Mind in a Jar*

Annabella Hagen, LCSW, RPT-S


Parents are not the only ones who feel extra stress around the holiday season.  Even though children are excited, their parents’ comings and goings from Christmas activities also create stress for children.  Play therapists can help their young clients find calmness as they practice deep breathing during this exercise.


A canning jar (a plastic water bottle is a safer option)


Different colors of glitter or material that will float and slowly can sink in the water.

Optional:  an additional small object they choose to keep in their jar that makes them happy.

Talk to children about stress.  Ask them to tell you about stressful situations they have experienced recently.  After validating and normalizing their feelings and thoughts, tell them this activity will help them calm their mind.  Explain that when people calm their mind, they also can calm their body.  If children haven’t learned how to do belly breathing, take time to teach it before doing this activity.

After filling the jar with all the materials, invite the children to shake it and watch how everything swirls around.  Explain that the jar is like their mind.  The objects floating and swirling are like their thoughts and feelings.  When they experience strong emotions they may feel that way.

Invite them to take slow deep breaths as they watch everything settle at the bottom of the jar.  Remind them that the same thing happens with our thoughts and feelings.  Taking slow deep breaths and paying attention to those breaths can help settle the mind.

When the water is cleared up, emphasize that this is what happens to our minds as we pay attention to our breathing.  Ask them, “What is the water like now?  –It’s clear and peaceful.

Invite them to shake their jar and observe the materials settle as they practice their belly breathing several times during the session.

Instruct them to keep their bottle in a place at home where they can see it every day.  Encourage them to practice this exercise at least once a day –even if they aren’t upset or stressed.  If they practice, it’ll be easier to remember to “clear their mind” when they have strong swirling emotions.


*This activity is a modification from “Mind in a Jar” presented by Thich Nhat Hanh in Planting Seeds (2011).