A Mindful Breath-Counting Practice for Teens and Tweens

An 8-minute breathing practice that teaches kids the basics of mindful awareness by counting each inhale and exhale.

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As a parent, your job is to prepare your child for the road ahead, rather than endlessly (and impossibly) trying to fix the road itself. You can’t predict every potential difficulty and protect your child from every pothole. But if you help your child cultivate mindfulness, research suggests they’ll develop resilience, improved executive function, and social and emotional skills that allow them to steer themselves when the time comes.

You can’t predict every potential difficulty and protect your child from every pothole. But if you help your child cultivate mindfulness, research suggests they’ll develop resilience, improved executive function, and social and emotional skills that allow them to steer themselves when the time comes.

You don’t need to be a “perfect” meditator to begin discussing meditation with your child — you just need to be genuinely interested in the process and honest about your own experience. Once you feel familiar with the ideas and practices, you can introduce them to your family. Be sure to talk about your own difficulty sustaining attention and resisting reactivity. This can be an important part of the lesson for your child: you’re fallible and yet remain open to trying something new.

How older kids can practice mindfulness

Preadolescents and teens can practice mindfulness the same way as adults, although the practices are often shortened and the language should be adapted into their vernacular, making it engaging and real to them. On the one hand, adolescents are in a stage of development that focuses heavily on peer groups, so group learning and classes may make it easier to connect with mindfulness practice. When discussing mindfulness with them individually, we can tailor it to their changing experience as they strive for independence, manage school stress, and learn to handle teenage related emotional and physical growth.  

There isn’t a consensus about what length of practice most benefits adults, even less so in children. Starting with shorter practices often works best but isn’t required. It’s all about making it feel natural individually, adjusting to whatever you observe.

A Breath-Counting Meditation for Teens and Tweens

Here is an 8-minute practice, appropriate for older kids, that uses counting breaths to cultivate mindful awareness. Breath-counting is a foundational mindfulness practice — research from the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin Madison (with adult participants) suggests breath-counting can decrease mind wandering and negative thought loops and improve mood.

Consider doing this practice with your child on a regular basis or integrating it into bedtime. Incorporate short practices of this kind into any transition, such as setting up activities like homework. Set aside short-term expectations, and as a family, support all the traits mindfulness encourages in everyday life, such as increased resilience under stress, emotional awareness, and even compassion.

To fully experience this meditation, we recommend listening to the audio version. However, you can also simply read the text below. If you choose to do so, read through the entire script first to familiarize yourself with the practice, then do the practice, referring back to the text as needed and pausing briefly after each paragraph. Take about ten minutes for the practice. You can do this practice in a seated position, standing, or even lying down. Choose a position in which you can be comfortable and alert.

A Mindful Breath-Counting Practice for Teens and Tweens

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1) Lie down and let your body rest. Notice whatever you’re thinking right now, however you feel right now.

2) When you’re ready, take three deep breaths while paying attention to the rising and falling of your belly. We’re not trying to do anything special except just notice the sensation — what it feels like.

3) Place your hand on your belly. As best as you’re able, pay attention to the rocking of your hand with each breath.

4) Recognize that your mind will go off somewhere else, over and over again, or you might feel restless — all of that’s normal, all of that’s totally fine. Each time you notice your attention is gone somewhere else, come back again to your hand rising and falling on your belly.

5) If you’d like, count your breaths, sticking to small groups. Perhaps you could count up to five and then start again at one.

6) Each time you lose track, simply start over. Note any tendency to get frustrated — there’s no need to, the distractions will happen. Breathe in, one, breathe out, one, breathe in, two, breathe out, two, continuing at your own pace… and coming back again to breathing in and breathing out.

7) Wherever your mind’s gone, allow those thoughts to be for just now. Allow them to show up and then continue on. Thoughts are normal. Everyone has thoughts continually throughout the day, throughout this type of practice.

8) Come back gently, and over and over again to the feeling of breathing, right now. Allow thoughts and feelings to show up because they will and then each time come back again.

9) Breathe in, one, breathe out, one, breathe in, two, breathe out, two, and then again coming back to the next breath — not trying to fix anything or change anything at that moment, or at this next moment.

10) At some other time during the day, there might be something to act on, but right now, simply lie here, guiding your attention to the rocking of your hand, to the sensation of breathing.

11) And when you’re ready, if you’d like, opening your eyes, or continuing to lie still.

Adapted from Mindful Parenting for ADHD.