Our kids get just as stressed out as we do. While they don’t have bills, a demanding boss or a continuously-increasing workload, they do have homework, classmates, teachers, bullies and big emotions. So it helps to have a variety of tools they can use to manage their stressors and regulate their emotions — tools they can take into adolescence and adulthood. Because stress and emotions are part of everyone’s daily life. And because everyone benefits from having healthy coping strategies.
That’s exactly what author and clinical social worker Carla Naumburg, Ph.D, provides in her newest book Ready, Set, Breathe: Practicing Mindfulness with Your Children for Fewer Meltdowns and a More Peaceful Family. In this wise and down-to-earth book, Naumburg features practical and creative strategies for practicing mindfulness at home. She defines mindfulness as “the practice of choosing to pay attention to whatever is happening right here and right now, without judging it or wishing it were different.”
She noted that teaching mindfulness is an ongoing process. She likened mindfulness to a muscle: “the more we use it, the stronger it gets.” Naumburg also stressed the importance of involving your child in the process as much as possible and asking them for their ideas and suggestions.
Below are four wonderful tips from Ready, Set, Breathe on everything from slowing down to paying closer attention.
Play the slow-walking game.
This exercise teaches kids to slow down, which is helpful because most families are more used to rushing and running around. When you find yourself with extra time, Naumburg suggests picking a location you need to walk to. Then see who can get to that spot the slowest. The only rule is that everyone must be moving the entire time.
After you’re done, talk to your child about how this activity felt and how it’s different from when they’re trying to hurry.
Create a calm-down corner.
This corner might literally be a corner in a room or just a chair. The intention is to create a space that promotes a peaceful, mindful experience. It’s to help your child get quiet, breathe and engage in soothing activities. According to Naumburg, this is “a sacred space where shouting, nagging, arguing, discussing, questioning and negotiating are not allowed.”
For instance, one of Naumburg’s friends created a “Cool-Down Corner,” which includes books about Antarctica and stuffed polar bears and penguins. Another friend created a “Seat in Space” with space-themed books and toys. She also had her son cut out stars and planets to hang from the “sky.”
Don’t include electronic devices in this space, aside from an MP3 or CD player, which is good for listening to guided meditations. You might include everything from a soft blanket to storybooks to a snow globe. Be sure to involve your child in the creation of this space. And if you don’t have room, create a breathing box or bag filled with soothing items.
Draw your feelings.
This activity helps your child to identify their feelings. Naumburg suggests starting by reading a book about feelings and discussing them. Next ask your child to draw different feelings. Or you can draw an outline of the body, and ask your child to draw where their feelings live and what they look like.
Naumburg advises against judging or correcting your child. If you’d like to ask questions, start with: “Can you tell me more about that?” And try doing this activity with your child.
(Here are more suggestions for teaching your kids to identify and cope with their emotions.)
Share three things about three things.
You can practice this activity when your child is distracted, overwhelmed or bored. Ask your child to tell you three things about three things that they’re noticing (which may be pleasant, unpleasant or neutral). They might notice an object in their environment, a pain in their body or a thought they’re having.
Naumburg gives this example: If your child has pain in their toe, they might “let you know which toe it is, how far up his foot the pain goes, and whether it feels like a sharp prick or a dull ache.”
She also notes that you can adapt this activity in any way you like — such as telling three things about one thing.
In our go, go, go society, it’s important to slow down. It’s important to pause and pay attention to ourselves and to our surroundings. Mindfulness takes practice — for both parents and kids. The great thing is that every moment is an opportunity to practice.
Mom and daughter photo available from Shutterstock