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Breathe in the New Year!

Breathe in the New Year!

Parenting is hard enough, but add in the challenge of a child with delay or disability and your tough job becomes almost insurmountable. Steady breathing, and a calm demeanor are not often attributed to parents of young children. Our children actually take our breath away when they act upon impulse or attempt a new challenge that puts them in danger. Of course the same is true when they accomplish something new or when they just crawl into our laps (and hearts) for some love. Our breath is actually tied to our children’s daily activity and to stop and think about breathing or centering our mind and body may seem unrealistic or a waste of our precious time. Rather than waste your time,however, daily mindfulness will increase your positive time with your child and your entire family.

Mindful breathing creates a calm and offers us a way to respond to life rather than react. It allows us time to be present for the moments that matter and to hold them for reflection before they become just a memory. Mindfulness teaches us to be kind and more importantly, teaches our children about self -regulation. If we practice mindfulness daily our children will learn from our model, and be more receptive to the needs of others. Jon Kabat –Zinn tells us, “It’s about living your life as if it really mattered, moment by moment by moment by moment.” Living in the moment rather than getting through the day will increase your ability to be there for your child.

Begin with small changes to your day. Wake up to 5 long calm breaths, breathing in through your nose and out slowly through your mouth. Think of something positive and hold on to that as you breathe. Sometime later in the day, model purposeful breaths in front of your child and explain why you are doing it. Make sure you are comfortable and with no distractions ( cell phones, TV etc..). These practice sessions will be helpful when either you or your child are beginning to have a meltdown and need to find your center. Breathing will give you the time to make better decisions and will give your child a method to regain composure or regulate themselves.

Research from Dr. Kimberly Schonert Reichi found that children who practiced mindfulness had positive outcomes as they entered school. Concentration and interpersonal skills increased as did reading scores.

As we begin the new year, reflection on our old parenting methods might bring about change in the way we look at our challenges. Change can be difficult but once we begin to see the positive outcomes, mindful breathing may become part of our daily lives.

For more information:, and Mindful Discipline by Shapiro and White.

Calming Big Emotions

Calming Big Emotions

All young children have big emotions. We can see these big emotions and experience them first hand when our children tantrum or have meltdowns. Our children, however, don’t often know that they are experiencing emotions. What they do know is how they feel: bad! The overwhelming feeling of a strong emotion that begins deep inside and needs to come out is scary for children. Letting them know that we all have emotions, naming them and allowing them to understand that the feeling will pass, will help those emotions calm sooner. Ignoring or minimizing the emotion is not helpful and may in fact create confusion which will lead to more emotions.

Then how can we as parents help our children when the big emotions come? Christie Burnett editor of Childhood 101 reminds us that, “Often it is when our children are having the most trouble keeping their cool that we also lose ours. Being prepared with a strategy for helping children through those times when they are experiencing big or overwhelming emotions such as anger, frustration, jealousy or embarrassment, is one way to help both you and them to work through those emotions more effectively.”

First, we can start during a relatively calm time of day and add a strategy that may help when the big emotions strike. Mindfulness breathing is a technique that works with all ages. Jon Kabat- Zinn a researcher form U.Mass Medical Center often considered the father of stress management in adults, has many techniques that can be adapted for our children. Remember our children want to be like us… so if we are calm in times of turmoil they will be more apt to do that as well. Conversely, when we allow our emotions to control us, our children may find regulation more difficult.

Families can create a calm down area that is soft, quiet and safe for the entire family. Parents can model their calming techniques like:

  • Slow breathing: Take 4 or 5 deep breaths through your nose and exhale out your mouth. Do this obviously 2x a day; explaining that you are taking calming breaths. Your children will try to imitate you, and when they need to calm down they will have practiced this type of breathing. Try exhaling like a snake or a bee or pretend to blow out birthday candles to motivate your child to try!

  • Positive thoughts (no judgments): Say, “I am the best parent I can be!” or “ There is no behavior I can change but my own.” Or “ I am capable of doing this!” ( don’t allow those nagging doubts to creep in as you say this to yourself.)

  • Using mind jars, and or calming objects that help us center our bodies and regulate our emotions.

  • Incorporate yoga poses daily to help you calm/ watch as your child tries too!

These strategies practiced over time will help everyone attend more, react less and problem solve after the emotional turmoil ends. The goal is to lessen the effect of the big emotions, not end them. Emotions are beneficial to building social emotional competence.

Young children can learn to better regulate, but will continue to have big emotions. For them the calming spot will offer a safe place to allow the emotion to rise and fall and learn that it will eventually calm. Parents will be there to help build understanding.

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