Mindfulness toys for kids – what a great invention. The little loves are happy and entertained. And they develop useful life skills almost without even realising. (Like knowing how to manage their feelings when a little sibling is driving them crazy.)
Many of us want to raise mindful families. And it can seem like a splendid idea in theory. Living consciously, rather than on auto-pilot. Savouring the sunshine and finding calm during the occasional storm. Sharing the experience with our kids…
Who are we kidding? Mindfulness can be hard to keep up with. There are a thousand small things clamouring for attention every day. And that’s just for the adults. Children live in a whirlwind of excitement and adventure. If you want to help your kids practice mindfulness, building routine and good habits are the way to go.
Let’s start as we mean to go on. Take a deep breath. Count to four slowly, hold, then breathe out for four. Repeat a few more times and notice how calm you’re feeling (or not). The reason we practice mindfulness is because of the distractions and the whirlwind. Because life is so beautifully imperfect. As Jon Kabat-Zinn said: “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf”. Childhood lessons in mindfulness can bring benefits over a whole lifetime.
Something that works well for us is physical reminders, like mindfulness toys. A physical object that you and your kids can take with you during the day. Here’s why (and how) it works.
Mindfulness toys for kids: Finding your anchor
Meditation is quite simple, but keeping your mind from wandering isn’t. That’s why many people choose an ‘anchor’ to help stay focused on the present. Each time you feel your thoughts drifting off, bring your attention back to your anchor. It’s an easy metaphor for kids to understand, too.
Not all anchors are physical. Many people focus on the breath. After all, it’s something that’s always with you, something you’re always doing. A heartbeat, a body scan, a mantra… there are lots of choices. But they can be difficult to explain to little ones – and just as easily forgotten by small and busy minds.
Tibetan singing bowls are a famous example of a physical anchor. They’ve been used for centuries and look like standing bells. You can find them in lots of different sizes, for different kinds of sound. When filled with water, they vibrate and make interesting patterns. Beautiful.
Prayer beads are also used in many cultures, from rosaries to misbaha. Managing wandering thoughts is both an ancient challenge and a modern one.
And here at MindPanda? We love our mindfulness stress balls. We keep them on our desks as a visible reminder, even when we’re not meditating. Our kids love them too. (Top tip: they’re great for a game of ‘hot potato’. That’s hard to do with a singing bowl.)
Mindfulness toys for kids: The sweet smell of mindfulness
Fragrances have an amazing effect on the body and mind. Did you know that our noses are linked to the emotional centre of our brains? It means they produce powerful memories. Try thinking of an orange without remembering the smell, for example. Now try thinking of Christmas or of a relaxing bath. What do you remember? Some smells are even proven to reduce anxiety and stress. This is why each of the MindPanda stress balls has its own delicious fragrance:
What’s even more enticing is that the smell of jasmine creates a sense of alertness. Research has shown that it can lead to an uplifted mood and help with depressive thoughts. The laboratory study with human volunteers showed that the smell of jasmine oil produced both physical and mental benefits, compared with a placebo. A tiny flower that packs a punch. Ready for your natural pick-me-up?
Not just great for chewing gum, but good for your brain, too. Research found that smelling peppermint could be linked to cognitive stamina and motivation. It invigorates the mind. And it even tricks the brain into thinking it helps with a blocked nose. Just the thing you need when you’re feeling a little under the weather. And combined with some relaxing mindfulness meditation, it’s powerful stuff.
If you’re looking for a little pick-me-up, ditch the coffee and sniff a lemon instead. It’s known to boost energy and alertness. It can also help to calm anxiety and anger. Do you use lemon when cleaning your home? When you feel relaxed and comfortable in your clean house, the lemon scent may play a bigger part than you think. Talk about a super fruit.
If you and your kids use the mindfulness stress balls regularly, you may find that the scents trigger feelings of relaxation. Not only does the fragrance relax you, but it’ll also call up memories of previous meditations. A virtuous cycle.
Mindfulness toys for kids: Getting physical
Stress balls were invented in 1988 by Alexander Carswell. He’d thrown his pen at the wall in frustration and damaged a framed photo of his mum. Clearly, we all sometimes need to release physical tension without property damage.
Stress balls are filled with pliant gel and fit perfectly in the palm of your hand. When you squeeze them, you activate the muscles in your hand and wrist. When you let go, you release tension – and that helps us to feel less stressed.
