The Importance of Mindfulness for Kids Who Learn and Think Differently

By Kate Kelly
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At a Glance

  • Mindfulness helps kids focus on what’s happening now and keep their thoughts from drifting.

  • Kids can learn mindfulness.

  • Mindfulness can help kids build key skills like focus and self-control.

Imagine this scenario: A child is studying for a science test and is feeling anxious about it. They try to focus on their notecards, but the child’s thoughts keep drifting: I flunked the last test … The material is hard … Everyone gets it but me … I’m going to fail the class if my grades don’t improve.

What can help kids put the brakes on negative thoughts and concentrate on what’s in front of them? One answer may be mindfulness.

Learn about this technique for staying focused on the present and not letting thoughts, emotions, or trouble with self-control get in the way.

What Mindfulness Means

Mindfulness is often defined as living in the moment without judgment. But many of us, kids and adults, don’t naturally function that way.

When a thought pops into our head, it’s usually colored by what has happened in the past or what we think might happen in the future. Even if the thought isn’t accurate, we may react to it as if it were.

The practice of mindfulness can help people stay focused on the present. It can teach them to view their thoughts in a more neutral manner and keep their emotions in check. Doing those things can help them respond to challenges and stressful situations in a more thoughtful way.

Mindfulness and Kids Who Learn and Think Differently

The benefits of helping kids be mindful has been gaining attention. Studies have shown that it can help kids improve behavior and focus. Some schools have even started doing mindfulness training in the classroom.

Improved behavior and focus is a plus for all kids. But it can be even more valuable for kids who learn and think differently. That’s especially true for kids who are anxious or impulsive.

Also, kids who struggle in school may have negative experiences that can lead to negative thinking. Those experiences can decrease their motivation and make them feel defeated. Being able to recognize those negative thoughts and block them can help kids stay focused and positive. It can also bring a sense of calm.

Practicing Mindfulness

Mindfulness may not come naturally to most kids, but it can be learned. There are many online resources and books on mindfulness (both for kids and adults), so you can help your child learn at home. You may also find classes in your area. And there are mindfulness and meditation apps for kids.

Practicing mindfulness typically involves breathing exercises. The goal is to concentrate on each breath, in and out. In a class setting, the instructor may prompt kids to notice when their mind wanders and gently remind them to bring their thoughts back to the sensations of their breath.

Younger kids may be given a stuffed animal to place on their belly. Watching it rise and fall makes focusing on breathing more concrete.

Your child doesn’t need to take classes to learn mindfulness, though. You can try exercises like this at home, too. Just remember that focusing on your breath can be harder than it sounds—especially for kids who struggle with attention.

There are ways to practice mindfulness outside of breathing exercises, though. For example, kids can try noticing how their body feels, or how their feet connect with the floor and their seats to the chairs. You can also practice being mindful while moving, so kids don’t have to sit still.

Here are other ways you can work on it at home:

  • Look for books for kids on what it means to focus on the present and how to practice quiet breathing. Choose a book that’s appropriate for your child’s age to share together.

  • Model mindfulness for your child. Point out times when you use mindfulness to control anxiety or emotions.

  • When kids seem anxious, encourage them to stop what they’re doing for a minute and notice what they’re feeling.

Mindfulness doesn’t help kids only in the short term. It can also help them build long-term strengths.

When kids notice their thoughts drifting and then bring their attention back to the breath, it can help them build focus. Every time they catch themselves before reacting to a thought, it can help build self-control. Mindfulness can also help kids become more self-aware and gain self-esteem.

The more strategies kids have for handling emotions, the more equipped they will be to tackle challenges. Learn more about strategies for coping with anger and frustration.

Key Takeaways

  • Mindfulness teaches kids to focus on the present. This can help them self-soothe.

  • There are lots of ways to practice mindfulness, beyond breathing exercises.

  • Being mindful can help kids build self-awareness and self-esteem.

About the Author

About the Author

Kate Kelly 

has been writing and editing for more than 20 years, with a focus on parenting.

Reviewed by

Reviewed by

Sheldon H. Horowitz, EdD 

is senior director of learning resources and research at the National Center for Learning Disabilities.

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