Every time I speak about stress and mindfulness at a law firm or corporation someone (and usually more than one someone) pulls me aside asking for recommendations for mindfulness resources for their child. I compose countless emails to friends and family members with recommendations for books, apps and exercises. Those families from the pre-school yoga class that I taught years ago, yep, they are also calling and emailing and wondering where they might find resources to help their anxious child.
Without addressing why kids are stressed -- after all I am a meditation teacher and a lawyer, not a doctor or therapist -- I’ll just agree that kids ARE stressed and anxious. So, below I share my list of tips and go-to list resources for stressed out kids and teens.
Introduce the Idea Without Pushing or Threatening. The basic idea is to make mindfulness a reward, not a punishment for unwanted behavior. Start with a simple question, like “would you like to learn some tools that might help feel you less stressed or anxious?” I have found that many kids, even independent teenagers, are interested and hopeful when given the opportunity to learn more.
Start Slow. Learning how to breathe to calm the mind is the most fundamental tool of every mindfulness practice. So, resist the urge to dump a stack of books or subscriptions to multiple meditation apps on your already overwhelmed child. Let them start small, and maybe find a little success, by learning about how to breathe to beat stress. I typically start with a brief and basic lesson about how breathing affects the brain and then teach simple breathing exercises designed to slow down and deepen the breath.
Practice Together. Consider taking the time to sit or lie with your child and practice. Show them that you believe these tools work by engaging with them and practicing mindfulness exercises yourself.
Be Prepared for Rejection Now and Re-engagement Later. Just because you offer the opportunity now, doesn’t mean that your child will take it and be willing to do the work it takes to get the benefits from mindfulness. I don’t consider this a failure. Try to view it as laying the ground work for the next time they need help. Like adults, sometimes kids need to be exposed to mindfulness more than once, before they are willing to take a chance on it.
If you are looking for resources and would like a few to try, below is a list of recommendations, including many that I use when I teach kids and teens about mindfulness.
For a list of recommendations for adults, more information about my workplace wellness program, my programs for kids and teens, as well as free audio exercises, please visit my website at toawell.com.
RESOURCES FOR KIDS & TEENS
**I have yet to find a book on mindfulness specifically for teenagers that teenagers seem to love. To the extent your teenager is interested, any of the adult books listed above as well as the website of researcher Sara Lazar are appropriate and accessible to teenagers.
MBSR (mindfulness-based stress reduction) for Teens at Georgetown University Hospital
Circle Yoga, McLean, VA (live mindfulness programs for kids and teens)
A Still Quiet Place: A Mindfulness Program for Teaching Children and Adolescents to Ease Stress and Difficult Emotions (all ages), by Amy Saltzman, MD
Listening to My Body (ages 8-12), Gabi Garcia
Listening with My Heart: A Story of Kindness and Self-Compassion (ages 5-10), Gabi Garcia
A Handful of Quiet: Happiness in Four Pebbles (ages 4-8), Thich Naht Hanh
Master of Mindfulness: How to Be Your Own Superhero in Times of Stress (ages 5-10)
Sitting Still Like a Frog (ages 4-10), Elise Snel (book, audio, app and workbook)
Angry Octopus (ages 4-8), Lori Lite
Alphabreaths ABCs of Mindful Breathing, (ages 4-8) Christopher Willard PsyD