People often talk about feeling tense. And when stress sets in, that’s literally what happens. Fight-or-flight hormones, like adrenaline and cortisol, make our muscles tighten. But since running away or throwing things isn’t usually a great idea, stress balls seem like a more practical solution.
Stress balls are good for concentration too. One study found that stress balls can improve the focus and attention spans of 11-12 year-olds. Another study found that fidgeting a bit can help boost productivity at work. When you squeeze a stress ball, you give your mind a break. And that makes it easier to focus when you get back to the task at hand.
The MindPanda Stress Balls have a relaxing gel core and a smooth Lycra coating. Each ball has its own level of firmness, for that perfect level of squish. They smell amazing, with jasmine, peppermint and lemon fragrances that have been designed to clear the mind and increase focus. And they’re printed with inspiring words and quotes – our favourite mantras of mindfulness, positivity and gratitude. No wonder we carry them around with us everywhere.
Mindfulness toys for kids: Kids’ natural mindfulness
You could say that young kids are naturally mindful. They’re completely aware of their emotions, but unable to regulate them. Once children reach primary school, they’re more likely to start expressing worries.
Mindfulness is proven to improve kids’ concentration and decision-making. Even with ADHD. That’s why we think mindfulness activities for kids are an investment in their long-term health. If you’d like some more ideas, check out our blog.
In the meantime, have you heard of the raisin exercise? It’s a mindfulness classic and it works great with the MindPanda stress balls, too. It’ll help your juniors engage all their senses (and have a bit of a giggle). Here’s how you go about it:
- Hold a stress ball between your fingers. Imagine you’ve never seen it before. Give it your full attention. What colour is and what shape?
- Start moving it around and feel how squishy it is. You could even close your eyes to focus better.
- Hold it close to your ear. Does the fabric or gel make a sound when you squeeze it?
- Give it a good sniff. What does it smell like? Do you start to feel differently if you go on smelling it?
Pay attention to your breath during this exercise. And talk about the sensations and feelings with your children. It’s a great chance for a good chat. Sometimes, all it takes is a positive thought to interrupt the negatives. (We wouldn’t recommend tasting the stress balls though. Mindfulness toys aren’t raisins.)
There are lots of other great ideas to introduce kids to mindfulness. And you probably have the materials lying around the house.
Let’s go fly a kite
If you have some paper, a stick, some string and sticky tape, you can make a kite. Then go out and let it fly. Watching it dance with the wind, requires concentration and skill. A kite is also a great metaphor for our feelings and thoughts during a busy day. Why not use it to talk to your kids about mindfulness? You could even use it as a writing prompt to get them to write a story.
Building a house of cards
This is one for slightly older kids. It requires nerves of steel, intense concentration and patience. Not to mention a steady hand. Some builders say it helps to synchronise your breathing too. Take a deep breath, breathe out and place your next card before you breathe in again.
Marble or domino runs
You could also get your kids to try making a marble or domino run. No need to buy lots of new things though – necessity is the mother of invention. Train tracks, toilet roll tubes – there are lots of things a marble can run down. This idea is easier than building a house of cards, but it uses a lot of the same skills. It’s great fun and you could let the kids research some ideas first.
Remember these? There’s something almost hypnotic about their movement. You can set a simple spinning top going with just your fingers. But there are also some that you wind a string around. Learning how to do that could keep your kid occupied for quite some time. And if you’re in the mood, you could start a philosophical discussion around it, too. Maybe they could see if their grandparents still have one around?
Something that is proven to help with children is a Sensory Bottle. Montessori practices are being hugely popular with parents and child psychologists to show the effects of sensory development in calming children’s mindset. Now some of these items can be high in price but they don’t have to be. Using a simple empty bottle and filling to with coolers and textures that can help soothing kids easy. This video is great at showing a DIY to help with this.
And that’s it for this week’s blog. How are you introducing your kids to mindfulness? We’d love to hear your tips and tricks. Please let us know in the comments below.
It varies from person to person but the best toys are the ones that help you stay present in the moment.
Using mindfulness activities in a game session is a great way to keep it fun!
Fidget toys are great for kids with ADHD as they help focus their attention.
Anything that keeps it fun is great for younger kids.
Building skills is a great way to give a gift for children. Look for skill building activites disguised as games to help kids enjoy learning.