Archive of ‘Back to School’ category

Mindfulness for Kids: Embracing the Power of Nature

Ahhh it’s FINALLY that time of year when it finally doesn’t feel like a million degrees outside or that you’re swimming in the humidity every time you walk out the door. This year especially, going outside feels particularly powerful and therapeutic (for most – I recognize that this might not be everyone’s experience of nature!).  As Hippocrates once said “Nature itself is the best physician.”  But how exactly does going outdoors help us?  Getting outside activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps us and our bodies to feel calm.  It also provides a great landscape to practice mindfulness (paying attention to the present moment on purpose) by providing a fun, ever changing sensory experience (i.e. bird song, leaves rustling, changing colors with the seasons).  It can help children develop and enhance focus/attentional skills and promote feelings of calmness and relaxation. 

Mindfulness Activities

With that, here are some suggested activities to do outdoors with kiddos. (Note: all activities were found and inspired by the book Mindfulness and Nature-Based Therapeutic Techniques for Children by Cheryl Fisher, PhD., NCC, LCPC, ACS)

Color Walk

Purpose: Helps children to focus attention and be present in the moment as they look and match color cards to natural items! 

Supplies: Squares of color (paint samples or you can create your own!)

  1. Choose a color from your deck of color “cards” and hold onto it as you walk.
  2. Set a timer for 10 minutes.  As you begin to walk, look all around and notice all the things that are similar in color to your card.
  3. As you notice something, share it out loud or quietly say it to yourself.
  4. When the timer is done, stop and select another color from the deck and repeat the steps! 
  5. You can follow up with your child at the end of the walk with questions such as: 
    1. “How was it to focus on your card?”
    2. “What surprised you about this?”
    3. “What did you notice?” 

You can adapt this activity to fit the needs of your child.  For example, ten minutes may seem challenging (which is understandable)! Start with setting the timer at 3-5 minutes and work on increasing the time.  It doesn’t matter how many cards you are able to complete-the goals is to develop attentional skills at a safe pace 🙂 

Tabletop Sand Garden

Purpose: To calm and focus the mind by creating a natural scene or environment in the sand box.

Supplies: Tupperware or plastic container with lid filled with sand, bag, natural items found in walk.

  1. Start by taking a walk in nature.  Instruct your child to collect natural items that stand out to them (preferably ones that are not picked but lying on the ground already).
  2. Once your child has collected items, open the sand container.  Place and arrange the natural items to create a scene or a design.  
  3. Follow up with questions such as: 
    1. “How was that for you?”
    2. “How did your mind/body feel while you were creating your scene?” 
    3. “What does this mean to you?”

4.  Once they have time to reflect, take the natural items and ask your child to replace the natural items in a place they choose outdoors. 

If I were a Tree…

Purpose: Art activity to help children express themselves through a natural symbol.

Supplies: Paper, coloring utensil (markers, crayons, pencils, etc.)

  1. Find a spot in nature
  2. Close your eyes and imagine you are a tree
  3. Consider the following questions and read out loud to your child: 
    1. What kind of tree would you be? 
    2. Are you a young tree or an old tree? 
    3. Do you have flowers or fruit?
    4. How do animals live around you?
    5. Do you have deep roots? 

4.  Draw your picture of the tree using paper and coloring materials 

5. Consider follow-up/reflection with prompt such as “Tell me about your creation.”  

Sound Mapping

Purpose: Enhance listening skills for attention and body/spatial awareness

Supplies: Large piece of paper, tape, cardboard, pencil

  1. Find a place outdoors that feels safe.  Put the piece of paper in front of you and secure it by either taping it to a wall (if there is one) or by taping it to cardboard.  
  2. Close your eyes and begin to listen to noises around you.  Take your pencil and “map” out the sounds you hear and draw symbolically what they sound like to you (for example: maybe you hear birds chirping in front of you and you place it on the top of the paper with symbols).
  3. Map all sounds around you with shapes, lines, symbols to create a “sound symphony.” 
  4. Once completed, open your eyes and title your piece.
  5. You can reflect with your child with suggested questions such as: 
    1. “What was that like?”
    2. “Were some sounds easier to recognize? Were some harder to recognize?” 
    3. “What surprised you about your map when you opened your eyes?” 

