Our kids sure can push our buttons! Here, a mom and mindfulness expert offers a 5-step strategy to break the cycle of scolding and find family peace.
By Laura Quaglio
“Mindfulness isn’t really for times when everyone’s happy. It’s a tool for dealing with breakdown,” says Michelle Wing, founder of the San Francisco studio It’s Yoga, Kids, located in the Presidio. “It allows us to push the pause button.” When something stressful happens, Michelle offers these steps: Stop! Breathe. Think. Choose love. Act.
Maybe your child just whacked her little brother because he had her toy. Or perhaps the kids are wrangling over the last cookie or control of the remote. When you feel that tension building up in your body, put Michelle’s steps into practice using the guidelines below. This process is just as useful kids as it is for adults, so teach it to your children, too!
Ask yourself, “What am I feeling right now?” Pay attention to how stress is affecting you physically. Is it making your shoulders hunch and tighten? Your brow furrow? Your heart “squeeze”? Awareness is the first step in dealing with a tough situation in a mindful way, rather than falling victim to responding with a knee-jerk reaction.
Take deep breaths, focusing on exhaling forcefully. “I mean really, really big, exaggerated breaths. It takes three breaths — a full 15 minutes – for cortisol [a stress hormone] to settle down in the body,” says Michelle. Fun fact: This is why the British make tea when they’re facing a tense situation, says Michelle. Preparing tea “properly” takes 15 minutes, she explains, which gives everyone time to calm down.
“Accept the current situation without judgment,” says Michelle. It’s like being a reporter. You might say, “You hit your little brother because he had your toy and you feel angry.” If you did yell, you might add, “And I yelled at you, and that didn’t feel good, did it?” We need to state the facts about what just happened so we don’t let our brains trick us into thinking that “didn’t just happen,” she says. “We want to tell ourselves, ‘Oh, she didn’t really hit her brother on purpose.’ But she did, and now we have to deal with it and figure out why.”
4. Choose love.
Michelle says that this is not the time to admonish. “Every outburst and every stressful moment is deeply rooted in fear,” she asserts. “If you choose love, it will make your next actions more beneficial.” When our kids do something “wrong,” we often know why. More likely than not, it’s because one child feels like they’re not getting enough attention. Or they’re competing for resources like food or a toy. Think about the times that we, as adults, do something that’s not particularly nice, such as when we snap at our spouse. It’s not because we’re bad people, and neither are our kids. We’re just not getting something that we need, and it’s making us scared and upset.
Keeping step 4 in mind, decide what to do next. If a child did something wrong, reinforce the rule. We don’t hit. Hitting is not okay. Then ask: What is it you need? Or: Do you need a hug? Remind your child that if they need a hug or they want their toy back, they can just ask for it. Also try to handle future situations differently. Maybe you will tell your older child that you’ll always be sure to hug her before you pick up the baby. Or maybe you will ask your older child to help you give the baby a big hug. The more loved a child feels, the more secure they will be and the less they will act out in the future.
What if you’re the one who needs a little forgiving? Treat yourself with love, too, and try to figure out what it is that your inner, fearful child needs. Then ask for it. The more you feel loved, the happier you will be too.
Find “Mindful” Activities for Your Kids
Yoga classes offer plenty of additional benefits to mind, body, and soul. To find local after school yoga instruction for your children, visit ActivityHero.