There has been increased interest and research on the benefits of mindfulness and meditation strategies for both adults and children in recent years. Mindfulness encourages people to be intentionally present with their experiences while suspending judgment and being open and accepting to what is happening in the present moment. Achieving this state can help us calm down and allow us to experience relaxation (Kabat-Zinn, 2013, p. lx). Mindfulness based practices are now incorporated in many school environments with the goal of helping children to increase compassion, kindness, and emotional regulation. You may be wondering how you can support your children with using mindfulness at home as a strategy for relaxation and enhancing self-regulation.
Here are some ideas on how to get started. The list below includes a few of the resources that I have used in my sessions with clients. There are many additional resources available!
“Peaceful Piggy Meditation” by Kerry MacLean (picture book)
“Sitting Still Like a Frog: Mindfulness Exercises for Kids (and Their Parents)” by Snel (includes an audio CD)
"The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook for Kids" by Shapiro & Sprague (includes both stress reduction and mindfulness interventions for parents and kids to do together)
Free Child-Friendly Apps:
*Because kids are always more eager to practice a new skill when there is an app for that!
Breathe, Think, Do with Sesame: Interactive and ideal for ages 4-7.
Settle Your Glitter: Simple to use and great for practicing deep breathing!
Stop, Breathe, and Think Kids: Requires a parent email to activate. Includes guided meditations for children.
Headspace: Includes short (1-3 minute) meditations. Some of the features require a paid subscription.
Calm: Better for older children and adults. Includes several free meditations, and timed unguided meditations. Additional meditations are available for purchase.
Want to learn more about mindfulness? We are fortunate to have the Center for Healthy Minds as a resource here in Madison. Check out their research and upcoming events on their website.
Ready or not, Winter is here. Daylight time is becoming shorter, and when you are out-and-about, you see people busily preparing for the upcoming holidays. While the new fresh snow and anticipation of seeing family over the holidays is exciting and joyful for many, we also know that many people find the holiday season to be a challenging time. The holidays may remind you of the loss of a loved one, or maybe your symptoms of depression increase as we head into the dark, cold Winter months. Many of you also need some extra support figuring out how to manage plans with in laws or co-parents, surviving the school breaks with your kids home from school, and balancing family budgets with extra traveling and gift-giving costs. Whatever the reason, it is common for people to endorse increased stress during this time of year.
Keep reading for a few ideas you may consider to help alleviate this additional stress.
Make Time for Taking Care of Yourself
During the holidays, it is more important than ever to practice self-care for yourself. What helps you to relax? Pick an activity and commit to 10-20 minutes per day. You will likely find this practice will help to decrease your reactivity during stressful situations throughout the day.
Give Yourself Permission to Say “No”
Become comfortable with saying “No” to extra commitments. Before committing to an extra holiday party or event, ask yourself if the extra commitment is worth what you are giving up (time to yourself, the kids’ nap time, family meals, etc.). Over-scheduling your kids and deviating too far from their usual routine is a recipe for meltdowns. If you do not feel comfortable saying “No” in the moment when you receive a request, it is perfectly okay to ask for time to think about whether not the extra event will work for you.
Keep Some Structure
Do your best to maintain your sleep-wake schedule during this time.
If you have kids, know that they will also want some down time during their school break. Having some predictability and structure at home will be helpful. Consider having 1 planned activity per day (e.g. play date, ice skating, art project at home). Write this on a calendar for your school-age kids to see so they know what to anticipate.
If you are coordinating holiday schedules with in-laws or co-parents, begin working on setting schedules for visits now. Add commitments to the calendar to keep you and your family organized, while also allowing for some flexibility with plans. For example, allow a cushion of time between commitments scheduled on the same day.
Be Flexible and Forgive Yourself
Ask yourself if it really matters. If you weren’t able to follow through with a favorite tradition, or if you had to purchase store bought goods instead of a homemade dessert, will your holiday be a wreck for the whole family? Would this somehow mean that you are not “good enough” at being a sibling/child/parent/colleague (fill in your role here)? Of course not! If you are starting to feel this way, be gentle on yourself. No one really can do it all, and usually the people around you do not even notice that something did not go as you had planned.
Additionally, it is important to remind yourself that this extra stress is usually temporary and that you can and will get through the next few months.
Reach Out for Help
Lean on your support system. Talk through your worries and stress with a friend who is supportive, positive, and knows your situational well. Delegate tasks and ask for help.
If you have tried some of the above strategies on your own and continue to feel stressed and down, I suggest you connect with me or another professional. Consult your doctor or a therapist if your symptoms are getting in the way of your ability to live the life you want. Examples of this type of distress may include difficulty getting out of bed, not being able to focus on work, sudden change in mood, or significant conflict with your partner or family members.
“You should really make sure your kid is wearing a hat, it’s windy out there…”
“You and (your partner) really should start having a family soon or it may be too late.”