Each of these activities can be modified to fit the needs of each child/teen completing them.  Part of the process is to be with what unfolds, so if the activities don’t go exactly as planned, that is OK! Mindfulness is a practice that is ever-evolving. 

While I hope these provide a way to harness nature’s power,  my greater hope is that it gives you a fun bonding opportunity with your kiddos in the midst of a challenging time.  Parenting is HARD and I see and value you, parents.  Happy exploring, friends! 

Presley Pacholick, LCSW
Written By: Presley Pacholick, LCSW, RPT


How to Fight *Fairly

As we continue to live in a socially distant world, we may be finding ourselves spending more time with our partners and/or family members, inevitably increasing the likelihood of conflict and/or miscommunication. 

Conflict in relationships is normal — the way we choose to “fight” defines whether or not the conflict is healthy or unhealthy. 

Here are some tips for fighting fairly with your loved ones:

Start with curiosity versus judgment – notice the conflict cycle. Ask yourself:

  1. What role am I playing in the conflict? Notice how you are usually reacting – defensiveness? Yelling? Walking away? What could your reaction be telling you? Is a boundary of yours being crossed? Are you carrying a responsibility that you don’t need to? Be curious about your reactions by simply noticing them versus judging them or being hard on yourself – you’re human!
  2. What headspace am I in when entering a conversation with my loved one that turns into conflict? Chances are you may be entering into important conversations while already feeling dysregulated from the day – lots of work calls, managing the kids new online school, running errands (let’s be real – we all have a lot going on as we continue to  adjust to life in a pandemic). Start with taking some time to take care of yourself – this can be something you do for 5 minutes of the day to an hour!
  3. When are my loved one and I usually having these conversations that turn into conflict? Set a time for important conversations so you both have time to regulate before entering the conversation.

Reframe. View the goal of conversations as finding a solution to the problem versus winning. 

  1. You and loved one versus the issue NOT you versus your loved one

Use I-statements.

The two words that often increase the likelihood of defensiveness in the person being spoken to are, “Why” and “You” when used to start a question or statement. Try the I-statement model instead, starting with how YOU are feeling versus what your loved one is DOING.

  1. “I feel ______ when ______. I need ______. What do you think?”

Repeat back what you heard BEFORE answering.

When we repeat back what we heard our loved one say first, we focus more on listening BEFORE coming up with our own response. 

  1. “I heard you say ________. Did I get that right?”

Ask for a break.

If you find yourself or your loved one escalating emotionally – name it AND choose a time to reconnect. It is impossible to have a productive conversation when we are only speaking from an emotional place – logic is no longer present.

  1. “I’m getting angry. Can we talk about this again in an hour?”

Incorporating even one of these tips into your communication pattern will inevitably change the conflict cycle you and your loved one may be engaging in.

Practice.

Practicing these tips is synonymous to learning a new language. 

Learning to communicate is difficult! Give yourself compassion as you navigate this process. Lean in to what you are needing in a healthy way. Wishing you all fair, healthy fighting! 

Written By: Sarah Shah, M.S., LPC-Intern 
Supervised by Martha Pasiminio, LPC-S


5 Ways to Find Peace When So Much is Changing

For nearly six months, our world has been swirling in a lingering state of uncertainty and change. Our normal routines were swiftly pulled from under us, and we’ve quickly had to navigate changes in our homes, our work, our income, our social interactions, and on and on.

Many of us are not moving as much these days, working from home and not driving as often.

So, why do we feel so exhausted?

Our Physiological Response

I came across a meme by Chani Nicholas the other day that read, “I’ve never done so little and been so tired.

She continued with this quote from Emily Baron Cadloff:

“Nancy Sin, assistant professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia, says that in stressful situations like this, there are physiological responses in our bodies. ‘Our stress hormones increase. We prepare to fight or flee,’ said Sin. And as this pandemic continues and isolation drags on, ‘we’re having a lot of these physiological adaptations, each time we feel stressed, each time we feel worried. And over time, these repeated hits, physiologically and psychologically, can accumulate.’ That accumulation is called the allostatic load, essentially the damage on our bodies when they’re repeatedly exposed to stress. And while it feels like I’m doing nothing most days, my brain is still dealing with the anxiety and strain of this pandemic. I’m exhausted not because my body is working hard, but because my brain is.”

Uncertainty is Exhausting

While our bodies might not be as physically active at this time and while we might not have as many places to be, we are feeling the stressors of having to quickly adapt to so much change, while simultaneously holding the truth that we don’t know when this is going to end. 

