Now that I’ve gotten back into practicing yoga regularly, I’m aware of how important it is to be centered, calm and mindful.
Mindfulness is one of those words that I constantly see thrown around without really understanding what it meant. A quick Google search defined mindfulness as “the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something” or “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, use as a therapeutic technique.”
When I first moved to Philadelphia, I taught at a Quaker school. Every week, the entire Middle School attended Meeting for Worship in the Meeting House. During that time, every child and teacher sat in silence reflection.
For me, it was a time to think, to let my mind wander or to clear my thoughts. Meeting for Worship felt similar to the relaxation period at the start and end of my yoga classes.
It was a challenge for Middle Schoolers to sit silently during that time, but I began to see the value of children learning how to simply sit and be alone with their own thoughts. Learning to contemplate the day, reflect on emotions and process every situation in their lives is an incredibly important skill to develop.
I have two daughters who are feeling very big emotions. At 2 and almost 4, much of the day is filled with moments of frustration, anger and sadness that their brains are not fully equipped to understand and process.
While adults are better at acknowledging and unpacking their feelings, young children struggle to do so. Often, they react to those emotions through tantrums, crying and screaming or physical displays of anger. This is frustrating to deal with as a parent, but I am striving to be more mindful of what they are feeling in those moments.
A piece of advice I saw recently is for parents to remember the acronym H.A.L.T. If a child is acting out, take a moment and think about whether they are Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired. How can you help them to handle those feelings?
Hunger is the easiest to deal with. Always have snacks and make sure your child is eating healthy foods at regular intervals. I know I get “hangry” if my blood sugar dips low and while I can recognize that feeling and acknowledge that I am feeling angry because I’m actually hungry, a young child cannot do that yet.
Anger causes children to make poor choices. It’s not always easy to predict what will set your child off. Sometimes I have no idea why my daughter is so worked up, but for my part, I am trying to react to anger with patience and understanding, rather than responding by getting angry myself.
Loneliness affects children just as much as adults. They may feel a lack of connection with a busy parent who is not focused on them or miss friends from school during the summer. Siblings can help alleviate this.
I always encourage my children to play together and make sure that there is always time during the day when I am fully focused on them. I also schedule regular playdates and activities so they can be around other children.
Tired can be tough. Sometimes busy schedules do not allow for naps. My older daughter has very emotional breakdowns with lots of crying and whining when she is tired, while my younger daughter gets very wild and angry. I am very strict about sleep routines, because I truly believe that sleep is the most important thing we can do for our bodies. Some days my older daughter doesn’t nap at all and needs an earlier bedtime, but it’s still tough for me to get her into bed as early as she needs to sleep to avoid the crankiness. Still, it’s something I’m continually working on.
Much of parenting is about staying a step ahead of your children and anticipating their needs.
That’s why diaper bags are usually so jammed; we’re always thinking about every possible scenario that we might face and ensuring we have everything we could need for any situation.
I might be able to anticipate hunger with snacks or boredom with books, but it is learning how to anticipate mood changes—or at least being prepared for any possible mood change—that is the bigger challenge. As the kids get older, they will be able to understand and process why they are feeling the way they feel.
This brings us back to mindfulness. By helping children learn to be mindful, they will be less anxious and happier in the long run.
Breathing exercises can be encouraged even at young ages. I always try to help my girls take a deep breath when they’re upset. We pretend to blow up balloons together by taking a big breath in to blow up our balloon and make a funny raspberry sound when we exhale. I like to suggest they “shake off” whatever extreme emotion they’re feeling. What’s key here is being in the moment with your child. Do the breathing exercise with them to demonstrate what they should do.
Another suggestion I keep reading about is “time in” spaces, rather than “time out.” The purpose is essentially the same. “Time out” suggests a punishment. Often, a child is sent to a corner or to sit apart from the family until they calm down with no real conversation afterwards. By changing the phrase to “time in,” the exercise becomes more positive. The caregiver should sit near the child and encourage them in the moment. Encourage them to breath or explain why they are being given this moment to collect themselves.
We recently instituted a quiet or calm corner in our house. I asked my daughter to pick two spaces, one upstairs in her room, and one downstairs that she can go to when she is feeling a big emotion and needs some space. If she is having a meltdown, I will suggest that she sit in her quiet space with some books or something to color or snuggle until she settles down. If she is very resistant, I will sit in there with her and hold her and comfort her until she is more calm.
It is so easy to react with anger or frustration of your own as a parent. I am no expert in positive parenting, but I am working hard to be more mindful and in turn teach mindfulness to my daughters.
Today, she went to the corner on her own, with two books of her choosing. I approached her and asked what she was feeling. She felt sad because she pulled her sister’s arm and hurt her and was worried about being a bad friend. Because I saw her in that space, I was able to start a positive discussion and we both stayed quiet and calm.
As my kids get older, my goal is to continue to practice and model mindfulness and hope that they learn how to process their emotions through purposeful reflection. After all, a little quiet time and room to breathe is something we all need.