When we asked our friends about stress, a lot of them mentioned work, but we also heard a fair amount of anxiety about home life, parenting, and combos of money, love life, preschool and pregnancy. We reached out to an expert on mindfulness (who’s also taught preschool) to help frustrated parents and non-parents find ways to de-stress.
By Elizabeth Foley-Campos
As a veteran preschool teacher, I’ve witnessed parents going through good times and bad. It’s no easy task caring for a classroom of children, so if you’re one of those parents who’ve had a meltdown if front of your child’s caregiver know this: We totally understand you!
I’ve made the transition out of the classroom and into private practice to explore my personal interest in mindfulness. Simply stated, mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment.
I’d like to share with you some of my favorite mindfulness exercises. The exercises can be done independently or with your children. I recommend building mindfulness in your daily schedule. I know–very few of us have time to add ANYTHING else to our busy schedules! However, mindfulness isn’t elaborate, and I’m willing to bet that many of you already practice mindfulness without even realizing it.
Tips to practice mindfulness every day
Approach every day as if it’s a new world, because it is.
– Deepak Chopra
1. Active Listening
One of the most effective ways to silence a stressed-out mind is to listen. If you go on walks often (taking your children to school or to the park) take a moment to identify the sounds you hear. Are the birds singing? Cars humming? Neighborhood dogs barking? Encourage your kid (or yourself) to be silent, then ask if they can identify all the sounds they are hearing.
Pick a time to make gratitude a part of your family’s daily life. Some parents ask their children what their favorite part of the day was after picking them up from school. Just because you’re the parent don’t forget to add your favorite! If you have a sit-down meal, consider saying grace (even if you’re not religious), and adapt it for your family’s needs. Have everyone share something they are grateful for. Looking at the positives rather than the negative allows for neuroplasticity (the potential that the brain has to create new neural pathways).
3. Touch Points
This is one of my personal favorites! Pick a place in your home to serve as the point. Every time you touch that point (the refrigerator door, bathroom soap, bedroom closet) take a moment to pause and notice your surroundings and ‘live’ in that particular moment. By live, I mean don’t let your mind wander back to the past or into the future. During that pause, focus on the moment that you are in.
4. Resonating Sounds
This tip requires a bell, chime, piano, or a metal spoon hitting a metal pot (improvise with whatever you have around the house). Take a few breaths (or ask your child to take a few breaths) then make the sound. Lock onto the sound and listen to it until it completely fades. If you are doing this with your children, have them close their eyes and raise their hands when they can’t hear the sound anymore. When I was a classroom teacher my students loved this game! Noticing the sound trains your mind to remain in the moment and differentiate between the sensations that are giving your body information.
This tip is often taught in yoga classes or by massage therapists, so you may already be familiar with deep breathing. This skill is easily taught to children and can be practiced by both you and your child when you’re upset. Here is the process I use to teach children to take deep breaths: Lie down on your back with a favorite stuffed animal resting on your tummy. Now, notice the toy rise and fall as you slowly breath in and out.
Flash forward to your child being extremely sad or angry. Ask your child to take 20 deep breaths (with their stuffed animal) before you continue the conversation you’re having. Of course, it won’t hurt if you’re also taking deep breaths during this time so you both come back to the issue a little calmer.
6. Happiness Board
Spend some time doing arts and crafts on the next rainy weekend (or snow day). Print family photos and cut out meaningful scenes from magazines. (In Chicago, where I live, I pick up a stack of those free Chicago Parent magazines to use for this task.) Once your collage is done (and I recommend parents make one too!) hang it next to your bed so you can reminisce about the great times you’ve had before going to bed at night or as the first thing you see in the morning before you start your day.
Similar to the exercise that uses sounds, training your body to focus on the sense of smell helps you understand the information your body receives and how it makes you feel. Consider the smell of suntan lotion, does it remind you of vacation? To practice mindful smelling, gather a handful of household items such as lemons, oranges, fresh herbs, honey, or vanilla. Place the items in a brown paper bag (or something that allows you to smell without seeing what’s inside). Pass the bags around and ask your children how the smells make them feel and ask for responses (like “This makes me feel warm” or “This makes me feel hungry”).
8. Positive Self Talk
This is, in my opinion, the most important mindful skill you (and your children) can practice. To begin, you must notice and keep track of your thoughts. For instance, when I work with children who are having trouble at school, I ask them to notice what they think when they’re faced with a question they don’t understand. Often the child reports thinking, “I can’t do this!” or “I’m stupid!” I ask the child to consider how that thought makes them feel. Of course thinking bad thoughts leads to bad feelings and vice versa.
Developing a list of positive affirmations is a great way to combat negative self-talk. For an affirmation to be effective, it needs to be present tense, positive, personal, and specific.
Examples of affirmations:
- I do my best in my work and tasks.
- I trust myself in making great decisions.
- I enjoy being, feeling, and thinking positive.
- I enjoy my own company.
- I enjoy trying new ideas.
- I am brave.
- I am deserving of love, trust, and kindness.
- I experience beauty wherever I go.
- I choose to forgive all others for any mistakes they have done.
- I am gentle with myself.
- I love my body.
Notice when you are thinking negative thoughts and replace them with something positive. This skill is similar to gratitude in that it also allows for neuroplasticity. A great way to encourage your children to practice this skill is responding when you hear them saying something negative (or complaining) with a positive replacement phrase.
About Elizabeth Foley-Campos
Elizabeth has a unique background that led her to explore the field of mindfulness practices. Her academic background includes graduating from Columbia College Chicago with a B.A. in Cultural Studies, pursuing the Soma Institute’s 750-hour Clinical Massage Therapy diploma program, then receiving her Illinois massage therapy license. Next, she completed MSI Healing and Wellness Centers’ Level 3 Reiki Healing Practitioner Training courses, as well as Mindful Schools’ Mindfulness Fundamentals training course. In January 2016, Elizabeth received her M.Ed. in Early Childhood Education.