For many children, living in the immediate moment is innate. Kids just have a knack for leaning into the present moment and just being. However, there are circumstances that cause all children to worry about things that have already happened, or become anxious about what the future will bring. Mindfulness techniques can help children find peace during these moments of inner turmoil. Below are six calming techniques that may help your child cope with frustrating feelings.
1. Bunny Breath: Kids love this one! Tell your child to imagine that they are a bunny smelling a lovely flower. Instruct them to take three quick inhales through their bunny nose, then release their breath through their mouth with an audible sigh. They may repeat this series of three quick inhales and one relaxed exhale as many times as needed to feel calm.
2. Belly Breath: Your child can use a favorite stuffed animal or toy for this one! Have them lie down and then place the toy or stuffed animal on their belly. Instruct them to inhale and exhale slowly through their nose while observing the toy rise and fall. They may continue this breath for as long as needed to feel relaxed.
3. Horsey Breath: This one seems to work well when your child needs to let go of an emotion. Have your child take a deep inhale through their nose, hold it, then release it through their mouth with fluttery lips like a horse whinnying. Have your child repeat this until they feel unburdened.
Mindfulness Games or Toys
4. Calm Down Jar: Calm Down Jars are created with a mixture of water, glitter, food coloring, and glycerin (or other thickener). They can help a child calm down by bringing their focus back to the present moment. They work similarly to focusing on the flickering flames of a bonfire. Have your child shake or turn the jar, and then observe the glitter fluttering down. In our house, we added a random gold heart to one of our jars and it provides our daughter with something to focus on as she soothes herself.
5. Sense Walk: Go for a walk together, preferably in nature, and focus on one sense at a time. Stop for a moment and close your eyes. Notice all the sounds around you, notice the sounds within you. Next, focus on what you can smell. Open your eyes and continue your walk. Pay attention to everything you see, feel, and maybe even taste along the way!
6. Make a Nature Mandala: Have you ever felt incredibly present and focused when creating something? Introduce your child to that same feeling by creating a nature mandala together. Gather leaves, rocks, shells, sticks, flower petals, etc. Have your child select their favorite items and create a small circle out of these items, this will be the center. Instruct your child to keep arranging items in a pattern outside of the center to make the circle grow. They can change the pattern as many times as they would like as they work their way out from the center of the mandala.
When you practice these techniques together, you will start to make mindfulness part of your daily routine. Demonstrate mindful breathing and discuss how it makes you feel. Not only will you be giving our child valuable coping skills for the future, you will also strengthen your bond and have some fun together while practicing these activities.
What mindfulness games/activities do you like to practice with your child?
Is anyone feeling like it is more difficult to be fully present for your children lately? No? It’s just me? Come on, admit it…you’ve been a little distracted lately, right? Doesn’t it seem harder than ever to focus on one thing at a time? I have never worked in conditions like these. I don’t usually bring my husband and toddler to work with me--the latter often singing Disney songs at the top of her lungs or requiring urgent help because one of her stuffed animals isn’t sitting correctly. And being home together means that there are more household tasks than ever before—who knew a family of three could use so many dishes each day? Many of us are struggling to balance several roles at once, which means it is difficult to be fully present for any of those roles. With our attention being pulled in so many different directions, we cannot expect ourselves to parent the same way we did before.
Before we started social distancing, I loved taking my daughter swimming at our local YMCA. It was the perfect way to reconnect at the end of the week –I have no choice but to be fully present when swimming with a toddler. I miss this special bonding time. Now, I’m searching for ways to get that same connection while working from home.
I could probably start by check my phone less frequently. Lately, it feels like my phone is another member of our family. I will admit to you that even pre-COVID19, I usually had my phone nearby. I am the type of mom who cannot miss a photo opportunity, so I am always prepared. However, I was better at organizing my time so that I did not always feel the need to send “one quick email” while coloring. I feel a lot of pressure to be present for work, even when I am home. At times, I feel as though I am striving to get work done at the expense of spending quality time with my child. And my kid still naps, so I know some of you are tackling more!
After dealing with some serious mom guilt, I decided I would find time to practice mindful moments throughout our days. Unless I make time for these moments, they just aren’t going to happen. A simple idea I read about in a Facebook Group sparked some genuine present time together this week. When my daughter and I go for walks, she either sings the entire time, completely unaware of anyone around her, or she asks to listen to Disney songs—which still involves quite a bit of singing. It’s adorable to observe, but I’m looking for moments of greater connectivity. So, I introduced her to the concept of taking a Rainbow Walk. During these walks, we observe our surroundings and find objects for each color of the rainbow. It’s such a simple game, but boy, do we have fun! She shouts with enthusiasm each time she finds a color.