Our brains are frantically searching for certainty so we can feel safe again:

When will work go back to normal?

What will school look like for the kids?

When will I have more freedom?
When will I be able to gather with friends again?

When can I relax at the coffee shop like I used to enjoy?

When will I be able to get on an airplane to visit family without worrying?

When will it all go back to normal and will things ever be the same?

That’s a lot to carry on a daily basis without getting any clear answers.

So…

First, we need to acknowledge the immense amount our brains and bodies are holding and have compassion for ourselves. This is a lot to navigate.

Second, we need to admit that self-care is not only a good idea, but essential at this time.

What might that look like?

Here are five nourishing self-care ideas aimed to decrease anxiety and increase feelings of calm and safety.

Be mindful of the energy in your home environment.

We are all spending a lot more time at home these days. Do you enjoy your home? Is it clean? Is it comforting? Does it feel like your own personal sanctuary (or at least do pockets of it)? I currently see clients from home and have been spending the majority of my day in this house of mine. As a result, I have been mindful of treating it differently. I clean my home more often. I use a diffuser that sprays essential oils into the air. I’ve purchased some new plants to fill my space. I want my home to feel ultra peaceful and comforting. I know this isn’t always possible and can be more challenging if you have young ones at home, but are there small changes you can make to create a more enjoyable home environment?

Intentionally create personal space.

BOUNDARIES are so important right now. Before quarantine, many of us had boundaries naturally carved into our lifestyles. We’d go to work and leave the home. The kids were at school for a large majority of the day, which meant parents had some time for themselves. So many of our normal boundaries have disappeared. This means less personal time to recharge. It is so much easier when our boundaries are automatically set for us. But when you are at home with everyone ALL the time, setting boundaries can be hard. Are you able to say no to your children or partner when you need personal time? Have you found new ways to create space for yourself? This is a group effort and may require creating a new calendar with new agreements. Maybe Mom decides she is not available to the family on Tuesday afternoons. She will be in her room with the door closed because she needs to take a bath or work on her own projects. The kids know that Dad is available for them at this time. Guilt can rear its head here. “Shouldn’t I be available to my kids all the time? Will they think I don’t love them?” This is about understanding that rest and personal space are necessary in order to recharge and be able to show up well for the people around you.

Double up on support.

Be proactive about creating consistent avenues for receiving support. We all need places where we feel like we can lean back and be held. Maybe this looks like meeting on a friend’s porch for coffee and conversation, going for a morning walk in nature, or finding a therapist or therapy group where you can be vulnerable. Aim for weekly support like this (the more the better).

Get in touch with your senses.

Be mindful of bringing activities into your life that feel nurturing and grounding. Anything that helps you get out of your brain and back into your body. More cuddling. Taking a slow evening to cook a homemade meal. Preparing a candlelit bath. Going swimming. Committing to morning stretching. Getting your hands in the soil and gardening. Getting in touch with our senses is beneficial on so many levels. It slows us down, brings us back to the present moment, and regulates our nervous systems.

Connect with something deeper than circumstance.

If we look to the state of the world to determine how safe we feel right now, we’re not really setting ourselves up for success. The chaotic nature of society is not going anywhere anytime soon. This period of time is asking us to find safety in something deeper than circumstance. It is asking us to find safety in our relationships with ourselves and our relationships with others. How can you become more connected to yourself during this time? How can you be kinder to yourself? Maybe this looks like developing a meditation practice or starting to journal again or practicing any of the self-care activities I’ve mentioned here. How can you become more connected with others? Can you be more vulnerable with the people you love? How can you improve the communication in your household and find new ways to work together as a team? Are you able to find joy in the simple things again, like movie night with the family? There is beauty in this opportunity, and a lot of potential for growth as we learn new ways to be there for ourselves and others. 

No doubt, this is an unexpected time that none of us saw coming. So much change inevitably brings fear, grief, anger, stress, and fatigue. 

My hope is that you’ll acknowledge all you’ve had to navigate over these past six months and show yourself more love and compassion. Be proactive about creating the support you need right now. It’s essential, and you deserve it.

Looking for more ways to practice self-care during the pandemic? Check out this blog!

Written by: Jamie Alger, LPC-Intern Supervised By Lora Ferguson, LPC-S

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