Coaching and Mindfulness for Kids

Mindfulness and Meditation

Mindfulness and Meditation

What is Mindfulness?

According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention in a particular way, on purpose in a present moment and non-judgementally.

Mindfulness also involves acceptance. This means paying attention to thoughts and feelings without judging or reacting to them. When you’re mindful, there is no “right” or “wrong” way to think or feel in a particular moment.

So, what is Mindfulness and how can it help?

Over 30 years ago, Jon Kabat-Zinn, developed a therapeutic meditation practice known as Mindful Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). Defining mindfulness simply as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally”.

Mindfulness is a meditation practice that begins with paying attention to breathing in order to focus on the here and now—not what might have been or what you’re worried could be. The ultimate goal is to give you enough distance from disturbing thoughts and emotions to be able to observe them without immediately reacting to them.

In the last few years mindfulness has emerged as a way of treating children and adolescents with conditions ranging from ADHD to anxiety, autism spectrum disorders, depression and stress. And the benefits are proving to be tremendous.

Stress reduction and self-acceptance are two of the major perks of mindfulness, benefits which are particularly important during the drama and turmoil-filled teen years. “Emotional regulation, learning how to quieten one’s mind—those are invaluable skills.” Diana Winston (author of Wide Awake).

How Can Mindfulness Help?

Mindfulness helps kids to focus, be calm, de-stress and develop a curiosity that can help in every aspect of their lives.

I am trained by Youth Mindfulness ( and am qualified to deliver their amazing Youth Mindfulness for Kids Programme – the programme is a 16-lesson introduction to mindfulness for 7 to 11 year olds, with a strong emphasis on experiential learning. It’s 16 one-hour lessons build up sequentially, introducing and exploring new facets of mindfulness with each lesson. The first six lessons focus on cultivating the foundational axioms of mindfulness: intention, attention and attitude. As the course progresses, children then learn to cultivate gratitude, handle difficult thoughts and emotions, and finally develop kindness towards themselves and others. Importantly, the key foundations of mindfulness – i.e. paying attention to the present moment with openness, curiosity and warmth – are continually strengthened throughout all 16 lessons.

How Mindfulness Can Help Your Anxious Child

Because mindfulness switches you and your anxious child’s perceptions from your swirling thoughts to the sensory perceptions of what’s happening around you, emotional reactions can instantly deflate. An all-consuming panic or tantrum can lose its power in mere seconds, leaving a sense of calm and control.

Anxious children get a whole different sense of being in the world that is far removed from their thoughts and emotions. They can better see what’s going on around them and develop specific skills that help them become more settled, with a steady mind and a steady heart and an overall sense of well-being. Susan Kaiser Greenland (Author of The Mindful Child) adds they become kinder, more compassionate and more generous.

Anxious children are often overly concerned with disasters they think may happen in the future or fear dangers that don’t exist in reality. Mindfulness gently brings the anxious child back into reality to see no danger is present, no tragedy is unfolding, and no disaster is lurking beneath their feet.

It also helps with

  • Impulse control – being in the present moment, paying attention with purpose – noticing the difference between automatic thinking and purposeful activity.
  • Developing a growing awareness and gratitude – it helps children to cultivate gratitude, handle difficult thoughts and emotions and develop kindness to themselves and others.

Mindfulness can benefit the anxious child by:

  • Bringing attention back to the present, away from worries of the future
  • Reducing stress
  • Breaking the cycle of worry, where one fear feeds on another until it snowballs into full-blown anxiety or even a panic attack
  • Teaching them to identify, become aware of and accept emotions, rather than simply be consumed by them
  • Allowing them to practice awareness and acceptance without judgment
  • Improving their memory simply by improving their ability to pay attention
  • Enhancing their ability to focus and learn
  • Letting them experience and understand their thinking process and how their mind works, both of which can lead to a greater understanding of self and their personal experiences in the world

The Benefits

Improves sleep –

Both mindfulness and meditation help retrain the mind and body back into the pre-sleep state where you are just able to notice surrounding without thinking and analysing – just simply experiencing and being. This encourages longer and improved sleep – helping children to ‘switch off’ from the noise of their thoughts and enter into a more relaxed effortless state.

Managing Thoughts and Feelings –

Helping children to stay grounded, observing their thoughts and feelings but not becoming lost or overwhelmed in them. Teaching them how to take a step back and gain a different perspective on their thoughts and experiences – this can be an extremely empowering step, helping them learn how to stay calm, focused, grounded and objective to avoid repeated negative experiences.

