8 ways to raise a mindful child

September 16th, 2015

Parents are rightfully concerned about the capacity their children have to pay attention, express empathy, and cope with the stresses that infiltrate their lives. Should we then coerce our children onto meditation cushions? Impose artificial silence, stillness or philosophical indoctrination? Before you do that, take a closer look.

Children are exemplars of the art of being. Wherever they are, they are completely immersed: in mud, in make believe, in laughter, in tears or in spaghetti sauce up to their eyeballs. Without a bit of self-consciousness, they lose themselves in what they are; they literally throw themselves away. This is the kind of losing in which mindfulness is found.

Without making a big deal about it, parents can gently encourage everyday actions that nourish and grow attention, empathy and self-care.

1. Read picture books – Illustrated children’s books have fallen out of favor as parents push children into early reading as a competitive outcome. Mindfulness is perception, and the rich visual content of picture books nourish the capacity to see, explore and relate to what appears in front of us.

 2. Listen – When your children speak to you, turn your face toward them, meet their gaze, and listen. Your own non-distracted attention is a wellspring for theirs. We cannot extract from our children what we fail to give.

 3. Sing  – Encourage singing: at home, at play, in the bath, anywhere. Singing is breathing and breathing is the body’s natural calming mechanism. Hearing your children sing to themselves will release your own deep sense of well-being, and you will smile.

 4. Smile – Smiling is a silent song. For heaven’s sake, greet your children with enough presence of mind to smile at them.

 5. Brush teeth – The ritual of brushing teeth imparts subtle disciplines.  It is rhythmic and therefore soothing; attentive and self-managing; and it stretches our capacity to tend to what we’d rather put off. Then add flossing. You’re developing concentration and fighting cavities in a single stroke.

 6. Walk to school – If that’s not feasible, walk the dog. Walk to the store. Walk to the post office. Or just walk around the block. Walking is meditative and mood-altering. Moreover, walking in your neighborhood overcomes the isolation and alienation we can unwittingly breed in our lives. You might meet or make a friend.

 7. Handwrite – The mysterious art and skill of writing by hand is being shunted aside by the keyboard. Writing with paper and pencil takes time, practice and mind-body focus. Researchers say it enhances learning, memory and ideation. Our children will all learn how to type, but will they learn how to write? Take time now.

 8. Start now – The list of things we want for our children – and expect from them – seems endless. Where will we ever find the time? Until you know what it is to live in the present moment, you will never be able to relax. So relax! It doesn’t take long to be mindful. Devote one hour a day to giving undistracted attention to your small children. Not in activities driven by your agenda, but in free play and casual company according to their terms. Undivided attention is the most concrete expression of love you can give. Amply supplied, your children will return their love to the world through mindfulness.

Mindful children grow up in mindful homes.


Get Maezen’s writing delivered to your inbox.

Subscribe to my newsletter • Come to a retreat • Friend me • Follow me.




  1. i love love love these invitations. thank you for sharing them, karen. and for our little tribe, dancing together is also quite delicious.

    Comment by melissa — October 14, 2010 @ 12:55 pm

  2. Thank you for sharing and affirming what I feel in my heart.

    Comment by Jennifer — October 14, 2010 @ 1:32 pm

  3. Hello, this comment has nothing to do with your post but I just wanted to write a “thank you” to you Karen. I’ve just finished reading “hand wash cold” and think it’s amazing! The clearest book on zen I’ve encountered in a long time and beautifully written. Thank you.

    Comment by Shindo — October 16, 2010 @ 10:47 pm

  4. Oh, Karen, I love this. I didn’t even realize that some of the activities we most instinctively gravitate towards (picture books and walking in particular) were powerful precisely because they remind me – and all of us – to be present. Of course. Thank you so much. xo

    Comment by Lindsey — September 4, 2013 @ 2:49 am

  5. […] morning’s walk was inspired by today’s post on one of my favorite blogs, Karen Maezen Miller’s Cheerio Road: (#6: walk to school).  Over there it’s mindfulness week, and I’ve decided to take the […]

    Pingback by steps | with a little practice — September 4, 2013 @ 6:17 am

  6. I love these important reminders that this is as easy as everything we have around us. Nourishing my children’s abilities to find joy in a less harried life is so important to me.

    Comment by Christine LaRocque — September 4, 2013 @ 3:10 pm

  7. […] Raising Mindful Children from Karen Maezen Miller […]

    Pingback by Raising Mindful Children from Karen Maezen Miller | Birthing Change — September 9, 2013 @ 11:29 am

  8. When all my kids were little… The 4 grown and the two granddaughters I am raising…I sang ALL the time. I always forget to do it now, and I forget how happy it makes me when I do. I will try to remember. Thank you!

    Comment by marcea — September 27, 2013 @ 7:17 am

  9. I love the comments about listening and singing. I had the pleasure of my grand-niece spending two and a half years with me. I am in my 50’s, and I do not have any children of my own. I have taught school for three decades, but nothing prepared me for raising a confused yet wonderful little girl under the age of ten. Some of my fondest memories are of us singing together in the car, in the living room, and before we went to sleep. Also, I loved watching her dance. She would make up dances, and I would always turn off the television, computer etc., so I could give her my undivided attention. She loved it! It was a treasure for both of us! Loved your article! Thanks!

    Comment by JO — September 27, 2013 @ 4:22 pm

  10. I love all of these as I do them all! I sing around my house. No tears are allowed if we hurt ourselves we laugh as it makes the pain disappear. Which usually means i have to do something silly to distract them from the razed knee. But I don’t mind as my children love me. GREAT POST thank you.

    Comment by Go Ask Mum — November 17, 2013 @ 9:51 pm

  11. Love all of these reminders and wholeheartedly agree with dancing. Giggling is awesome too. Being able to laugh at ourselves and the silliness we work ourselves up over is a gift and a skill to share with our children!

    Comment by Rachel — September 16, 2015 @ 10:11 am

  12. I love these. And I wrote down…. “we cannot extract from our children what we fail to give.” Just beautiful. I’m going to tattoo that on the back of my eyelids. Thank you Karen, yet again.

    Comment by mya — September 16, 2015 @ 11:11 am

  13. I love this and I would add one thing: Explain. Since kids get so immersed in whatever they are doing sometimes it can turn dangerous – like running away at the playground or running with sticks etc. I find if I get on my knees eye to eye with my daughter and explain why she can or can’t do something she gets it and she’s only 3 1/2. I notice this a lot parents just yell but don’t explain why they got upset. The kids remember your reaction not your words unless your calm.

    Comment by Suzanne — April 17, 2016 @ 6:03 am

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment

archives by month