Time In – How Breathing Can Help Kids De-Stress

mindful breathing

Raising kids is one of the greatest joys in life but let’s get real and say it out loud together, “There’s nothing easy about it.” As a parent, you’re the point person for all things: deciphering various cries, removing bubble gum from hair, orchestrating your day harmoniously with naptime, magically healing skinned knees, answering random questions from the backseat about quantum physics, slaying monsters under the be. You’re the superhero that’s on-call 24×7. But that’s not all. You also have the other life stuff that needs little pieces of you like work, family, friends, school and washing the dog.

It’s easy to understand how you might feel stuck in a loop or just plain stressed out. A lot is going on. You may experience moments that are not your finest — the ones that have superhero You showing up like a fire breathing dragon. In those moments, you’re not the best version of yourself and your kids feed off of your energy. That’s the way energy works. When tensions are high, they meet your dragon with their whirling dervish. The next thing you know, tensions have reached their peak and someone’s losing their cool or landed in timeout.

COVID-19 has added even more to the list of fun like a persistent undercurrent of fear, homeschooling and juggling professional demands while making sure your Wi-Fi doesn’t poop out. In this world we are living in, most of us have a general sense of uncertainty. These things cause compounded stress and anxiety for adults and kids alike. There’s little reprieve because the sanctuaries that offered us a safe haven on the toughest days have become our everything.

We can’t change what’s happening in the world around us. We ​can change​ how we choose to respond, and we can teach our kids the same. Pause here. Think about how much easier the flow of your day would be if you could keep the fire breathing dragon in its lair. Think about a day without your kids becoming molten lava during a meltdown. That’s powerful, life-changing stuff.

The key to the kingdom is ​mindfulness ​- a practice that’s been around for about 2500 years. Mindfulness is not about checking out. It’s about ​checking in. ​I first learned about mindfulness 26 years ago in my first yoga class. My teacher opened the class by saying, “Yoga is great, but mindfulness will change your life.” It turns out she was right. Neuroscientists and researchers alike are continually validating the power of this practice as it relates to overall well-being.

Mindfulness is about moment to moment awareness. We’re talking Jedi focus awareness. In that awareness, we become more connected with our “inside” selves and more able to positively respond to “outside” things that cause us to feel stressed, angry or frustrated. In my experience, creating a mindfulness practice is one of the most important skills you can teach your kids. It’s right up there with teaching them kindness, how to share, potty training and feeding themselves. Learning how to ​breathe on purpose​ and be still is the first step. In simplest terms, it’s about changing timeout to “time in” to help you and your kids navigate the challenges of real-life with a greater sense of ease and joy.

When we become stressed, angry, frustrated, afraid or overwhelmed, our nervous system goes into high alert mode. If we respond to everyday challenges from that place, the dragon and dervish appear. Mindfulness soothes the nervous system. It cools the “fire” that leads to temper tantrums and adult meltdowns. It focuses the mind and creates space for people (no matter their age) to respond more calmly and with more kindness, creating ease, joy and trust for everyone. Mindfulness is the access point for applying the social skills we need to develop meaningful relationships. It builds resilience that we all need to cope with life’s challenges, and it improves overall health. Lastly, it’s one of the greatest things we can share with our kids. In this mindset of awareness, we have the clarity to love without condition, forgive easily, understand one another and create a way of ​being ​together. It’s a tool you and your kids can take with you throughout your entire lives that will enable you to experience everything around you more fully.

anxious child
Read Next | This Is How Breathing Techniques Can Reduce Anxiety in Children

Creating your own mindfulness practice

You don’t need to go to a special place or wear special clothes to practice mindfulness. It’s a real tool for real people, navigating real life. What you do need is a ​commitment to consistency​. Think of it like building a muscle; repetition is the key. Here are four easy steps to help you and your kids create a daily mindfulness practice.

Start breathing with your kids.

This is the most crucial step. Sit quietly together. Close your eyes. Inhale through your nose and count to four, slowly. Exhale the same way. Do this together for six breaths. Open your eyes and talk about how you feel.

Focus your mind.

Take six more breaths only this time, choose something to focus your thoughts on; for instance, your favorite color. As you breathe in and out, think of something you love, that’s the same color. Blue could be the ocean or the sky. Yellow could be the sun. Red could be an apple. You get the idea. Stilling the mind leads helps us think and choose more clearly.

Create “time in” together throughout the day.

Breathe together first thing in the morning. Breathe together again at lunchtime, at the end of the school/workday and before bedtime at night. These frequent “time in” sessions send messages of calm to the nervous system.

Make an agreement.

Talk about how we all feel frustrated, angry, scared and stressed sometimes. When those feelings pop up, agree to take four deep breaths before either of you respond. This will turn meltdowns into opportunities to learn from each other.

Mindfulness is a process that takes time. Every moment will not be perfect. The dragon and the dervish may debut from time to time, but with consistent practice, you and your kids will begin to reap the host of benefits that this powerful practice offers and have more fun together along the way.

Cole Baker-Bagwell is a proud Momma, an unapologetic free spirit and the Founder of Cool Audrey™. She’s successfully survived the real juggle that comes from balancing, parenthood, family life, sex life, self care and a corporate career for the last two decades. She credits her 26 year practice of mindfulness for the sanity and joy she experiences in her life- even on the toughest days. She believes in living a life that is authentic, courageous and kind. Cole lives in Raleigh, NC with her husband Andrew and their two pups, June Bug and Ollie. You can find her on Instagram at @coolaudreyraleigh.

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