“I can’t believe you bought a new car, don’t you know that used cars are a much better deal?”
“That’s why you shouldn’t bring tired kids to the grocery store. They should be in bed.”
“You seem stressed, maybe you need a massage. Here is a card for a guy who is really great.”
Isn’t it frustrating when an in-law, a stranger at the grocery store, or even your partner offers you advice on how to handle a problem that you felt you: a) had under control b) wanted to handle by yourself, or c) didn’t think was a problem at all?
Unsolicited advice can be particularly challenging when the advice-giver is someone you know and will have to encounter again—you worry your response could be taken the wrong way, that they’ll judge your character, or talk behind your back if they disapprove.
Maybe the advice came after you began to vent about a challenging situation in your life and you just wanted someone to listen. Or, perhaps you weren’t even discussing a problem and someone felt the need to chime in with their observation and two cents about what you should do. You’re feeling annoyed and irritated and your gut reaction may be to tell the person how unhelpful they are and that you have it all under control. This certainly won’t help you achieve a more favorable opinion from the advice-giver. Another common response is to engage in the conversation by explaining why you handled the situation in the way that you did, and before you know it, you’re defending yourself, giving more negative energy to a situation that is not going to be helpful to you.
What can you do to respond in a way that is both assertive and respectful? Here are a few ideas:
I often hear people complaining about difficulty with sleep or still feeling tired when they wake in the morning. While a number of factors can contribute to sleeplessness (e.g. stress, trauma, depression, and shift work, to name a few), one thing you may not have considered is the impact that your screen time has on the quality of your sleep. Hopefully you’re not reading this blog in bed right before you try to sleep! Most of us are guilty of reading one last email, checking social media, texting, or even playing computer/video games in the hour leading up to bed. So, what’s the big deal?
Recent research suggests the use of screens 1 hour before bed is associated with taking longer to fall asleep, decreased melatonin secretion, having less REM sleep, and feeling more sleepy the next morning (Chang, Aeschbach, Duffy, & Czeisler, 2015). Further, another study suggests the use of multiple devices and interactive or stimulating technology use before bed intensifies difficulty with falling asleep. This is concerning since 90 percent of us are using technology within 60 minutes of going to sleep (Gradisar, et al., 2013).
Since we know sleep affects our mood, productivity, and is essential for our health, consider changing your media use before bed.
Here are some ways you can make changes:
See the citations below to read the studies yourself.
Chang, A.M., Aeschbach, D., Duffy, J.F., Czeisler, C.A. (2015). Evening use of light-emitting eReaders negatively affects sleep, circadian timing, and next-morning alertness. PNAS, 112(4). Retrieved from http://www.pnas.org/content/112/4/1232.abstract
Gradisar, M., Wolfson, A.R., Harvey, A.G., Hale, L., Rosenberg, R., Czeisler, C.A. (2013). The sleep and technology use of Americans: Findings from the National Sleep Foundation’s 2011 Sleep in America Poll. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, 9 (12). Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24340291
We’ve all heard it. That advice you don’t always want to hear when you’re stressed out, panicking, tense, angry, and worked up. Someone nearby tells you to “Take a breath.”
Relationship between Stress and Breathing
There is a good reason for this old and common piece of advice. When we become stressed, we begin to take shorter, faster breaths, and this intensifies our stress and anxiety. When we experience anxiety, stress, trauma, or panic, we shift in to a reactive and protective fight or flight survival response. The simple act of deep, controlled breathing allows our breath to move beyond our chest and into our diaphragm to bring in more oxygen to waken the parasympathetic nervous system to calm the body. Some of the many benefits of deep breathing include lowered heart rates and blood pressure. Relaxation allows for clear thinking and buys time to use logic and reason for responding thoughtfully to the stressful situation at hand rather than reacting based on emotion. People who practice deep breathing regularly will find that they are able to manage day-to-day stress more effectively.
I suggest practicing first thing when you wake in the morning to start your day off right, and practicing again at the end of the day to relax before sleep.
So how can you practice deep breathing?
Generally, it is recommended to practice deep breathing by inhaling through your nose and slowly exhaling through your mouth. See if your exhale can last longer than your inhale. You might try counting as you practice this technique. One technique I often teach people (both children and adults) is the 4-7-8 breath. Inhale for 4 seconds, hold for 7 seconds, and exhale for the count of 8. Repeat. It may take some practice before you are able to exhale for 8 full seconds, and that’s okay!
More creative strategies for kids:
Practice blowing bubbles
Teach your child to pretend they are blowing out candles
Have your child lie down and place an object on their belly button, such as a beloved stuffed animal. Ask them to watch the object move up and down with each breath.
Sara Kind-Michels, MS, LPC, LMFT
Do you have a comment or question about a blog post? If so, I would love to connect with you. Send me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org, or give me a call: (608) 886-9595.