Authored by Diana Charkalis
Being a kid can be stressful. But the signs aren’t always obvious. Sometimes it shows up as a stomach ache and a plea not to go to school. Problems sleeping, changes in eating as well as moodiness and isolation can also be clues that your child might be overly stressed, according to the American Psychological Association.
Overscheduling, too much homework and even worries over current political and world events can all be stress triggers for today’s kids. In addition, researchers say, an over-attachment to technology, especially social media, can lead kids (and parents) to feeling increasingly more disconnected to family and other real life interactions.
So what’s a parent to do? While there’s no magic formula for eliminating all the stresses of our kids’ daily lives, taking a more mindful approach can help them manage stress better, says mindfulness and meditation teacher Susan Kaiser Greenland, author of The Mindful Child. “When children can learn to take a few moments before responding to stressful situations, they allow their own healthy inner compasses to click in and guide them to become more thoughtful, resilient, and empathetic.”
Check out these five mindfulness tips and tools for parents.
1. Quiet the Mind and Breathe
Here’s why: A mindfulness and meditation practice for kids can begin very simply with games that focus their attention “away from whatever it is they’re worrying about, to a present moment experience such as feeling their own breath,” Greenland says. When we focus on an experience in the moment, she explains, our minds tend to quiet, allowing us to see what’s going on more clearly. It can also help the body relax.
Try this: Our Stop, Breathe & Think Kids app, which was developed in collaboration with Greenland, offers short animated videos or “missions” for kids 5-10, geared to quiet and focus the mind. For example, a puffy cloud in Cooling Out Breath illustrates how focusing on a long out-breath can help us feel more relaxed and calm. Square Breathing is another mission, where colorful fish swim in geometric formation and guide the viewer to breathe in and out.
2. Expand their World View: Cultivate Compassion and Gratitude
Here’s why: When we can see the relationships, causes, and conditions that lead up to a moment, we become more connected and caring, Greenland says. Then, we have an opportunity to reframe any situation and respond with compassion. “That’s really helpful for kids as far as managing their stress, because it changes their perspective and helps them look at the bigger picture. Changing the way you look at things can help you develop a different relationship with stress.”
Try this: Just Like Me, is a guided compassion practice found on the SBT Kids app that reminds us we each have a lot in common with everyone else. And that no matter how someone appears on the outside, they can be feeling very differently on the inside. Another mission, Thank the Farmer, focuses on mindfully eating a raisin, which helps kids develop sensory awareness and also practice gratitude.
Families can also regroup at home during dinnertime with a little mindfulness, she adds. “You can go around the table and say one thing that you’re grateful for. Or, ring a bell and just have everyone sit quietly and listen to the bell until it fades away.”
3. Meditate, Mom and Dad
Here’s why: Kids’ anxiety can be amplified by the adults around them, Greenland says. This form of “second hand stress” can be mitigated if the whole family is on the same page. “It’s not like teaching a child to play the piano where the child can become a brilliant pianist and the parent doesn’t need to play the piano at all,” she says. “The most powerful thing parents can do to support their kids in their practice is to develop their own mindfulness and practice themselves.”
Try This: If other meditation programs haven’t worked for you, try using SBT Kids together. “It’s not uncommon for parents who have been finding meditation challenging to use the app with their kids,” Greenland says. “It’s great because the more parents practice, the more they’ll be able to answer the kids’ questions and help them contextualize their experiences.”
4. Model Mindfulness
Here’s why: Showing kids in real time how to stop and get mindful can interrupt spiraling anxiety and even family fights that are escalating, Greenland says. “If you talk your child through what you’re doing then they’re probably going to do it with you which will help you co-regulate. That’s modeling, and it’s good all around.”
Try this: Next time you’re feeling overwhelmed, let your child know by saying something like: “I’m feeling like I’m moving just a little bit faster than I’d like to, so can we just stop and really count our breaths?”
Greenland explains: “It’s really about cultivating an awareness of what’s happening within and around us right now, right in the moment. But that awareness has an openness to it and a spaciousness and a sense of curiosity.”
5. Create Mindful Moments Every Day
Here’s why: One misunderstanding with mindfulness and meditation is that longer is better, Greenland says. But that’s not necessarily true. “You do get great things from practicing for 20 minutes or more, but you also get a different basket of wonderful benefits from practicing for short periods of time frequently throughout the day.”
Taking less than a minute to pause, take a few deep breaths and move your attention to the bottoms of your feet to ground yourself can work wonders, Greenland says. “These brief moments of awareness throughout the day really help you interrupt automatic habits and behavior and slow it down and reconnect with yourself. It’s like giving yourself a mini-break.”
Try this: A great time to start is when you’re all leaving the house in the morning, she says. “Take a few deep breaths or say three things you’re happy about or looking forward to in the day.”
At its core, mindfulness can go a long way toward helping parents better understand their kids’ stress as opposed to trying to “fix” it. “So much of mindfulness is about bringing a gentle and a kind and a compassionate awareness to what’s happening within and around us. Part of the awareness in a parenting context is really being able to let go of your own stuff enough to just be with your kids and see them for who they are.”