As a child therapist, I am frequently asked by children how to make their big emotions go away, and I try my best to explain the difficult-to-understand fact that we all have big emotions—excitement, anger, sadness, and happiness—to name a few. The challenging task is learning how to accept and manage these emotions so that they do not manage us.
Amy Saltzman defines mindfulness as “paying attention to your life, here and now, with kindness and curiosity.” If we consider becoming detectives of our everyday lives, we may begin to learn more about the way we experience emotions and how that impacts our thoughts and behavior.
Maybe we feel angry that a person just bumped into us on the street and rather than moving on with our day, we find ourselves thinking about how frustrated we are. As a result, we’re in a bad mood and have a short fuse with family members later on in the day. On the flip side, something might happen in the morning to cause us to feel sadness, and rather than wallow in those feelings by turning on our favorite sad tunes, we go for a run or head to a favorite workout class. After moving around a bit or getting outside, we notice that we feel better and go on with the day.
Teaching children (and ourselves) to take a pause in between our emotions and reactions provide a valuable lesson in mindfulness. There are many ways we can practice taking a pause, and below I will list a few. Try them at home on your own or with your kids, and let me know how they go!
Mindfulness for children: Three ways to be mindful of our emotions
1. Anchor Words
We often use anchor words in meditation. For example, we might say in our mind, “breathing in” as we inhale and “breathing out” as we exhale. Anchor words can also be used to help manage our emotions. When experiencing any emotion, we can stop and name that emotion in our mind. Once the emotion is named, a quick body scan to notice where we are feeling that emotion is very helpful. Maybe I notice that I am feeling anxious, and I say in my mind, “anxious” and notice that I am feeling tightness in my chest and heaviness in my head.
For children, I love using worksheets like the one depicted here.
2. Stop, Drop & Breathe
Most of us have some amount of warning before we experience a big emotion. As we start to become better “emotion detectives”, we can recognize the warning signs of big emotions coming. We use our anchor words to name the emotion and body scan to detect where we are feeling sensations within our body. When we feel ourselves becoming frustrated or overwhelmed, we can practice taking three slow breaths in and out through the nose. If three breaths do not help, then try three more, and keep repeating until you feel yourself calming down.
I recommend trying mindful breathing when you are not experiencing a big emotion and practice with your children when they are in a calm state. Breathing exercises before bedtime can be a wonderful family ritual.
Click here for one of my favorite breathing strategies that kids, parents and teachers love.
3. Finding Our Quiet Place
In the busy and over-scheduled world we live in, it is often hard to find the time to pause. I love reading Charlotte and the Quiet Place with children to help teach about mindfulness and finding our quiet place within. The book provides an excellent starting point for a great family discussion and a better understanding of mindfulness.
I hope that these tips are helpful to you and your family! Keep in touch with me on facebook at www.facebook.com/
Michelle Paget, LCSW RYT RCYT is a child and family therapist and registered yoga teacher who specializes in integrating elements of yoga and mindfulness to help build emotional resilience. She has a private practice in New York City where she specializes in working with preschool, elementary and middle school-age children and their parents. Her approach blends yoga and mindfulness with art and play, helping the children and families she works with to feel more connected and balanced. Michelle’s specialty areas include: academic struggles, anxiety, behavioral strategies, depression, family transitions, and social skill building, and she also offers mindfulness and yoga for kids, parenting coaching and workshops.
PS This article first appeared on my blog here.