Stay at home orders have affected everyone in different ways, but especially with children there are new challenges to be faced. To uphold a calm and peaceful household requires an everyday commitment to mindfulness, plus an understanding that the journey will not be perfect. We asked clinical psychologist Nuanprang Snitbhan how she thinks parents can better promote wellness into their family’s lives during this era of e-learning.
During this turbulent time, what are ways to promote mindfulness into children’s everyday lives?
We are in a “new normal” in which we are forced to adapt and adjust without a roadmap. Instead of letting this opportunity pass us by, we can embrace this chaos and uncertainty and use it as an opportunity to help our children develop and become more resilient. More and more research claims that mindful people have an ability to bounce back and find strengths during difficult times compared to those who don’t practice mindfulness.
There are many ways to incorporate the practice of mindfulness into our lives, but let’s keep it simple and do-able. Try these two suggestions or even commit to do one at a time.
The first one is start introducing feelings vocabulary words. It can be a new thing you do together as a family! The goal is to encourage children to identity and name both positive and negative feelings. Print out a feeling chart and hang it in the house where everyone can see it. You can introduce this idea by saying, when people have “big feelings” like being scared, anxious, angry or sad, the fight-or-flight response gets activated by the amygdala, the scientific name for the roughly almond-shaped mass of gray matter inside the brain, the one involved with the experiencing of emotions. It releases stress hormones to help them get ready to fight back or run away. However, if you are able to be mindful of your feelings and experiences in that moment, you can stop the fight-or-flight response releasing the stress hormones and feel calmer.
The second one is learning to single-task. Multitasking and mindfulness do not go together. People who develop the habit of multitasking tend to report more stress and less productivity. Encourage your children to practice doing one thing at a time. For example, encourage children to eat without looking at the screens, clean up before moving on to the next project, or even making eye contact when speaking or listening.
If you set the goal to follow these two mindfulness practices throughout this pandemic, you have done your job planting the mindfulness seeds. Remember, it’s about the process of learning and not about being perfect or right.
Many kids are spending most of their time at home these days. What tips do you have to make the experience more enjoyable for kids and their parents?
Being at home all the time doesn’t mean that we are connecting to each other in the kindest and most meaningful way. It can be exactly the opposite because everyone is confronted with one’s own responsibilities, duties and needs. Moreover, our minds can’t find the space to rest when the boundaries of work/life balance are being threatened. This is the time to make being outside the priority. Breathing fresh air is essential, but it also gives both children and their parents a break from unstoppable demands and tensions in the house. Finding quality time to connect and check in with each other outside of the house every day can help reset your mood and enable you to enjoy each other again. Use this time to listen and be. Let go of the dirty laundry, dinner plan, last page of math homework, that annoying email, broken toilet, etc.
You’ve mentioned the importance of keeping a kindness journal. Can you expand on what it means to have a kindness journal and why it’s useful?
As a parent and a psychologist, I believe that everyone has a kind heart, however, developing a habit of kindness takes time to grow and blossom. To be a kind person, in my book, doesn’t mean you allow people to take advantage of you or walk all over you. Children need to find a balance and know how much they are capable of giving at any given moment and are not afraid to set boundaries. My hope for keeping a kindness journal is to encourage children to explore and get to know themselves through their writing. It can also be a wonderful resource as well as a positive reminder to cheer them up when things do not work out the way they wanted or expected.
Another important element to enhance empathy is an ability to be self-observant. If children have enough practice to express kindness and reflect on their behavior as they learn to pay attention to their feelings before, during and especially after, they are more likely to have greater awareness of how their behaviors affect others. Meanness, bullying, discrimination and separation in the world can be dissipated. When kindness touches one’s heart, one will want to spread more kindness into the world.
Photo by Daria Shevtsova.
Nuanprang Snitbhan, PSYD, is a clinical psychologist specializing in working with children, adolescents and their families. She received her doctorate in Clinical Psychology from the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology. She is the author of Kindness Cards for Kids: 52 Ways to Make Every Day a Little Better (Bala Kids) and Girl Time: A Mother-Daughter Activity Book for Sharing, Bonding, and Really Talking.