises and gradually increase the duration as your child becomes more comfortable."

Reschak says that parents shouldn't expect preschoolers to spend any more than a few minutes a day on mindfulness techniques. "Grade-school children can likely focus for about 10 minutes every day [while] teens and adults can work on mindfulness of up to 45 minutes or longer each day," he says.

Santos cautions that introducing mindfulness to kids can be difficult. "There all kinds of ways to be mindful and it may be that you want to have a variety on hand to help support kids," she says. "We sometimes talk to families about having a coping toolkit — a variety of things that you keep on hand that can help kids in the moment center themselves. There’s all kinds of things you can include in it. You should practice using it before kids are in need of using it."

She offers up a few options to get started:

  • Look around the room and name five things you can see, four things you can feel, three things you can hear, two things you can smell and one thing you can taste. "This helps to engage all the senses, which keeps kids in the moment," she says.

  • Focus on breathing. "Bubbles can be really helpful for teaching kids to slow down their breathing — you will be able to make more bubbles by being slow with your breathing then if you breathe heavily," Santos says. "It’s a simple way to help kids slow down."

  • Coloring

  • Using stress balls or other texture items like fidget cubes

  • Journaling

Just know that kids shouldn't be expected to pick up mindfulness right away. "Teaching mindfulness to children takes time and patience," Reschak says. "Be sure to praise your child's efforts and progress, and don't get discouraged if they don't take to it right away. With time and practice, your child will develop their own mindfulness practice and reap the benefits that come with it."

Ezrin says that parents shouldn't be overwhelmed by the idea of practicing mindfulness. "Mindfulness simply means awareness," she says. "Asking them to put a helmet on and keep their eyes on the road while riding their bike is mindfulness. Recommending they chew more slowly, mindfulness," she says. "But the first step is to start to practice yourself and to know that this doesn't mean you have to sit for 30 minutes in stillness. Simply practice using all your senses to become of the now. You might be amazed at what you notice."

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