Parenting is great, isn’t it? And super stressful, right?! Before the new school year begins, and life gets hectic again, take some time with your child to build mindfulness skills so you both can meet life’s demands with a little more ease. Here are 10 mindful practices you can use to teach your child the art of experiencing the ups and downs in life in a healthier way. These practices are also exercises for you, the parent, to use to help you better manage your own frustrations when your child is stressed. To have the biggest impact, practice modeling these mindful techniques in front of, and alongside, your child.
1. Awareness of Breathing
This exercise is intended to increase self-awareness by just noticing our breathing habits. Awareness of our breath can be used as an anchor to bring us out of our heads and back to the present moment. When we are fearful, anxious, or stressed, our breath becomes rapid and shallow and our thoughts get blurred. In these moments, and throughout the day, practice noticing your breath together; doing so will 1. help you both focus on something other than the thoughts you get all caught-up in and 2. trigger the relaxation response and return to a state of calm. You both will feel more secure, in control of your thoughts and emotions, and better able to meet the demands of the situation.
2. Relaxation Breathing
During stressful moments, practicing relaxation breathing techniques helps you and your child to release tension, ease anxiety, and enter a state of calm. The more you practice, the easier it gets. We are always doing, doing, doing; here’s a breathing exercise that returns you and your child to a state of just being: “Place one hand on your belly and one hand on your chest.As you breathe in, imagine all of the air moving far down into your belly, blowing it up like a balloon.As you breathe out, let your belly go soft.” (For the full script, see Parenting You Stressed Child).
3. Mindful Walking
Throughout our day, there are plenty of opportunities to practice mindful walking. When we do, it helps us to connect with our bodies and be present. On walks together or apart, teach your child to use all of his or her five senses to explore the immediate surroundings – paying attention to sights, sounds, smells, textures, and odors. Look for things you have never noticed before. It’s incredible how this simply practice melts away your worries.
4. Mindful Movement with Yoga
To teach your child (and yourself!) about the mind-body connection, you can practice gentle yoga stretches while doing your breathing techniques. This combined practice awakens your child’s flexibility, strength, and ability to deeply relax. In my work with teens, I’m consistently amazed by their strong desire to learn more about yoga and breathing exercises. They tell me how much it helps them shed the stresses of the day. Younger kids love it, too; it’s a great way to bond with your child.
5. Mindful Eating
When was the last time you and your child truly experienced the joy of eating? All too often, we scarf down our food as we stare at our phones, watch tv, or rush out the door. With this practice, you are teaching your child to fully experience nourishment of mind, body, and soul, and establish healthier eating habits. Try the infamous practice Eating a Raisin Mindfully; this practice takes you through a slow, guided journey in which you pretend you’re an alien from outer space who has never before seen or tasted a raisin. Before you know it, you will be savoring the smell, texture, and taste of a raisin like never before.
6. Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Teach your child how to check in with his or her body and listen to what it is trying to tell them. This practice is great for easing tension, headaches, or other physical pain connected to stress or strong emotions. This practice walks you through a progression of steps in which you tighten and relax each muscle group in your body, one at a time, starting with your toes and ending with your face and head. It’s powerfully relaxing.
7. Visualization/Guided Imagery
Creativity is so natural for young kids. Cultivate your child’s imagination with this practice that teaches them to connect mind and body in a fun way. This practice teaches your child to be use his or her thoughts to ease negative emotions during times of stress. It’s like a short mental vacation in which you close your eyes and imagine all of the details of a special, calming place or situation. Get creative! Talk about the sights, sounds, smells, and textures of this pretend world. My 2.5-year-old daughter loves a guided imagery technique called Beam of Light. She asks me every night to recite the imagery; it is the easiest, no-fuss, bedtime routine I’ve discovered thus far.
8. A Mindful Mind
This practice helps us to quiet our busy minds and simply observe and accept our passing thoughts, whatever they might be. One specific practice, Thought Clouds, encourages kids to slow down and observe their passing thoughts without judgment; letting the thought clouds float on by.
Too often, we have a tendency to put ourselves down with negative self-talk. Model being kind to yourself, and help your child learn to do the same. Use this technique to instill confidence, and caring and compassion for ourselves. The exercise helps us to cultivate love through listing affirmations and doing a short guided meditation that focuses on inner strengths.
10. The Art of Appreciation
Teach your child how to shift from dissatisfaction to satisfaction. In our lives, it’s so easy to get caught-up in what we don’t have. Together with your child, practice appreciation for all that you do have in your life. In Finding 10 Thank Yous Today, you and your child play a game in which you search for little gifts that you have been given throughout the day.
For detailed information about these 10 mindfulness practices and how to incorporate them into you and your child’s routine, check out the book, Parenting Your Stressed Child: 10 Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Practices to Help Your Child Manage Stress and Build Essential Life Skills, by Michelle L. Bailey, M.D., FAAP. This lovely and pragmatic book includes tons of easy exercises for kids and parents, and even some worksheets, too!
Holland Miller, Psy.D., Licensed Psychologist, provides individual and group therapy for adolescents and adults in Austin, TX. Specializing in the treatment of depression, chronic low mood, and chronic stress, she incorporates cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), mindfulness, and therapeutic lifestyle changes (TLCs) to enhance positive mood, healthy functioning, and overall well-being.
Dr. Miller is particularly passionate about working with adolescent girls and adult women who want to boost their mood and energy, improve their self-esteem and relationships with others, better cope with stress while reducing anxiety and tension, and develop healthy lifestyle habits for lasting wellness.
When she is not in the office, Dr. Miller enjoys spending time with her husband, daughter, and two mischievous goldendoodles. She can be found discovering the latest Austin adventure, reading and researching, exploring the outdoors on hiking and camping trips, and trying out new recipes.
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