When I look for mindfulness exercises for kids that will work well with our family and our routine, I am always on the lookout for exercises that can be done in the car or on-the-go, without any props. These hands-only mindfulness exercises are great for bringing kids into a place of present-moment awareness and into their bodies. They can be used in a variety of situations: for general practice, before bed, in line at the grocery store or anywhere you’re waiting, or as a quick transition between moods or activities.

I’ve found the best way to introduce these exercises is to show my kids first how they are done, then offer to do it with them the second time. When sharing these or any mindfulness activities with your kids, remember to ask them or talk to them about how it felt. Discussing feelings, both physical and emotional, can help give children language for what they’re experiencing as well as normalize any experience that may come up for either of you.

Starfish Breath

This first exercise is sometimes called “5-Finger Breathing”. As you breathe in and out, trace around your fingers. On the in-breath, trace up the outside of your left pinky finger with your right index finger. On the out-breath, trace down the other side. Repeat for the next four fingers. If your child is older or particularly enjoys this exercise, do all ten fingers. Notice how you feel afterwards.

Sensational Claps

This mindfulness exercise for kids is often a favorite. Start with your hands shoulder-width apart and clap them together, returning them to their original position apart from each other. Do this type of clap three times, close your eyes, and pay close attention to what you feel in your hands and fingers. Keep your body as still as you can and just feel for about 30 seconds. Talk about how it felt.

Alternative: squeeze and clench your hands into a fist instead of clapping them together several times, then release, close your eyes, and pay close attention to how your fingers and hands feel.

Face Bath

Feel and listen as you rub your hands together to create a little bit of heat through friction. After 15 seconds or so, bring your hands to your face and press the warmth into it. Notice how it feels.

Alternatives: instead of bringing the hands to your face, put them on your shoulders and give yourself a warm hug. Or, combine this with the Hand on Heart exercise below for a warm heartfulness exercise.

Zipping Yourself Up

A similar exercise is presented in “The Mindful Child” by Susan Kaiser Greenland, and it’s a great one for introducing children to an upright but relaxed position that is ideal for mindfulness and meditation.

Take a seated position. With one hand at the base of your back and the other in front of your belly, pretend you have a zipper running from your belly button to your chin. Zip yourself up and say “zzzzzzziiiip”, then silently wave your hands above your head in a cheer. Switch hands and do it again. Rest your hands on your knees and notice how you feel.

Hand on Heart

This exercise uses the hand on the heart as an anchor for mindful breathing. Put your hand over your heart. Feel its temperature. Notice the pressure of your hand on your chest. Feel your chest rising and falling as you breathe normally. Feel the rhythm of your breath for a few minutes.

You can expand this exercise by imagining someone (a loved one, a friend, someone you find challenging, or yourself) while you are breathing with your hand on your heart and send them kind thoughts.

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