“The grass is green!”
“The sky is blue!”
“There are purple flowers over there!”
I’m glad she knows her colors, but more importantly, this game demands our focus. When we play, we are both completely in the moment and sharing goofy grins; no email is going to top that.
Another way we practice being present is by doing yoga together. We recently discovered Cosmic Kids Yoga on YouTube. I love how Jamie uses yoga poses to tell a story. (We like the Frozen and Moana themed classes!) We haven’t worked up to focusing for the entire 30 minutes yet. My daughter will often wander away to check out her toys, but this is developmentally appropriate for 2.5. What makes these moments meaningful is that I am not wandering away to check my computer. I am present for her when she decides she wants to strike a pose together.
There are so many other ways to sneak mindful moments into the day. Similar to the Rainbow Walk, we have gone on Sense Walks and used our five senses to notice our surroundings. (Well, usually just four because we don’t often taste much on these walks!) Focusing on making time to be present made me realize that naptime and bedtime rituals provide the ultimate opportunity to connect. We have a pretty set routine, but I like to add something silly each night so that we can share a special moment of laughter together. I may have been distracted by many obligations throughout the day, but I want my daughter to go to sleep remembering the moment that we just shared.
This time will eventually be behind us. I hope that when our children look back, they remember all the little ways we made our time together at home feel special.
How are you making sure that mindful moments are still part of your family life?
My husband and I are blessed with a strong-willed daughter. We know that her determination and persistence will be beneficial in the long run, but there are times when these traits drive me absolutely bonkers! We joke that until recently, her file was marked difficult patient at our pediatrician’s office. It can be difficult to keep my cool when she goes into full blown meltdown mode because she can’t wear her Anna dress to bed. It’s terrifying when she throws herself down in the street crying because I had the audacity to insist that she hold my hand when crossing the street. It’s baffling when she kicks and screams because I messed up the lyrics when singing “Into the Unknown” for the 15th time in a row. (Frozen is life!) So, how do I keep my cool when my patience is worn thin?
First, I tell myself that this is normal for a 2.5 year old, and that no stage of childhood development is permanent. (I don’t want to even think about how these arguments over clothes and safety will escalate as she gets older.) Knowing that these epic meltdowns are all part of the beautiful mess that motherhood is really helps me keep things in perspective. Second, I share these stories with my mom friends. We can’t support one another if we aren’t honest about how trying motherhood can be. No mom should ever feel guilty over expressing her feelings—kids can be stressful, right? We love them, we want them, but they really know how to push our buttons!
Most importantly, I come up with a plan to combat her undesirable behavior. I’m not saying my plan always works, but I make an attempt. My daughter responds really well to affirmations, or encouraging statements. We include a set of statements as part of her bedtime routine. So, when our daycare reported, for the third time, that my daughter was having trouble being quiet at naptime, I started teaching her to say, “I am quiet at naptime” or “I keep my head on my pillow”. Her teacher started using these affirmations and we stopped hearing about naptime struggles. After sleeping in the same room for over a week during a family vacation, I had to add, “I can go to sleep without crying” to her bedtime statements upon our return home to separate rooms. About a week after repeating this nightly, she settled back into falling asleep alone without a lot of fuss.
Now that we are home together all day, every day, these affirmative statements have become crucial to our sanity as parents. We have had some big struggles over using manners recently. We demonstrate proper courtesies over and over again, making sure to emphasize “please” and “thank you”, but when this child wants something, she demands it with force.
“Mommy sit on the floor!”
She wants what she wants and she isn't afraid to ask for it. Although my husband always exhibits great patience with our daughter, I know that her rudeness gets under his skin like nothing else! So, I started wondering, how can we use an affirmative statement to improve this situation? After a demand is barked at me, I simply reply “I am polite.” She may still make demands or whine, but I have found that if I am consistent and repetitive, most of the time she relents and uses the manners we know she has.
Of course there are times when these affirmations do not work at all. There are times when her will is just too strong, or she isn’t emotionally ready to move on from the issue. However, I am going to keep coming up with new ways to help her learn and grow because I am patient, I am persistent, and I am unstoppable. And, Mama, so are you!
Do you use affirmations or encouraging statements with your children? I'd love to hear about your experiences below!