Teaching Kids Mindfulness Strategies To Develop Self Control
I am currently reading The Self-Driven Child, the science and sense of giving your kids more control over their lives. The idea of control is something I think about often, and have touched on in a number of posts. This book reminds me that we can’t make our kids do most things: sleep, eat, speak, and really obey. Sure I could use hand-over-hand to make him pick up his toys but really, most of what my kids are going to do is out of my control. And that is terrifying as someone who is a control freak.
As with all things in life, moderation and balance are key and so far, parenting falls in that category as well. There is a constant push/pull between wanting to be in charge and set boundaries while acknowledging that they are their own person. I like the image of “parenting in the funnel” that Childwise uses as an overarching reminder to always consider a child’s age, maturity, and moral and intellectual capabilities.
While a big part of me gets overwhelmed thinking about control, I know one of the most important things I can do is help my kids develop self control. Teaching them mindfulness strategies is one way I am trying to do that.
According to Psychology Today, “Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention to the present. This state encompasses observing one’s thoughts and feelings without judging them as good or bad.”
It may be the changing of seasons, not consistently napping any more (sigh) or just being 3.5, but I find myself saying Keener’s name many more times per day, and with less patience and more frustration each time. He is spun up, full of energy, and asserting his 3 year old self in new ways every day.
With mindfulness on my mind, I ordered a book written by Lauren Brukner, an incredible Occupational Therapist I worked closely with in NYC. For the record, some of the best people in the world are Occupational Therapists. I have worked at a few different schools and the OTs are some of the most knowledgeable, understanding, problem solving colleagues I have come to know and love.
Since reading her book, The Kids Guide to Staying Awesome and In Control, I have found myself using new language with Keener. Before, I found myself saying, You are driving me crazy. Your body is out of control. While not proud, it was flying out of my mouth all too often. Reading her book has given me new ideas.
Developing body awareness is one of the most important skills you can learn. Knowing what your body is feeling keeps you safe and healthy. Keener knows this phrase well so it fits in line with conversations that we already have.
For the past few days, instead of getting mad at him for how his body is feeling, I am trying to teach him to be more mindful about his body. To teach him to be aware of not only what his body is feeling but also what it needs to return to a calm state.
Language To Increase Body Awareness
To help Keener increase his body awareness, I have started using the following language:
- How is your body feeling right now?
- What do you think your body needs to feel calm?
- What is your body telling you?
- How did your body feel when you climbed up really high?
- I noticed your body was moving really fast when you slipped and fell.
During conversations, I highlight every opportunity I can to increase Keener’s awareness about his own body:
- When he says he is hungry, I say, When you are hungry, that is your body saying you need a snack. Did you hear your tummy growl? That is one way your body tells you that you are hungry.
- When he says he has to go to the bathroom, I say Wow! Keener, isn’t that amazing that your body tells you when you need to go to the bathroom? Good thing you listened to your body so that you didn’t have an accident! It’s so important to listen to your body and respond. Sometimes you will be able to respond on your own, like going to the bathroom, and sometimes you will need a grown up to help you. Telling grown ups what is going on with your body is really helpful and keeps you safe and healthy.
We are only a few days in, but I can already see a positive impact. Yesterday morning I even heard Keener say, “My body is calm. I’m ready to get dressed.” The more he pays attention to what he is feeling and what his body needs, the more patient I am with him. It’s a win win.
Speaking of control, breathing is interesting. We do it automatically, yet we also have control over it. This may be one of the reasons we forget to use our breath to our advantage.
Since one of my current challenges is Keener’s energetic body, I have recently focused on teaching Keener a breathing technique to use when he feels his body has too much energy. We talk about trying to get to a “calm body” and intentionally breathing is one strategy we have been using to help us achieve that goal.
Mindful breathing has been our initial go-to strategy. There are so many names for it, but taking a slow, intentional breath is really a gift. I am doing this more myself and it is amazing how taking a moment to breathe, especially before responding to misbehavior, helps me think more clearly and calmly.
We have been reading a few children’s books and the breathing technique that resonated the most was from the book Listening To My Feelings, by Michael Gordon. Keener and I often practice breathing in “smelling the flowers,” and breathing out slowly “blowing out the candles.”
At first, he was taking racing, quick breaths that were actually making his spun up body more spun up. I continued to model for him what slow, calming breaths look like. I will often share how I feel after I take them: Keener, that calming breath made my body feel so much more peaceful. My shoulders feel more relaxed and my head can now think clearly. How does your body feel now? After modeling deep breathing and verbalizing how it made me feel, he now does them correctly and it is amazing how quickly I see his little body calm down.
We are exploring other strategies that I plan to share in the coming weeks. Teaching Keener to pay closer attention to his body has helped both of us feel more calm. We are all such complicated and complex people. In truth, I need these calming strategies just as much as he does.
Helpful Kids Books:
The above links are affiliate links to Amazon to products that I have purchased and recommend.
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