When your child's pitching a fit or boiling with frustration, you may assume such behavior just comes with the age. And it's true that figuring out how to regulate all those raw emotions takes time. But that doesn't mean you can't teach him how to foster a more Zen attitude along the way. Start by introducing him to mindfulness, an ancient tradition that uses breathing and sensory techniques to settle jangly nerves and promote patience. A growing number of studies show that it has beneficial effects on physical health and mental well-being. One such study, conducted by Mindful Schools and University of California, Davis showed that teaching mindfulness to children improved their attention and made them calmer.
"Mindfulness teaches kids to pay attention to themselves and the world around them," says Susan Kaiser Greenland, author of The Mindful Child. Equipped with mindfulness, kids can learn to channel their impulsiveness in constructive ways.
The key to introducing mindfulness to young children is to keep it fun and light. In the examples that follow, the techniques are framed as games and in some cases toys bring the concepts to life. Keep in mind that while kids 5 and under need an adult to prompt them to use these techniques, they'll eventually develop the skills to implement them on their own. Next time you're facing a charged situation like these, give mindfulness a try.
Your 3-year-old is going through a "Daddy phase," and the time your husband spends at work is leaving her distraught.
THE MINDFUL METHOD Each night before bed, or whenever your daughter's missing her daddy, tell your child to remember a time when she felt loved by him. Then have her send some love and a kiss to him, and ask her to see if she can feel him sending love back to her. "Young children don't usually understand that they can give and receive love from someone who isn't right there with them," says Amy Saltzman, M.D., founder and director of the Association for Mindfulness in Education, a nonprofit that works to bring the practice into schools. "This exercise helps them understand that they maintain those connections even when someone is away." Sending affection in this way also cultivates the natural capacity to give and receive compassion, an important focus of mindfulness. "In our culture, we often forget to practice being loving and kind to ourselves and others, and so it's helpful to build those skills when kids are young," explains Dr. Saltzman.
Your 5-year-old worries about going to school.
THE MINDFUL METHOD When a child is upset, it helps to visually illustrate what anxiety looks like and then replace that with an image of serenity. Take out a snow globe or a glitter ball and shake it up, telling him, "This is the way our head feels when we're upset." Then tell him to watch as the flakes slowly sink to the bottom. "The time it takes for the glitter to settle is usually enough time for a kid to calm down," says Greenland. "Nerves and anxiety cloud our vision. In that state, it's especially tough for a child to handle challenges or fears." Once he's calmed down, ask your son to talk about the aspects of school that worry him most. With a clear head, school won't seem so scary--and it will be easier to get him out the door to make it to class on time.