A few weeks ago, my son came home from middle school stressed out about his math and Spanish homework and the upcoming spelling and geography bees. I knew that starting his homework immediately after walking in the front door wasn’t the best idea. So instead, I suggested we play Jenga.
“What? Play a game when I have so much work to do?” he asked.
“I promise that after you focus on some Jenga, you will be ready to tackle your homework with a much clearer head,” I told him.
What does sliding wood game pieces around have to do with stress reduction? Well, it’s a mindfulness activity in disguise.
Mindfulness is the act of focusing on the present moment in a nonjudgmental way. Doing so gives us an awareness of our thoughts, feelings, sensations and surroundings. Rather than dwelling on the past or worrying about the future, practicing mindfulness allows us to relax. And it can improve our mental and physical health.
3 Ways to Introduce Mindfulness to Tweens:
1. Mindful coloring
Coloring can be a fun and therapeutic activity at any age and can help pre-teens feel calmer, happier, and more focused. Coloring can also lead to physiological changes, including slowing down breathing and calming the amygdala, the part of the brain that controls the fear and stress response.
Creating art gives us a sense of flow. When we do something artistic that requires intense focus, we can become absorbed in our work to the point of being in a near meditative state. Coloring offers a healthy distraction from our worries, allowing us to replace negative thoughts and images with pleasant ones.
“Studies show that coloring reduces stress and can have a positive impact on PTSD and depression,” explains Jaime Pfeffer, a writer and mindfulness expert. “By logging off technology and getting engaged with an art project like coloring, kids can benefit from slowing down, getting disconnected from the hustle and bustle of daily life, and letting all of their cares and worries float away.”
2. Mindful eating
Being playful with food can also help kids practice mindfulness during their day. Mindful eating involves slowing down to savor and truly enjoy what we are putting in our mouths. You can encourage your tweens to try some mindful eating exercises, such as asking them to use their five senses to describe the food they’re eating. This might be the most enjoyable type of mindfulness activity, especially if they are eating something sweet!
I recently took my son out for ice cream after a busy school day. He started shoveling the ice cream into his mouth as fast as he could, so I suggested he slow down and enjoy the experience. We sat on a bench and I had him close his eyes. He thought I was nuts at first, but I talked him through his sensory experience of the ice cream, from the smell and taste of the chocolate and peanut butter combination, to the sounds he heard around us while he ate.
Finally, I had him open his eyes and describe the color and visual appeal of his dessert. After this simple, fun mindful eating game, my son said he felt relaxed and appreciated the ice cream even more. It was exactly what he needed after a stressful day.
3. Old-school toys
Remember all of those fun old-fashioned toys that don’t require a battery or outlet? One way to help tweens be more mindful is to take them on a trip down memory lane. Check out how these old-school toys that require concentration, patience, and a steady hand can bring some mindfulness to your tween:
- Building a house of cards
Incorporate a breathing exercise by adding cards in the time between exhalation and inhalation.
Dominoes can be used in a variety of mindful activities, from playing a traditional game of dominoes to creating challenging patterns that can be knocked over with one domino.
Looking at colorful changing patterns can be mesmerizing. It’s a great way to capture a tween’s attention and engage their imagination.
- Metal ball puzzles
These games look deceptively easy. But they require intense focus as the player maneuvers one tiny metal ball through a maze or several metal balls across a board into holes.
- Flying a kite
Every summer, my son loves flying a kite on the beach. Tracking the dancing kite with the crystal blue sky in the backdrop is a great way to get lost in the moment, which is the whole point of being mindful.
Being a tween is rough. It’s important for our kids to learn how to manage their stress in healthy ways. Whether it’s mindfully eating a snack or coloring in their school planner, these strategies can help them manage stress throughout the years to come.