A heart to heart with my daughter
One morning this week, I had a lengthy discussion with one of my daughters about breathing. She loves to take deep breaths, however they’re quite audible, which is making her a target for criticism at school. I asked her why she likes taking such deep, audible breaths, but she couldn’t quite name a reason why. I suggested she consider some ideas to see if they fit her situation… Do you simply like the ‘sigh of relief,’ the feeling of release you get from a deep breath? Are you feeling anxious? Are you nervous about something at school? Do you feel any pressure in your chest?
For the moment, we’ve resolved that it’s stress related. Teenagers lead very intense lives, inside and out. However, this conversation opened the door for a deeper discussion about breath, its effects (both positive and negative), and how to use it to feel better.
Stressful situations and the status quo
Finding moments of mindfulness is easier than some might think. However, in today’s world of constant notifications and “news” alerts, it can be difficult to turn down all of the external stimuli around us. This is especially true in kids these days, with their plethora of electronic devices and unlimited internet access. Kids, as well as many adults, begin to feel anxious or encounter a stressful situation and they immediately turn away from themselves and what they’re feeling. Instead, they switch their attention to their phones, iPods, or another distraction, and tune out what’s bothering them. Or worse, they turn to drugs or acts of physical harm when life gets to be too much. While these may be ways of redirecting attention and dealing with stress, they are certainly not the best. Because in essence, you’re ignoring your feelings, running away from them, hoping they’ll just go away. But for those feelings and thoughts to “go away,” they need to be acknowledged. Take a step back and “see” the thought. Let it have its say and notice how it makes you feel, then let it go. Be the observer. Not the reactor.
Life is full of ups and downs. Everyone gets hurt, including kids, whether it’s a scraping of the knee, a broken bone, or a broken heart. Feeling pain is a part of life. Without it, we are unable to appreciate the feelings of joy and delight. It sounds cliche, but it’s true. To fully know warmth, we must experience the absence of it. And to consciously, deliberately, experience the absence of warmth, joy, happiness, or love, we must tune in to those times when we are stressed or worried – those times when we are unhappy or sad – those times when we want to run away because the present moment is so painful.
Pay attention to your feelings
There are many ways to turn down the mind chatter, to tune in and acknowledge thoughts in order to let them go. For young children, it could be playing with stuffed animals or building blocks until they’re ready to talk or move onto another activity. For a frustrated teen, it could be sitting in their room listening to favorite songs until they feel comfortable enough to engage with others. For a parent, it could be taking a moment or two to breathe, walk outside, or engage in a physical activity. When we focus on one activity, one thing, everything else tends to quiet down in the background.
But no matter how we find that moment of mindfulness, we feel better afterwards. We feel calmer and more at peace with the situation. Acknowledging and accepting something as it is doesn’t mean we agree it’s okay in our book of morals and values. Accepting a stressful moment and noticing the feelings it draws up inside of us means we are in check with ourselves and are unwilling to let a situation dictate our emotions, unwilling to let thoughts drive worry and fear into our decision making processes and actions.
The world is not always a nice and loving place, even for children, unfortunately. However, learning to overcome adversity is one of life’s biggest lessons. If one can find the lesson in hard times, then one can grow and recognize challenges as teachers. Tuning in, instead of tuning out, builds emotional intelligence.
Psychological studies have been done on mindfulness and how it develops what is called “flourishing” – the opposite of depression, disengagement, avoidance. Mindfulness boosts happiness, increases curiosity, reduces anxiety, soothes emotions from trauma, and helps everyone (kids and adults, alike) focus and make better choices.
In many ways, being mindful goes against the mainstream in today’s society. We’re taught to tune out, turn away from what’s bothering us, think positive, act like it’s okay until it is okay. It’s no wonder our children have a difficult time dealing with stress. They’re not stopping to recognize how it makes them feel, in order to find ways to deal with it. But by practicing mindfulness, we can teach our kids (and remind ourselves) that every situation eventually comes to an end. Every human emotion evolves into another; pleasant or unpleasant – it all changes. That’s the nature of the universe. Everything passes. And it’s okay. Becoming aware of your thoughts and feelings builds emotional intelligence and promotes healthy kids and relationships.
Ways to find bits of mindfulness
If you feel you don’t have time to help your child find moments of mindfulness, here are some suggestions.
- Those few moments before falling asleep or just after you awake.
- Walking into school.
- Looking at the morning or night sky.
- Waiting in a line.
- Feeling the wind brush your skin.
- Sitting on a bus.
- Hearing birds chirp.
- Waiting for the school bell to ring.
- Brushing your teeth.
- Hugging or cuddling with someone.
It doesn’t have to be 20 minutes of meditation or concentrated attention. It can be just a moment or two. Start with breath acknowledgement. Feel your breath. Breathe in for a count of 4 and out for a count of 4. Have them repeat that rhythm a few times, then ask them to notice how they’re feeling. But most importantly, explain the need to be patient. Just breathe and feel. Step back as an observer in the mind and notice the thoughts – picture them floating by from one side of the brain to the other, without any judgement.
We are not the sum of our thoughts nor are we defined by a single thought. I am me. And you are you. Thoughts are just tools to help us figure out situations.
Perhaps, next time you find yourself disengaging from a stressful situation, breathe and take notice. What are you trying to avoid? These are the moments to check in and take a step back to the observation booth in your mind. Let the monkey mind wander and do its thing until it settles. Eventually, it will. Rough waters always smooth out, in time.
Here’s an audio from Alan Watts to further explain mind chatter or the vicious cycle of thoughts and worries … https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=emHAoQGoQic
I’d love to hear your story. When do you find little moments in the day to check in with yourself and the world around you?