It’s fair to say, most parents wish their kids were well behaved and could avoid those dreaded meltdowns that many of us endure. While, it may not be possible to evade these situations altogether, teaching your kids to be more mindful of their emotions will help them develop a powerful stress management tool that can certainly help.
The question is, how do you do that?
It’s hard enough to get a kid to eat their vegetables, so teaching them how to meditate may seem like a tall order. But, I can tell you (from first-hand experience) that it can be done. So, I’m going to share my best strategies to help your child harness the power of mindfulness in order to create more calm and foster a sense of emotional wellbeing.
Developing emotional intelligence
Meditation and mindfulness are great tools to cope with stress and reduce anxiety and anger, which help children feel more in control of their situation. The question many parents have is: how do you get your child to access these calming techniques mid-meltdown and (ideally) how do you get your kids to practice meditation or mindfulness on a regular basis so they can learn to, proactively, deal with the range of emotions they will experience.
According to clinical psychologist, Lisa Firestone, Ph.D., “When you teach kids emotional intelligence, how to recognize their feelings, understand where they come from and learn how to deal with them, you teach them the most essential skills for their success in life.”
Finding time to meditate
As adults, we know, too well, how difficult it is to find time for meditation. The challenges we face in creating this habit are the same challenges our child(ren) face.
With my own child, I sometimes I drop the line, “Do what I say not what I do” and the second I turn around, my child is doing the exact thing I told him not to; the thing that I’m doing! Even though I use these phrases to try to guide him, I know these words have no validity and really just give me room to slack on my parenting duties. Guilty!
The point I am trying to make here is that leading by example is the strategy that I’ve found to be most helpful in getting my child to use his mindfulness tools.
Research suggests that increased, healthy parental involvement positively affects learning in children. So, I’m going to share these tips to help you create small moments in your day where you can engage with your child, practice making a habit of meditation and learn how to be more mindful in a moment. The bonus is, these moments are precious gems and will serve you as much as they serve your child.
Tips for teaching your kids to meditate
Build a habit together with morning sit-and-stretch
If you observe your morning routine, you may notice for you and your child(ren) it consists of a checklist of things that turn out to be a mad rush: waking up-dressing-eating-tooth brushing-packing bags – as quickly as possible to make it out the door on time. Do this a million times over and you are encouraging the idea that the most important thing is getting from point A to point B quickly, rather than enjoying the morning.
Instead, try taking a few short minutes to sit-and-stretch with your child. It’s a perfect way to break up that go-go momentum. Take a few breaths together and do a couple of simple stretches before you, each, leave the house. The breathing is a great way to start the day feeling grounded, while the stretch helps energize and wake-up the body.
I find a good time to build this routine into my day is while everyone is finishing getting ready. Simply, invite your child(ren) to meet you in the living room before leaving the house. Together, do the sit-and-stretch. Make it one minute if that’s all the time you can spare. Start in a seated position, cross-legged, kneeling or on a chair and take 10 deep inhales and exhales. Next, stand up and encourage any stretches and movements that feel good to them; they don’t need to be any special move and you don’t have to be doing the same thing. This helps encourage your child to listen to how their own body feels and to do what feels good to them.
S-T-O-P in the moment
STOP is an acronym for:
S – Stop
T – Take a few breaths
O – Observe
P – Proceed
This is a mindful exercise that helps in those unexpected moments that would, typically, trigger a reaction (read: meltdown). As you well know, the word “STOP” is probably the top 5 most-used demands in your parent vocabulary repertoire. It’s usually used in a negative context in reaction to something a child is doing wrong.
However, the use of this acronym in the context of this exercise changes the meaning of STOP. Instead of coming from a place of parental control, it empowers your child to learn how to analyze and deal with a situation and determine an appropriate response.
The scenario that, instantly, pops into my mind is when my child reacts intensely about a simple request I might have for him, refuses to participate and then starts to have a meltdown. As a parent, I can recognize that fatigue or hunger is likely causing this reaction. But, at this point, there are tears, yelling, refusing and all-round frustration. Even though I recognize the true cause of this reaction, I – too – can react negatively and sometimes match his yelling. It’s only human.
In a scenario like this, first and foremost, the parent must apply S-T-O-P to themselves. It’s synonymous to an airplane emergency when you’re told to give yourself oxygen first before helping another. You can only care for someone else if you are OK.
Once you have moved through your Stop, Breathe and Observation, then you can Proceed to ask your child to S-T-O-P. It is helpful to guide them through each letter:
S – Stop – may include a compassionate hug to help them feel acknowledged.
T – Take a few breaths – take as many breaths with your child until you can tell his/her body has stopped shaking and/or their tears have stopped. Deep breaths allow the body to get to a calm state.
O – Observe – give your child some space to observe and be with his/her thoughts by offering for them to sit down and/or go to their room. Observation allows your child to find perspective in the situation.
P – Proceed by inviting your child to return to you when he/she knows how to proceed and what would help them in the moment. Stop anything that you are doing to practice attentive listening when your child speaks so they feel acknowledged.
Note: *If your child(ren) is a little younger you can start, simply, with the first two steps; Stop and Breathe. Eventually, add the next steps as they mature.
Also, because the word stop is still very valuable in emergency situations, please make sure to always communicate the difference to your child.
It seems like nothing beats the leading by example model, and there is no exception when it comes to meditation and being more mindful. The benefit of these tips is that they help you in your own mindfulness practice and, also, encourages more engagement with your kids. In today’s hyper-stimulated, rushed society we can all benefit from offering more time to our kids without being distracted.