School might be out but the pandemic is still real. The sun might be out but for many of us our families are struggling. So how will we manage a summer unlike any other? One moment at a time.
During this season I have been focusing on developing a specialty in Nutrition & Integrative Medicine for Mental Health. For many of us when we think of how to treat our emotional struggles we think of talk therapy but there are so many other strategies. For today let's talk about MINDFULNESS!
This week I challenge you to take some time to slow down and walk mindfully through the moments that come across your path. Stop & smell the roses and teach your kiddos to do the same. So here are some fun ideas you can do yourself or together as a family!
1. Mindful Eating
This was won't be a tough sell! The next time you eat a watermelon or popsicle, see if you can your kids to be silent until their treat is entirely gone. And, instead of speaking... Encourage them to eat mindfully... ask them to try to slow down, take deep breaths & focus their attention on the food. Ask them to pay attention to all the different flavors? Does it start to feel different in their mouth as it starts melting?
How did it feel when they were licking as opposed to when they were biting it? At the end discuss their experiences.
2. Cloud Watch
We have all thought of doing this, but when was the last time you actually did it? Put a comfy blanket down on a lawn and spend some time slowing down & staring at the clouds. Take some deep breaths. What shapes do they see? Animals? People? Notice how the clouds gently move along. Notice how the cloud that first looked like a pig now looks like a cat. This is a great way to introduce the idea that our minds are kind of like the sky — thoughts float through, they change and then they move on. Discuss together thoughts that you have had that week that started in one direction and then changed and then went away.
This is one that you can do alone or with your children. It might feel childish to do it by yourself, but as you take some deep breaths and practice this mindful exercise you will notice your heart rate go down and your insights go up.
3. Mindfulness Walk
Go for a walk in your neighborhood alone or with your family and intentionally use it to be more mindful.
One idea is to notice 10 things you have never paid attention to before — perhaps the color of the neighbor’s door or the flowers along the curb.
Another idea is to use your walk and notice your senses using the 5-4-3-2-1 method. Look for 5 things you can see, then 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can feel, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste. (Sometimes for this one I like to have a little treat so that when you get to the 1 thing you can taste part of the exercise you pop a little something in your mouth and then focus on how it tastes in your mouth).
Both of these ideas can be done quickly and your or your kids may feel tempted to race through them. Or you can slow down and really encourage observation & mindfulness. But remember research shows that the more we practice mindfulness, the more peaceful we are.
With mindfulness, we practice slowing down. We are teaching our bodies how to change pace so that when we need to regulate in a stressful situation we are able to do it. The next time you’re at the playground, try playing “Slow-Fast-Slow.” Whatever your kids are doing — playing in the sand, running over a bridge — have them try to do it slow, then fast, and then slow again.
Talk about what it felt like to do something slowly. Did it feel different? Was it difficult? How did you do it, even when it was hard? Did you notice something you hadn’t before when you were playing fast? Did you like moving more slowly, or do you like to be quick? What happens when we are fast all the time? What happens when we are slow all the time? We need both, but we need to be in control to make the best choices.
6. Mindful Reading
As an adult or with your family, slowing down your reading can really make a difference in our mood and how we are learning from what we are reading. As an adult, the next time you read, try taking 3 deep breaths before and after you begin. If you are reading for a longer amount of time, try taking some additional deep breaths between chapters. Slowing yourself down can help us better absorb the information and regulate our blood pressure not just during this activity but throughout the day.
The same can be true when you read with your children. Model this behavior by taking a deep breath together before you start the ritual of reading with them and then take another deep breath after. While you are reading a story with your kids, take some time to engage in conversation about the feelings of the people (or animals) in the book. It can be hard for children to talk about their own emotions, so sometimes it’s easier to talk about fictional characters. You can ask questions like, ”What do you think this character is thinking about?” (especially if it is a character in the background of the picture). And again, you can always go back to the 5 senses, What do you think this character is looking at? What do you think this moment sounds / smells / tastes / feels like? You can do this alone, esp while you are in a spiritual exercise, or when you are reading for pleasure or with your family.
If you are looking for some summer reading ideas for you & your children check out these lists:
8. Mindfulness Crafts & Coloring
Are you artistic? Me either! But, I know that when I slow down and take some deep breaths and work on a craft it changes my heart rate and I find it really relaxing. So if you need some self care, maybe you need to craft awhile. Either alone or leading your children in mindful crafting can be helpful in emotion regulation.
One idea is to create a Glitter Jar. There are a lot of blogs that mention this ideas, here is one by Blissful Kids. We have done them at home both as plain jars as well as putting in dollar store figures to make it more like a snow globe. We let our kids pick their fav characters so our son was able to make it his own by gluing a Superman in the jar and filling it with red & blue glitter.
Painting rocks has become popular during this season and that can be a fun family activity. One walk can be to look for the rock. Then after you paint it, take another walk to find a special spot to leave it to offer hope & a smile to someone else.
Coloring is known to be relaxing particularly when the hand is moving in slow curved directions. This is why mandalas are particularly helpful for mood management. When trying to engage in a mindful activity alone or with your children look for pictures that will cause you to slowly color and practice taking deep breaths while you create your image.
Here are some free printables, great for a hot day.
Find a moment this week, alone or with your family, to stop & take a deep breath.
Stop and engage your senses.
Stop and smell the roses.
Your mood, your focus, your patience, your heart rate, your loved ones will thank you.