By Alison Westermann, Program Director at Borderland Rainbow Center, Institute Fellow
Creator: Yulia Melnyk | Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto
Mindfulness is a buzz word and I despise using buzz words to describe strategies for parenting because it makes it seem like you’ll need to buy a certain book or change enormous parts of your behavior to adapt these tips to your own life. Mindfulness techniques are small but important changes that will lead to significant differences in your relationship with your kids!
Alison’s Mindfulness Tip #1: Pause and Notice
This is something I’ve tried (key word = tried) to do myself and to model for my kids. I get overwhelmed when there are too many sensory inputs – a real life example: barking dog + ringing phone + tablet blaring Netflix + kid whining = overwhelmed grown-up! When that happens, I find that the quickest way to calm myself is to pause, look around and notice 5 things. I try to find something for each of my senses – I feel my squishy chair, I smell my shampoo, I hear the fan whirring, I see the window, I taste the soda-I-shouldn’t-be-drinking-but-oh-well-it’s-a-pandemic-don’t-judge-me.
You can try this with your kids, too! When you notice they’re overwhelmed, take a deep breath with them and start noticing: I feel… I smell… I hear… I see… I taste… Soon, they’ll pick up on the pattern and they’ll share their own observations with you, too. You don’t need to push them to participate – they’ll do so naturally when they’re comfortable and ready, because it feels like a fun game, and kids love games!
Alison’s Mindfulness Tip #2: Breathing
Did you ever think you’d have to practice breathing? HA! Neither did I, until I started taking yoga classes many years ago, and was instructed by an incredible teacher who clued me into the health benefits of guided, purposeful breathing. When you breathe purposefully, you mimic the way your body feels when it is relaxed, and you can actually MAKE yourself relax! The breathing itself sends the message to your brain to just chill out. The effects of guided breathing are astonishing, and you can read more about them here:
Here’s one breathing exercise we love to do in our house - this is for grown-ups and kids, too! This particular visualization was introduced to me by a remarkable early childhood educator in California named Lauren Jane Lev. Follow her on Instagram @laurenjane818. Tell her I sent you over!
Take a deep breath.
Imagine you are holding a particularly delightful smelling flower, and breathe in
through your nose, deep enough to really savor the scent of the flower.
When your body can’t breathe in any further, blow the air out through your mouth as if you are blowing out a birthday candle.
Try to repeat this kind of purposeful breathing for a full minute or two in order to get the full benefit of the exercise.
Alison’s Mindfulness Tip #3: Meditation
I know that sometimes the idea of meditation conjures up images of people sitting quietly, somehow
getting in touch with a higher power using the power of repeated mantras, but that has never worked
for me. There’s always a kid or two interrupting my flow, pulling me out of that meditative groove, and so I always thought meditation would never work for me.
Here’s why it didn’t work – I had the wrong idea about meditation from the beginning! It’s not that it’s
hard, it’s that we don’t often practice this kind of thing that much, and we get stuck thinking that there’s only one right way to meditate. That’s not true! Meditation is a great way to: relax your muscles, increase your focus, improve your socialization skills, decrease stress and anxiety and help you rest/sleep better. These are only a few of the ways it helps our bodies and our minds, so let’s learn how to do it! Once you get in the habit, it’s as simple as reading or listening to bedtime stories!
A personal favorite in our house is the YouTube playlist “Kids Meditation Stories and Relaxing Bedtime Meditations” narrated by Jason Stephenson. His smooth and expressive voice helps our children calm their minds and bodies and unwind to get a good nights’ rest. You can use the videos at any time during the day, not just bedtime. I suggest starting with bedtime, however, because that’s when kids are already used to being in bed and closing their eyes in preparation for sleep.
If you prefer to go a screen-free route, try the book Peaceful Piggy Meditation by Kerry MacLean. You can check it out on the publisher’s website here:
There are so many choices for meditation stories (books, CDs, videos), so I recommend finding a particular style that works for you and your family and stick with that for a while. If it’s working
the way it’s intended, you’ll notice that you and your children will feel clear-headed, less anxious and
generally happier. There’s also a mindfulness app called Waking Up, and I just started using it myself! Every day, you listen to a different recording, and there are a whole range of recordings for different levels of meditation – even some for children! Try it out and see if it works for you and your family!
Do you have mindfulness techniques to share, too? Please comment below and let me know, I’d love to learn from your experience!
That’s it for this week - stay tuned for more Parenting in Pandemic Mode posts!