Who can ever forget the Staples commercial where the mom is joyfully tossing school supplies into the air and catching them in the shopping cart, while the kids drag their feet behind her. All the while the classic Christmas song, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” is playing in the background.
It’s a running joke among mothers of school aged children that the summer is so long, in fact some would say, too long and many can’t wait for school to start again. There is some truth to the peace that a consistent schedule provides, for mama and littles alike. A sense of calm that does not always accompany the spontaneity and chaos of summer. But, for many of us that dreamlike state doesn’t last long as the activities and demands of the school year take hold and the stress of the household rises.
What can we do to prepare and keep the peace? Believe it or not, there are some things besides early bedtimes and a glass of wine that can balance out even the most intense reactions to this transitional time of year. Mindfulness is a wonderful tool to use within families to help cultivate awareness. There is so much more to being mindful than the idea of sitting still and mediating on a fancy cushion. Starting this school year out with intention may present things in a new and refreshing way. Remembering to JUST BREATHE can help encourage a pause and keep hairy behaviors to a minimum.
Schedules in our world these days are overwhelming, at best. Take some time to assess the wants and needs of your family before adding more commitments, sports and clubs to your calendar. Diving into the cultural ideals that children should be getting ahead by being overscheduled only increases the intensity and anxiety inside our homes. With four kids in our home it is just not possible to allow everyone to do everything they want to do in the way of extracurriculars. When we adopted a “say yes” mentality it created more chaos, a constant divide and conquer between my husband and I and increase sibling rivalry. When the family was together it was difficult for everyone to understand their role and work as a team. Saying no more often allowed us to say yes to family bonding while also saving time, money and stress.
So often the reminder that my children are not little adults creeps into my frame of reference and for that I am grateful. We don’t know what we don’t know and that can make understanding a bit of a challenge. Two of our four children have special needs, specifically in the way of learning disabilities, mental health and behavior challenges. Taking the approach of understanding can make all the difference with the many moving parts that make up this transitional season.
This can be described in many different ways by in the most basic sense, self-regulation refers to the ability to control one’s behavior, thoughts and emotions, in the pursuit of a long term goal. If we break it down even more it tends to focus on the ability to manage the disruptive emotions and impulses, and this can refer to both parent and child. Incorporating breathing techniques and some mindful movement as a family can help equip everyone with the skills needed to begin to self-regulate in challenging situations. (thoughts on adding some images here?)
Take Your Time
Have you ever watched your child when they are involved in a task that they love? When we, as parents, are rushing to make the time schedule, our stress level rises and our patience level diminishes. Giving yourself and your family more time then you think you will need allows you move more mindfully and enjoy the journey all that much more. Making a special time to spend together for focused attention, to really listen and make eye contact. Cutting back on evening activities has allowed this to happen for our family at dinner time. Everyone takes a turn going around the table sharing their “Peaches and Pits.” The peach is the good part of their day, the highlight if you will, and the pit is something that wasn’t so great. We can then take some time reframing the pit to appear a bit more peachy. It can be a time consuming activity but allows for brainstorming, teamwork and the expansion of growth mindsets all around.
Research tells us that taking deep breaths is beneficial for our health and stress management. Deep breathing exercises can calm the parasympathetic nervous system, slow the heart rate and lower or stabilize blood pressure. It allows us to feel calm and therefore, more clearheaded, which is extremely helpful for parents and children alike. If your kids are anything like mine, they love talking to Alexa, asking her to tell jokes or sing them a song. You can even ask Alexa to take you through a deep breathing exercise. There are so many great resources for kids to learn to control their breath and in term their nervous system. This skill is essential and unfortunately not innate.
Respond vs. React
When we take a moment to pause, take a deep breath, we are much more able to respond to a situation then react to it. The other morning felt like a success as my three girls were already off to middle school and I had plenty of time to get my son ready for the day. I called him upstairs to take his “1st day of 2nd grade” photo, only to discover he was covered in red paint, which I initially thought was blood. Needless to say, my breathwork came in handy as I took a pause to assess the situation, promptly assisted in the removal of the paint clothes (complete with the reassurance that we would shout it out to avoid a bigger meltdown since the shark shorts were all he ever wanted to wear) and the retrieval of a new outfit, in a calm and efficient manner. I am confident that the less mindful me would have had a little meltdown myself, resulting in driving to school rather than catching the bus.
There are many great books, card decks, songs and even aps that can help engage your entire family in the effort to incorporate mindfulness into your everyday. Consider starting a challenge to participate in one mindful activity for an entire week and then find a time to celebrate. Maybe do yoga together or read a book about breathing techniques and try a new one each morning at breakfast. You could spend some time creating a special space in the house that encourages calming down or meditate together with the help of an ap. Our family made some crafts, such as a mind jars and breathing beads to continue to build the self-regulation tool box.
As parents we are always learning; from our children, from books or podcasts and even from others on this same journey. We especially learn from our mistakes; but even more than that, we can’t unlearn what we now know. As you become more and more aware of how your family operates, what stressors trigger your children and what it feels like to take a pause, you will be more inclined to work with that information for the greater good. Being aware allows you to be present and mindful of how to make the most of any situation.
Our children are always watching. What we do in certain situations, how we talk to people, where we spend our energy, they are logging it all. If we can teach them how to pause, breath, move with intention and be aware, we are creating teachable moments that serve as models for the world. Bring yourself back to this intention when things get rough.
Taking these steps as a parent and modeling them for your children provides a message of hope and healing. So many of us are carrying around trauma that lives in our bodies and can manifest into negative thought patterns, poor behavior choices and even physical pain. We have the power to stop the cycle and change the next generation through mindful awareness. By allowing our children to understand themselves and their emotions, while encouraging them to be mindful about how those emotions feel in their bodies, we can then equip them with tangible and duplicatable tools for appropriate expression of those feelings.
Learning these tools and implementing them does not just affect us and our children. It will have an impact on anyone that comes in contact with your family. Your children will teach breathing techniques or yoga poses to their friends to help them deal with difficult emotions. Your patience in line at the grocery store can change the day for the cashier. The way a crisis is deal with can be modeled and instilled in others. Sharing your experience with mindfulness can be a ripple of change to other parents struggling to make connections in this high paced, never enough culture.
So when all the plates are in the air and it feels messy and a bit out of hand, remember, you can do hard things. JUST BREATHE, you are a gardener, planting seeds for a beautiful new harvest of humanity.
Jennifer Csordas is a military wife and mom of four amazing children. She works full time as a Business Development Manager supporting, training and encouraging entrepreneurs to build a business of their dreams. Jenn teaches yoga and mindfulness to children in the Lehigh Valley, particularly in school settings and at local studios, as it is her heart work to empower them with the tools to be their best selves. Her own entrepreneurial dream is to open a facility where alternative therapies; art, music, writing and creative movement, are provided for children on an outpatient basis. She believes whole-heartedly in the concept that it is easier to build strong children than to repair broken adults.