The Mindful Family

Last week, I had one of those days. You know the ones… where nothing seems to be going right and the harder you try to fix it, the worse it gets. Thankfully, just as I was about to go off the deep end I received a gentle reminder from a friend:breatheAaah, the missing link of the day: mindfulness. I took a deep breath. And another. I began to just pay attention to the moment.  Slowly, I calmed down and allowed myself to move through the rest of the day, challenge-to-challenge and moment-to-moment.  If you aren’t familiar with mindfulness, here’s my favorite description:

“Mindfulness is cultivated by paying attention on purpose, deeply, and without judgment to whatever arises in the present moment, either inside or outside of us.”  – UCSD Center for Mindfulness

In the craziness of our everyday lives it can be easy to get caught up in the spiral of stress, frustration and anxiety. With mindfulness as a daily tool it becomes easier to allow things to just be.  It’s a skill that kids and adults can easily learn and incorporate into their daily lives. Here are some simple and fun ways to begin.

Breathe Mindfully: The simple act of tuning into the gentle rhythm of your breath can have an immediate calming effect. Alongside your kids, try this experiment: everyone grab their favorite stuffed animal and find a cozy spot on the floor. Lie down on your backs with the animals on your bellies and see how different breathing (into your chest vs. your belly) takes your little animal on a fun ride. This helps give everyone a visual for where the air goes when you breathe. Deeper, fuller breathing brings the air all the way down into the belly and brings calm and relaxation with it. Or play around with blowing bubbles to illustrate how a little focus is necessary to fully exhale and create some space for breathing in. Remember the breathing out is just as important as the breathing in.

Think Mindfully: Left unchecked our thoughts can take us down some pretty treacherous roads. When I’m tired and not thinking mindfully I sometimes find myself in a downward spiral of thoughts like this one: “I can’t believe I just yelled at my daughter for THAT. Ugh, that totally backfired, now we are all upset! I should know better. I’m a horrible mother.” If I were thinking mindfully, I could acknowledge my misstep, repair it with my child and move on instead of allowing my thoughts to take me down a road that is helpful for no one. To take “thinking mindfully” a step further, you may want to try out some simple meditations. Here are a few easy mindfulness meditations for adults from the UCLA Semel Institute. And for kids, see the podcasts on Susan Kaiser Greenland’s resource page.

Do Mindfully: There are so many things we do on a daily basis without really thinking about it. We organize our to do lists, distribute snacks and entertain our kids with silly songs often while navigating traffic. No wonder many of us feel overwhelmed, unsatisfied and stressed! I bet we could get a lot more enjoyment out of our daily tasks and feel better about the outcome if we slowed down and did things mindfully – one thing at a timeTry this eating mindfully experiment as a family. Slow down and experience a meal with all five senses. Talk about how each family member experiences the color and crunch of the carrot, the scent and sweetness of the grape.  Treasure how each person’s mindful experience is unique.  It’s also a great way to connect as a family and develop more appreciation for the cook!

I hope these few tips will encourage mindfulness in your family’s daily lives. Thankfully, it’s not something that needs its own New Year’s resolution.  It’s easy. Try to find places in your existing day to slow down and incorporate a little mindfulness. The more you practice, the easier and more beneficial it becomes.

And if you are thirsty for a little more, check out two of my favorite mindfulness resources for families.

The Mindful Child by Susan Kaiser Greenland
Mindful Motherhood by Cassandra Vieten, Ph.D.

Robin Starkey Harpster, MA is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (MFC 41937) and Coordinator of the Programs for New and Young Families at the Institute for Girls’ Development in Pasadena, CA. Robin can be reached directly by email at RHarpster@InstituteForGirlsDevelopment.com. Follow her on Twitterrharpstermft

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