The hot, carefree summer lingers, but for a hint of autumn’s cooler nights and increasing preparations. The kids are restless and fidgety; excited at the prospect of reuniting with friends, and nervously anticipating the newness and uncertainty of the coming school year. Following are a few ways you can mindfully maintain a deep connection with your child every day, despite the ongoing commitments and stress of work and school.
Gift Attention and Meaningful Conversation
Get to know the experiences your children are having by planning time with them on a regular basis. Schedules get filled with routine tasks and unexpected events that often do not give us enough time to get to know our children. Take time to check in about their world, talk about issues that matter to them, and share stories relevant to what they’re experiencing. Allow space to share ideas, ask open-ended questions, celebrate moments small and big, and create opportunities where they can contribute to decisions. All these practices reinforce the message that they matter, and are truly seen for how unique, beautiful and valued they are to you and others around them.
Part of having meaningful exchanges is deep listening, which requires compassion and openness. Celebrate children for having unique opinions, for being curious and willing to explore new ideas. Validate who they are and the choices they make about themselves, others and the world around them. They need your guidance, presence, and wisdom, not your judgment.
Walk the Talk
Children are not mind readers — let them know how you feel. Children pay attention to everything we say even when it does not feel like they do, which makes it extremely important for adults to model and embody the same behaviors we try to teach. Model the behaviors you expect to see and cultivate in them. Rather than simply saying “be respectful,” take some time to go through the process of what a specific behavior feels, sounds and looks like to give them the cognitive tools to practice new skills. Children appreciate unsolicited compliments and validation for the effort they put into making good choices and the more we notice and appreciate the more they strive to follow through with our expectations and agreements.
Guide with Calming Practices
Conflict, stress and worry can be part of a child’s life just as they are for adults. Mindfulness exercises teach kids how to rise above a “fight or flight” reaction. Understanding the process and steps to navigate through challenges in positive and effective ways is a key life skill, and children are naturals at using meditation and calming practices as long as we take the time to teach them the steps. Begin by asking them to pay attention to their breath, then help them to reflect on the situation they seem to be struggling with. Have them consider alternatives that serve them in positive ways, and be open to asking for help from people they know and trust, including you.
Meditative Bell Exercise
Listen to the bell. An easy way for children to practice mindfulness is to focus on paying attention to what they can hear. You can use a singing bowl, a bell, a set of chimes, or a phone app that has sounds on it. Tell your children that you will make the sound, and they should listen carefully until they can no longer hear the sound (which is usually 30 seconds to a minute). This exercise has a calming effect on children, and it’s a fun way to teach them to pay attention to their surroundings.
Alternative video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZME0JKiweL4
Practice Daily Intentions and Gratitude
As part of your routine begin each day helping your children to set intentions for a positive experience, and then share gratitude at the end of the day, during mealtimes, in the car, or before bedtime. Studies show that regularly expressing gratitude not only increases our own sense of happiness, but also expands our capacities for empathy and compassion. Children will choose to manifest these characteristics, not because they are told to do so, but because it becomes part of who they are.
Offer the Power of Connectedness
It is essential to help children become aware of the world around them. Familiarize them with other cultures, traditions, and perspectives through books, videos, movies, food, and virtual travel. This will inspire more compassion and understanding about the world beyond their own. Fostering a deeper sense of interconnection with others, in a hyper-connected world, will engender relationships and behaviors that are more collaborative, creative, and beneficial.
These are lifelong skills that, when practiced regularly, will help every child succeed and thrive while bringing a sense of grounding in the home. Here’s to a successful school year, and beyond!