7 Mind-Body Exercises Kids Can Benefit From

7 Mind-Body Exercises Kids Can Benefit From

Use these simple mind-body practices to help your child in a variety of ways.


By Judy Koutsky

My 4- and 6-year-old boys are very high energy (read: crazy). Mind-body exercises are something I probably should do with them, but since I’m barely able to keep my head above water, I haven’t actually gotten around to it. But the proof on how important it is for kids has me thinking.

“It can help them pay attention, calm down and make better decisions,” says Colleen Cassel, a wellness coach trained in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). “It is exercise for their brains.” It also teaches them at a young age to be aware of the moment and their feelings and thoughts so they can then address them -- instead of it resulting in a temper tantrum or manifesting itself hours later.

“[Mindfulness] gives children skills to understand how their emotions arise within them,” explains Cassel.

It’s also a tool that can help them slow down and really work through their emotions. Here, seven ways to incorporate it into their routines.

1. Breathing: Have them place their hands or a small book on their bellies. As
they breathe, have them watch their bellies rise and fall, says Cassel. Becoming aware of their natural breathing pattern is important, so when they are stressed or angry they can take deep breaths to get back to normal. Just the act of regulating their breathing can really calm kids down in a stressful situation.

2. Eating: Whether your child is a picky eater or an overeater (or somewhere in between), encouraging mindful eating practices is smart for any age. Have your child pick a piece of fruit, like a strawberry, and ask your child how the berry looks, smells, and feels, and finally, have him taste it. “Explore each sense with them, taking the time to appreciate what they are eating,” says Cassel. Enjoying food – the taste, texture, and smell – is important when your child makes his lunch or food choices at school. Take him to farmer’s markets and grocery shopping, so he can be a part of the decision-making process. After a while, you may be surprised when he passes up junk food and reaches for fresh fruits and vegetables.

3. Stress-reducing exercises: Have your kids do simple exercises to help release emotions. “Emotions are not bad; it is when they hang around attaching themselves to repeated thinking that they can seem overwhelming or a burden,” says Sherianna Boyle, an adjunct psychology professor and author of The Everything Parent’s Guide to Overcoming Childhood Anxiety. “Move them through and your child is likely to feel lighter, free, and more capable.”

A few exercises to try:

-Have your kids march in place for 30 seconds daily, inhaling
for three counts and exhaling for four.

-Tell them to lie on their backs, hug their knees to their chest, and hold while breathing in and out deeply.

-While in a seated position, they can do a gentle spinal twist to one side then the other, exhaling when they twist and inhaling when they return to center.

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4. Enjoying nature: Take a walk outside and just observe, Cassel suggests. Have the children be quiet for one or two minutes and just pay attention to what they see and hear: maybe a tree creaking, a bird singing, or leaves crunching underfoot. Being aware of the calm and beauty of nature is a wonderful thing to incorporate into their daily lives. When things get hectic – an exam or a stressful situation with a friend – kids will know they can take a walk or just sit outside for a bit to get a little break, which often brings about perspective.

5. Practicing gratitude: Have your kids touch their toes and say one thing that they are grateful for (a good friend, having art class that day, eating their favorite meal at lunch). This is an easy way to combine stretching (which feels good) with positive affirmations. Sometimes, it’s hard to remember what’s going well, and kids especially can turn one displeasing experience into a tower of negativity. This simple exercise helps them get back on track.

6. Focusing: Ring a bell, and tell your child to listen until she no longer can hear anything. “This teaches kids to really focus and just be aware of the sound,” says Cassell. With so much going on – screen time, constant chatter, lots of after-school activities – it can be hard for kids to focus on one thing and tune everything else out. This exercise helps kids do just that.

7. Practicing progressive muscle relaxation: When kids are wound up, it can be tough to get them to relax, especially at bedtime. Here’s one way to do it: Once your child is in bed, have him squeeze and tense all his muscles -- clench his fists and slowly tense all the muscles in his arms and legs, even scrunching up his face, says Carolyn Aukafolau, a life coach. “Hold for a few seconds, then relax,” she explains. “Say a few times: ‘Tense, tense, tense, and … relax.’” she explains. This exercise helps drain excessive stress, anxiety, and nervous energy away, preparing your child for a good night’s sleep.

What are some ways your children incorporate mind-body exercises into their routine?


Judy Koutsky is the former Editorial Director of KIWI magazine, a green parenting publication. She was also Executive Editor of Parenting.com, AOL Parent and BabyTalk.com. Follow her on Twitter @JudyKoutsky.

Image ©iStock.com/twity1


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