The sound of a bell or a chime can be used to focus attention for mindful listening exercises, and it’s a great way to introduce your kids to the “paying attention” part of mindfulness. The bell is very interesting to them and invariably most children will want a turn at ringing the bell. If you introduce it with reverence, your kids will pick up on your respect for this practice and will have respect for it themselves.

I have two bells I use regularly: the Zenergy Chime (shown above) and a Vibra-tone. The Zenergy Chime rings an A note and depending upon how hard you ring it, the sound can last as long as 15-30 seconds. The Vibra-tone is larger, and rings at a lower tone. Mine can ring anywhere from 10-20 seconds. If you aren’t ready to buy a specific mindfulness bell yet, you can use anything that has a sustained ring that fades over time. Try a pot and a wooden spoon. Try the Fisher-Price xylophone in your toy bin. Pick a random piano key. Tap the edge of a glass with your fingernail.

Introducing the Mindfulness Bell to Your Kids

When is the best time to try this? Since this is a more formal exercise as opposed to something you can introduce in the car or a game you can play, it can help if you establish a regular mindfulness time in your routine. (Ours is 5-10 minutes as soon as we get home from school.) If you can work it into your kids’ bedtime routine, sometime in the hour before bed is great because not only are your kids going to be a little more calm, this will help bring their energy level down even more in preparation to sleep.

How to introduce the bell? In “Planting Seeds: Practicing Mindfulness with Children“, Thich Nhat Hanh says the sound of the bell is “the voice of someone who loves us very much and wants us to be happy and peaceful.” This is a great way to introduce the bell with the reverence I mentioned earlier. He also gives other suggestions for describing the bell: “the energy of understanding and compassion”, “unconditional love”, or “our true nature, our true goodness”.

Mindful Listening Exercises with the Bell

All of these exercises reinforce the bell as a signal that it is time to pause and have special time with you. After you’ve introduced the bell to your kids and it begins to become associated with this special time, it may be tempting to use the bell to get your kids to be quiet or to “circle the wagons”. Please don’t do this — this practice of mindfulness with your kids is so much more special than that and so is the bell. The bell is a tool for connection, not coercion.

Ringing the Bell Once – Basic Mindful Listening
You can have your kids do this with eyes open or eyes closed. If this is your first time, try it with eyes open at first, then do it again, explaining that if we close our eyes we might be able to hear it better.

I’m going to ring this bell. Listen to the sound it makes until you can’t hear it anymore. When the sound stops, raise your hand.

Your kids may be eager to ring the bell right now. If so, go with it! Show them how to ring it, give them the words (above) to say to lead you in mindful listening. This is the practice!

Ringing the Bell Once – Counting Breaths
You’ll want to ring the bell hard for this one, so its note is sustained long enough for your kids to take a few breaths. I love my Zenergy chime for this exercise because I can ring it just right and it’ll sing for a long time. It takes a lot of focus to pay attention to the bell and count breaths, try it yourself!

I’m going to ring this bell. Count how many out-breaths you take before it stops ringing. Breathe in and say in your head “in”, then breathe out and count in your head “one.” Breathe in “in”, breathe out “two”, and so on.

Don’t forget to ask them how many breaths they took. See if the number changes after you repeat this exercise a few times.

Ringing the Bell Multiple Times – Counting Bells
Ring the bell lightly for this exercise, and at random intervals. Start with one minute and build on longer time as you repeat the exercise in the future. I love the Vibra-tone for this exercise (and the next one, counting silence) because its note isn’t sustained for more than 15-20 seconds and I can vary the spacing between the bells.

I’m going to ring this bell a few times over the next minute. Count how many times I ring the bell while you sit and breathe.

If your kids are familiar with the parts of the breath (from discussion or the counting breaths exercise above), ask them to notice what part of the breath they are on when the bell rings: in-breath, out-breath, or in-between.

You can ask them how many bells they counted, but you don’t have to keep track of how many times you rang it. This isn’t a test. Whatever their answer is, that’s what the answer is! Some kids will volunteer that they lost count or that their mind wandered. That’s a perfect opportunity to discuss the nature of minds and assure them that a wandering mind is completely normal.

Ringing the Bell Multiple Times – Counting Silence
Similar to counting bells, you’ll want to ring the bell a few times at random intervals. This exercise is great for maintaining and building focus, especially when it follows the counting bells exercise.

I’m going to ring this bell a few times over the next minute. Count how many periods of silence there are while you sit and breathe.

Try to build your kids up to several minutes; the counting bells and this counting silence exercise get really fun (and sometimes challenging) as you build up more and more time.

Stopping With the Bell – Incorporating Movement
I have done this exercise both inside and outside. You can encourage your kids to walk slowly, or if needed, encourage them to “shake their sillies out”, or shake off any emotions they may be aware of.

Slowly walk around the room in a circle. When you hear the bell, stop and take three slow breaths. Then, you can start moving again, but stop and breathe each time you hear the bell.

You can also vary this exercise by playing music and have your kids freeze and breathe when you pause the music. Look for more mindful music exercises and mindful listening exercise that don’t require anything but your ears in an upcoming blog post.

Discussion Questions: Mindful Listening

Where does the sound go when it stops?
Is there a difference between hearing and listening?
Do we need a bell to practice mindful listening?
When else in your life could you use mindful listening?

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