Tips to Teach Mindfulness to Toddlers

February 15, 2021

Toddler emotions can range from intense calm fascination to extreme frustration all in the span of a minute. When your toddler is in the middle of a tantrum it can seem like you can do nothing right and you’re at a loss as to how to help them. Teaching your toddler about mindfulness is a tool that can help both of you get back on track. Think mindfulness is just for adults? Actually, mindfulness can be helpful at any age, and here are some tips to teach mindfulness to toddlers.

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is the ability to be fully present where you are completely aware of what is going on in the moment and you are allowing yourself to experience things as they currently are. At first, you may think that mindfulness and being a toddler are at completely opposite ends of the spectrum. But the truth is that toddlers are naturally great at being mindful. Ever go on a walk with your little one and they decide to watch a caterpillar cross their path? That is a toddler’s way of being present in their environment, observing things as they happen.

What are the Benefits of Mindfulness?

Mindfulness has been shown to reduce anxiety, improve memory, increase focus and enhance your overall well-being. Specifically, for children, mindfulness can help teach them how to manage their emotions and increase empathy. Toddlers, especially, are realizing many new experiences and often lack the communication skills to convey their frustrations. Teaching your toddler about mindfulness can help them manage their reactions even when they are unable to verbally express how they feel.

Practice Labeling Emotions

Though your toddler may not be able to verbally communicate what they are feeling they can still understand when you use words to express emotions. Try modeling how to verbalize emotions in specific situations. For example, if they are angry at you for not taking them to the playground you could state that you understand that they may be yelling because they are mad that you said no. Then make some suggestions for how they can deal with that anger. Could both of you make a plan for when you can go to the playground? Could you have your toddler leave their shoes and coat by the door so when it is time to go you are able to leave faster? When toddlers hear you verbalizing emotions regularly they will better understand how to identify their own emotions.

Mindfulness Through Play

Toddlers learn best through play. Play is naturally hands-on and fun and is both an enticing and effective tool to teach toddlers. For example, practicing breathing exercises is great for calming ourselves and bringing down our blood pressure when we are upset. But explaining that to a toddler can be difficult. Instead, let them practice blowing bubbles. Have them blow both gently and with all their force so they see the different ways to breathe. When they are upset you can remind them to practice their breathing by imagining they are blowing bubbles. 

Another great activity for toddlers is sensory bins. Sensory bins allow toddlers to explore and play while utilizing multiple senses. Simple materials like dried beans or rice mixed with a few scoops and cups are all you need (although there are many more elaborate options on Pinterest). By allowing your toddler to explore through senses like touch and vision you will find they are much more likely to be engaged in play for a longer period of time. This will build their focus and attention as they spend time observing all the things they can do. For toddlers filling and emptying a container over and over again is their way of learning through doing. Concentrating on one activity for a long period of time (which for a toddler may just be 5-10 minutes) improves their ability to focus overall.

Toddler exploring nature as a way to increase mindfulness

Incorporate Nature

Mindfulness is about observing and living in your present environment. Nature provides a great environment for toddlers to observe because it involves all your senses. There are different sounds and smells and things to touch like grass, leaves, and dirt. Being in nature has the added benefit of incorporating gross motor movement which toddlers need a lot. Help your toddler focus by asking them to point out five things. You can even go further by asking them to find things in specific colors. With older toddlers, you can create a visual checklist to help them keep track of what to look for.

Read about Mindfulness

Stories are an easy way to help your toddler visualize mindfulness techniques. Just like how seeing a favorite character wear a mask or brush their teeth seeing a character deal with challenges and react to diffuse situations can help a toddler recognize ways they can self-regulate. A few books that could be helpful for your toddler are “Puppy Mind”, “My Magic Breath: Finding Calm Through Mindful Breathing,” and “The Color Monster: A Story About Emotions.” As you read to your toddler talk about what the characters are experiencing. Ask your toddler if they can act out the same emotions or if they can identify different feelings by looking at the facial expressions. When your toddler has a big reaction to a situation remind them of the story or keep a book handy to remind them of the techniques the characters used.

Toddlers’ brains are growing rapidly as they try to soak up every bit of each experience in this world. This can be incredibly overwhelming, especially to a child that isn’t able to always express how they feel. Using the tips above to encourage your child to slow-down and recognize their emotions can help both of you work through even the worst tantrum. The truth is that mindfulness can provide the foundation for balancing emotions and keeping focus, which will be beneficial for their whole lives.

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