With cellphones, crammed calendars, and responsibilities of all sorts clamoring for our attention, many of us cannot achieve mindfulness and instead have overly full minds. Anxiety, depression, and overwhelming thoughts intrude on our ability to remain in the moment.
A desire to teach our children a different way has lead to a surge of books about mindfulness — or, as defined by The Greater Good Science Center at UC–Berkeley "maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment." The idea is that by tuning in to the present, we can tune out the chatter that takes over our minds and fills them with worry about the past and doubt about the future. After studies have indicated its positive effect on learning, more and more schools are incorporating elements of meditation and other mindfulness practices into the school day.
Equipping our children with the tools to manage all these distractions at a young age will enable them to healthily and productively cope with the chaos of the world in which they will grow up. These 10 picture books are a great way to expose children to this mindset early on.
1. A Handful of Quiet: Happiness in Four Pebbles by Thich Nhat Hanh
This book teaches children to employ pebble meditation, a technique created by Nobel Peace Prize–nominee Thich Nhat Hanh that involves connecting with nature in a tactile way. Kids can follow the steps outlined in the book to use rocks as a vehicle to cultivate quiet in the mind.
2. Peaceful Piggy Meditation by Kerry Lee Maclean
Maclean's books do extraordinary work in helping children feel validated for having feelings of anger, doubt, and worry — and then offering coping strategies that employ mindfulness techniques. In this book, kids will read about piggies using meditation to deal with feelings of frustration. These books are a favorite in our household because they both tell a story and offer practical tools.
3. What Does It Mean To Be Present? by Rana DiOrio
Through stunning illustrations, this book helps children answer the title question — what does it meant to be present? Readers will explore concrete examples of what it means to be in the moment, and sharing the book will take parents to a calm place as well. When I’ve had a long day, I find that reading this book (and others on the list) with my child helps me regroup.
4. Take the Time: Mindfulness for Kids by Maud Roegiers
The style and pace of this story will be soothing to young readers. With its soft colors and gentle brushwork, the book illustrates ways in which kids can slow down and appreciate every moment, from thinking about the effect their words will have on others to focusing on the feeling of receiving a hug.
5. Silence by Lemniscates
In the world of a child, silence is hard to come by. This book, created by renowned Barcelona-based artist Lemniscastes, encourages young readers to seek silence and consider it an opportunity for reflection and for listening to one’s heart.
6. Sitting Still Like a Frog: Mindfulness Exercises for Kids (and Their Parents) by Eline Snel (Author), Myla Kabat-Zinn (Reader), Jon Kabat-Zinn (Foreword)
The Kabat-Zinn family is revered in the world of mindfulness. Their involvement with this fun manual for kids and parents gives this book a serious pedigree. “Sitting Still Like a Frog” includes a 60-minute CD of mindfulness activities for the all to share.
7. Zen Shorts by Jon J. Muth
Muth's work on mindfulness for children began well before the Zen trend hit the bookshelves. Using Stillwater — his trademark panda character — and thoughtful prose, his stories are a must for those wanting to cultivate calm in their children. This selection, honored by the Caldecott committee, features three siblings interacting with Stillwater as he tells them ancient Zen stories.
8. Anh's Anger by Gail Silver
Anh gets really angry at his grandfather for interrupting his playtime and calling the family to the dinner table. Instead of scolding Anh for his outburst, the grandfather encourages him to go and sit with his anger. Using this narrative, Silver offers a powerful lesson in honoring and recognizing one's emotions in the present. Her book Steps and Stones does similar work.
9. Visiting Feelings by Lauren Rubenstein
Using rhyme, this story encourages children to invite emotions into their lives, embracing all feelings equally instead of labeling or judging them. The swirling colors and dreamlike illustrations make this book perfect for a bedtime read.
10. Good Night Yoga: A Pose-by-Pose Bedtime Story by Mariam Gates
Yoga is an excellent practice to help children quiet their minds. By using physical poses to maintain a sense of presence, yoga clears the mind of distraction and invites one into the present moment. This book adds poses to the story so readers can stretch and unwind while enjoying the text. Another excellent yoga read with explanations of poses is I Am Yoga.
Happy — and calming — reading!
Want more advice on teaching self-awareness? Check out 11 Social-Emotional Skills Every Child Should Have and other advice on social-emotional learning.