Tuesday morning, 7:15 a.m.
Maria and her kids are already late. Her daughter is still brushing her teeth, her son can’t find his folder. Maria crankily yells at them to get moving already. Everyone is quiet in the car, afraid to say much. She realizes that she forgot her purse and work bag. She swears quietly under her breath. Every slow-moving truck and stoplight hinders her. She drops the kids off and rushes back home. Then she hears a siren and see flashing lights – she’s being pulled over for speeding. Now she will really be late, and could get an expensive ticket! She grits her teeth in frustration and feels her heart racing.
Have you had days like this? How can we break out of this rut? One important key is mindfulness. This is not some “new-age gobbledygook,” says mindfulness expert Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn. In fact, 60 Minutes has a great 12-minute video on the powerful benefits of mindfulness.
You can bring the power of calm into your family too! Research shows that mindful caregivers and parents have calmer, happier kids. But before you teach your kids how to be mindful, you need to learn this skill yourself. “You can’t teach what you haven’t experienced,” says Dr. Carla Naumberg, author of “Ready, Set, Breathe: Practicing Mindfulness with Your Children for Fewer Meltdowns and a More Peaceful Family.”
Mindfulness is not difficult, and doesn’t have to take long. You can find ways to build “mindful moments” into your day, and with practice, these become habitual.
- Think “connection before correction”. Try to calm yourself so you can figure out what is going on rather than reactively doling out punishments or harsh words.
- Three “Magic Breaths”. When you feel yourself getting worked up, or can see that your child is starting to spiral, take three deep breaths together. Then talk about what is going on from a more stable point of view.
- Use cues. When I hang up my keys near the front door, I take a deep breath, let the workday go (with varying success sometimes) and then greet my family. That’s my way of hitting the reset button and getting ready to be more present with them. Or use a small STOP sign to cue: Stop, Take a breath, Observe, Proceed more calmly.
- Be kind to yourself as you learn. Minds are made to wander! When you try to focus on an activity or even just your breath, your mind will run off like a puppy. When you notice this, gently bring your attention back to your focus (e.g., building with LEGO with your son, raking leaves with your daughter, etc.).
- Mindful media and technology. Technology is a good servant but a poor master. Constantly responding to the dings and pings of our electronic devices is anything but mindful and often leaves us feeling frazzled and exhausted. Take breaks from the screens and use them with intention and purpose. Take three deep breaths before reading an email or hitting “send”. We make fewer mistakes or rash decisions when we are focused and calm!
- Try a brief loving kindness meditation. There is growing research on the power of meditation, mindfulness, and a special variety called “loving kindness meditation” (or metta) on promoting health and well-being. There are even structural changes in the brain as the result of these practices.
One quick version is to remember whenever you see an ambulance to send out loving kindness to the helpers and the people who need help. There are many variations on metta, but I particularly like “May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you be safe. May you feel loved.” Even in the midst of a busy day, I can remember that one!
As we all know, stress is everywhere. If you learn how to handle yours better, and model this for your children, you’ll be teaching them skills that last a lifetime!
– Dr. Lori Warner, Ph.D., LP, BCBA-D, Director, HOPE Center at Beaumont Children’s Hospital