What Mindful Practices Can Bring You and Your Children

Mind over matter

by Abbie Pumarejo | Thu, February 22, 2018

Your four-year-old has just tipped over your favorite plant and has started trailing dirt throughout the house, followed by the barking dog. You’re up to your elbows in chopping vegetables for dinner and they both come into the kitchen, running circles around you. What do you do?

1. Start screaming.

2. Demand your toddler sit in time out.

3. Slam your hands down on the counter in utter frustration.

4.Take a deep breath counting for three seconds on the inhale, and exhale for another three seconds.

Muddy Child

If you chose 1, 2, or 3 that’s okay, they are fairly normal reactions. But let’s consider 4. Taking a moment to physically connect with your body before you react to the situation. This is essentially what mindfulness intends to do. At first it can be a challenge to stay in a moment and recognize how to diffuse anger or reduce anxiety. However, it can be done with regular practice, and the benefits are almost instantaneous.

According to an article by Harvard Medical Publishing, deep abdominal breathing encourages full oxygen exchange — where there is an exchange of incoming oxygen for outgoing carbon dioxide. This process can slow the heartbeat and lower, or stabilize, blood pressure. By providing a relaxation response to stressful situations, the body experiences a state of profound rest. Cardiologist Dr Herbert Benson developed the abdominal breathing technique in the 1970s at Harvard Medical School, though it has since traveled far outside of the university’s walls.

Connecting With Body

Focused breathing can be done anywhere at any time. It helps disconnect us from uncomfortable thoughts, feelings and sensations that produce anxiety and stress. Imagine providing these kinds of tools for your children. Especially for younger children who find it diffiult to vocalize fears or worries. Being able to help children identify when they feel anxious or worried can help them develop invaluable, life-long tools.

Settling in

Haibo Ma, working in Counseling at Community Center Shanghai (CCS) suggests the following exercise for parents to try at home.

Mindfulness with Children

“Set aside a time for the whole family when everyone is not busy. Then choose a five-minute audio clip about mindfulness or meditation, or background music to help everyone relax. Then conduct a body scan, where each individual checks in with how they are feeling emotionally and also physically. Afterwards parents and children can share their findings."

Ma has found that these types of activities will increase a child’s ability to live in the moment and help them reduce daily anxiety.

Light the way

Parents can provide guidance and visualization techniques with even very young children. Christine Forte, mental health counselor at Balanced Heart Counseling, explains,

“With a child who is seeing me for excessive worry, for example, I might do an exercise where we use imagery of putting the worried thought on a balloon and watching it float up and away. Or putting the thoughts on leaves and watching them float down a stream. Then we practice imagining these together. Of course the vocabulary that I use depends on the age of the child.”

Research has confirmed that meditation is also a great stress reliever, but should be modified for different ages.

“It needs to be broken down into small and tangible steps. Children are great at being in the moment, but if you ask them to sit and meditate for 40 minutes like an adult might, it isn’t necessarily going to get the best results,”

says Forte.

Luna Jutton, founder of Luna Mindfulness, confers with Forte’s approach.

“I like to teach mindfulness to children by applying mindful intention — paying attention and observing your mind — to craft, games, and healthy eating activities. My hope is that if we can normalize a meditation and mindful lifestyle for children from a very young age, they will not fall into the trap of negative thought patterns and will learn how to manage their emotions effectively, ultimately leading more positive and fulfilling lives.”

Harmony

With a background in primary education and a certified teacher from the UK, Jutton is passionate about promoting mindfulness.

“Mindfulness underpins everything in their [children’s] educational and personal lives. The increasing pace of our lives as a result of technology and information overload oods our brains at a rate that we simply can’t handle. Regular breathing exercises in peace and stillness give our minds a chance to declutter, process, and reset.”

It isn’t always easy to take time out and focus on how our children process their feelings, but as Forte points out, “Practicing these techniques with parents can also be a worthwhile shared activity and can open doors to being able to talk about upsetting things. And certainly the research shows that mindfulness can be helpful to children in managing their inner worlds.”

Yoga

There are many ways to help your child do this. Encourage and demonstrate how to make the body tight, then loose and floppy. This works well if lying down in a comfortable position. Start with the head and work down all the way to the toes. Remind them to breathe but focus on the muscles contracting. In order for them to understand the loose and floppy part, they can imagine their body to be like a jiggly jellyfish, ice cream slowly melting, or a cat lounging in the sun.

Stretching

You can also encourage stretching exercises in various ways, keeping the body limber and helping yours and your child’s muscles relax. You can reach both arms above the head, stretch from side to side, swing the arms around windmill-style, or imagine climbing a ladder to stretch both the arms and legs.

Worry Tree

Creating a worry tree can also help your child relieve themselves of negative emotion. Discuss any fears or concerns they might have, and have your child write them on pieces of colored paper. Hang them on a small tree branch and set it aside. This allows your child to be free from the worries once they’ve been hung on the tree, and gets them into the habit of learning to express themselves. Dealing with negativity head on instead of suppressing it creates spaces for your child to better cope with difficulty in life, while getting them into the practice of identifying and articulating their feelings.

Even introducing five-minute exercises can make a difference in your child’s day-to-day. Sit cross-legged, or lying down, and breathe easily and evenly as follow. Count one: breathe in. Count two: breathe out. Count three: breathe in, and continue for as long as necessary. Remembering to take time to just be present is a great stress-reliever and a tool that can be applied whenever, wherever, for as long or as little as needed. Whether it’s dealing with frustration, anger, or just taking a moment to appreciate the world and their surroundings, the results will benefit both young and adult minds alike.

Good to know

  • Christine Forte: balancedheartcounseling.com

  • CCS: communitycenter.cn

  • Luna Mindfulness,WeChatID: lunabutton

  • Harvard Health Publishing: health.harvard.edu