Increased focus and attention. Better sleep. Reduced stress, anxiety, and depression. Happier kids, and calmer parents. It can seem like a pipe dream for parents of Complex children. I know I thought so, once upon a time. But we can start making these things a reality. How? Mindfulness.
While certainly not a fix-all for all the symptoms and challenges, practicing mindfulness can help lighten the load we face every day. With mindfulness, you might not be living the dream all day, every day – what fun would that be!? But you will see a remarkable difference in yourself and your kids.
Starting a Mindfulness Practice
Mindfulness doesn't need to be mystical or complex: it is simply focusing your attention on the present and increasing awareness. The big question: How?! A few paths to consider:
- Breathing exercises
It's not the specific method that matters; it's about finding a way to get out of your head and quiet the distractions. This will be different for everyone.
The keyword to mindfulness is “practice.” You're not going to be able to meditate for an hour your first time. You may not be able to meditate for five minutes your first time! That's ok. Take small steps. Literally! If you or your child can't sit still, try a meditation walk.
I started my own mindfulness practice by making the commitment to be completely there. Not all the time – I'm only human! – but in manageable chunks. I decided that each day in the shower, I would be absolutely present: I'd feel the soap on my skin, smell the shampoo, listen to the water rushing. This way, I quiet the distractions, worries, and anxieties that otherwise swirl through my head. Now that's a refreshing shower!
That's what mindfulness is: letting go of all the “stuff” that can drag you down and sap your energy. It enables you to reduce stress and increase focus, to be a calmer, more responsive parent.
Helping Your Kid Practice Mindfulness
Research shows that practicing mindfulness has powerful benefits for children (especially complex ones!) . How can you encourage your kids become more present and aware of themselves?
- Start with yourself. How did you teach your child to talk? By talking to her and around her. It's the same with mindfulness: you teach by example. Many parents have their own practice. If not, cultivate one. Start in the shower! Or set aside 5 minutes to meditate.
- Let your kids see you practice. When you have a mindfulness strategy or practice, let your kids see it. If, for instance, you feel your stress level rising, say, “Wait a second, honey. I'm going to take a deep breath and calm down because I feel myself getting upset.” Mindfulness can be as simple as taking deep breaths or waiting a few seconds before responding to a situation. Whatever you do, make sure you share it clearly with your children.
- Involve them. Keep it simple. You could, for instance, sit quietly all together for 5 minutes in the morning. If bedtime is a struggle or your child has sleep difficulties, try setting aside time each evening for relaxing with soothing music. The great part is that, as your child grows, she can take these techniques and adapt them to her developmental level.
Increased mindfulness can help your kid become more aware of when she's getting off-balance, and ideally add a step before an emotional outburst. Most of our kids go from 0 to 60 in no time flat. With mindful awareness, she may get to 20 and realize, “Wait, I'm upset. I need to stop and breathe.”
When she has a clearer brain, she can tap into her executive function in a way that is not accessible when she's completely overwhelmed and stressed. She can tap into emotional regulation and behavior management. Not at first, perhaps, but with regular practice, she'll get there.
Remember that this is a process, not an endpoint. Try different approaches and see what works. The goal is not to develop your kid into a master yogi or a Tibetan monk; it's to help her manage her stress or emotions in a healthy way, and become more aware of what's going on around her.
Does practice make perfect? No! But practicing mindfulness does create powerful changes for the whole family. Life won't be perfect; there'll be bumps, bruises, twists, and turns. But you, and your kids, will be much better equipped to handle them.
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