Builds Self Esteem –

Helping children learn that whatever happens on the outside, they can choose their response on the inside.

Learning to relax –

Helping the body, mind and emotions unwind – learning to ‘let go’ takes practice but is the first step in being able to then ‘let go’ of unwanted feelings and experiences. Gentle practice regularly helps tune the brain in, allowing it to ‘let go’ of any inner tension that builds up as a result of thoughts and feelings.

Improved Focus and Concentration –

Mindfulness helps children with techniques to keep their minds focused on an object. This could be their breath, a physical object (such as a shell), a word, a sound, a guided journey or any of their 5 senses. Practising focus helps children to stop their mind jumping about and being distracted and allows them to complete tasks more easily. Mindfulness helps them to become aware of their thoughts but learn that they don’t have to respond to them automatically or straight away. Gently encouraging the mind to become stronger and more focused is important for studying. It is also allows children to tap into their own creativity and inner problem solving abilities.

Emotion coaching and Mindfulness for Children

Children’s brains go through significant restructuring and maturing, and emotion coaching, or mindfulness, can really help them navigate these major changes.

  • During the time in between – from around 12 to 20 years of age – the teenage brain is controlled by the amygdala, rather than the pre-frontal cortex. This is why emotion, rather than logic, can seem to dominate.
  • Teenagers will be able to make the best decisions when these different parts of their brains connect well with each other.
  • Understanding that the amygdala is in control, helps parents understand that this balance can be really difficult.
  • Teenagers can be encouraged to calm the emotion areas of their brains (the amygdala) by stimulating the thinking part of it (the pre-frontal cortex) through emotion coaching techniques and mindfulness exercises.
  • The thinking and feeling parts of your child’s brain.
    Your child’s brain is like a computer. It processes information from the world around and tries to make sense of it. However, your child’s brain is also a social organ and needs other brains to interact with to work at its best.
  • How does your child’s brain work and grow?
    Your child’s brain is organised into different areas of responsibility – including sight, smell, emotions, logic, and memory. The different areas are connected by a network of a hundred billion neurons. The more he uses the network, the more connections are made and the bigger, better and faster his developing brain becomes.

Your child will be able to make the best decisions when these different parts of his brain connect well with each other and also with the brain stem (Please see Dr. Daniel Siegel’s, “The Whole Brain Child”).

How your child or teenager’s brain develops?

Through non-invasive scanning of very young babies and children, the brain has been understood to be a ‘social organ.’ The normal development of the brain relies on stimulation through social interaction and is influenced as well by other factors including epigenetics, physical health, and diet. Key figures in the research in this area include John Bowlby, Mary Ainsworth, and Mary Main.

All this means is that a baby is born with a basic brain structure. Then neural connections are encouraged by stimulating that brain through interaction.

Connections form in human brains all the time – but the bulk of the connections are made in the first two years of life.

How your child’s brain influences their behaviour?

How a child behaves is determined by what happens within his brain.

Your child can be encouraged to calm the emotion areas of their brain (the amygdala) by stimulating the thinking part of it (the pre-frontal cortex).

Mindfulness, mindful exercises, and emotion coaching are all ways that your child can build up his emotional resilience.

One of the ways the thinking part of your child’s brain works to calm his bodily responses and help him to stay emotionally balanced is via what’s called the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve travels from the brain stem to all the key organs in the body doing things like lowering heart rate and breathing rates.

John Gottman and Emotion Coaching

The main idea behind John Gottman‘s Emotion Coaching is that all feelings are accepted as “normal” – but not all behaviour is acceptable. That is – feelings can always be talked about. “Name it to tame it” is a phrase used by Professor Dan Siegel – by naming emotions your child can stimulate the thinking part of his brain which stimulates the vagus nerve and calms his bodily responses to his feelings.

The main message of Emotion Coaching is that it is normal to have all sorts of feelings and that we can get better at understanding about how to manage our own behaviour.

The core emotions

There are core emotions that all humans experience. These include:

  •  Anger
  •  Sadness
  •  Disgust
  •  Surprise
  •  Fear
  •   Joy

As your child gets better at understanding how the emotion centre in his brain connects with other areas he can start to change how he behaves when he experiences strong emotions.

Your child can choose to take the time to practice mindfulness every day, for instance, as a way of changing the neural pathways in his brain. This practice can help your teenager to stay calmer when emotions start to rise. The Headspace app can be a good place to start with simple mindfulness meditation exercises as well as some of the exercises I mention in the video, eating mindfully, noticing our body in the present and breathing mindfully.