One of the major things that is keeping me afloat during these chaotic and sometimes scary times is practicing mindfulness and self-care in a myriad of ways. I’m not talking about chocolate and ice cream, though those are sometimes on the list. I’m more talking about being thoughtful about how my brain and body operate. I want to create the right framework to get through the news cycle, continue to live my life with some kind of relief, without screaming and breaking down.
I recently listened to an episode of Armchair Expert, Dax Shephard’s podcast, in which he interviewed Daniel Goleman, the psychologist who has made the phrase “emotional intelligence” ubiquitous.
The interview hit on something I have been thinking a lot about: children have a great capacity for emotional intelligence. They are younger, with fewer preconceived notions about the world. And if mindfulness—paying attention to the present moment—becomes a practice for them in childhood, it will become a habit for them as adults. As many of us struggle to carve out the time for mindfulness, but if we arm our children with these tools now, they will struggle far less at our age.
I’ve outlined a few ways to practice mindfulness with your little one that can help create peace and the ability to find their centers when everything else is swirling around them.
1. Practice Belly Breathing
Belly breathing was at the center of how Goleman talked about self-care and mindfulness in his conversation with Shephard. Essentially, you have your child lay down with you. If it helps them, they can have a stuffed animal. They can place their hands on their bellies, or even hold the stuffed animal on top of their bellies. You have them breathe in for three counts, filling their bellies, and then out for four counts. After doing a few rounds, ask them some questions to help them pay attention to the differences in their body and mind.
Another approach suggested by licensed child therapist Erin Eising is to use blowing out birthday candles as an easy-to-understand metaphor. Say to your child, “OK take a big, deep breath and blow out those birthday candles.”
One of the reasons it works so well is that breathe is attached to our flight or fight instinct. If we are in fight or flight, our breathing tends to get very shallow and short, increasing our anxiety. If you can combat that with slow, thoughtful breathing, it can signal to your body that there is nothing to panic about. It also will instill the practice of slowing down, checking in with yourself (mind and body), and feeling comfortable naming your feelings. Practicing this for a few minutes in the morning can help build up stamina and ability.
Listen to Elmo Sing About Belly Breathing
2. Do an Appreciation Practice
Appreciation helps kids notice the good around them, even when they’re feeling sad or disappointed. This Free Appreciation Game for kids is one way to start.
Ask your child if they’ve ever felt disappointment and how that made them feel. You can then ask them if there are still good things in their life when they are disappointed. Help them name a few things (their sibling, their pet, their friend, their favorite book).
In doing this exercise, it’s crucial to not direct your little to squash their feelings surrounding the disappointment. The goal is for them to understand that it’s ok to be happy and sad and that sometimes more than one thing can be true. This can help prevent them from always imagining a worst-case scenario and falling into an anxiety rabbit hole. This framework can keep them grounded in the reality that just because things hurt, that doesn’t mean that joy can’t exist. Acknowledging the hard feelings around disappointment, though, is the first step.
3. Do a Mom and Child Yoga Practice
If you’re a person like me who struggles to carve out time for your own yoga practice, this is one way to be able to find time for it: include your child(ren) with your own yoga practice. You could also try building a practice with them if you don’t yet have your own practice. Yoga contains a multitude of benefits and can sharpen the mind-body connection for both your child(ren) and you.
It’s not just about balance and physical strength. Your littles will learn from an early age about how to check in with their body and find ways to relax into themselves more. If they (and you) can build a habit of checking in with your body to find where you are holding tension and work through actively releasing it, it can become the foundation of a self-care practice. And the incredible beauty of yoga is that every body is a yoga body. There are adjustments for whatever your body is capable of.
Try This Kid-Friendly Practice by Yoga with Adriene
4. Download a Kids Mindfulness App
Apps can be a convenient introduction to mindfulness and self-care practices for children (and adults!). Try kid-friendly apps like Breathe, Think Do Sesame, Moshi, and DreamyKids—they teach both mindfulness and self-control.
Listen to This Story to Help Kids Relax at Bedtime
The only thing that we are guaranteed is that there are going to be major and minor challenges throughout our life journeys. When we give our children the tools to build confidence, manage challenges, and find gratitude when they’re young, there’s no telling how far they can go as they grow.