Archive of ‘Children’ 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


What Being a Mom Taught me about Self-Care

I think I was in grad school when I first heard the term “self-care.” I remember professors stressing how important it was and then assigning 200 pages of reading and a paper. I would roll my eyes (internally, I think) and then power through the assignments and ignore the self-care. I saw it as a luxury, something that people who weren’t worried about working or going to school did. Now and then I’d paint, journal, or go for walks, but usually only when I didn’t have much going on and it happened naturally. When I was busy, I laughed it off and said I’d do that when I had free time. I could power through the busy times and then relax during the breaks. This worked more or less when I was childless, but when I became a mom I realized that naturally-occurring self-care time was never going to happen, and there was only so long that I could power through before my stress began to show.

It’s not a luxury!

When you have a tiny human depending on you for comfort and soothing, you start to realize how important your own stress level is. As my son became a toddler, this became even more clear—when I felt calm and regulated I could respond to normal (and challenging) toddler behavior with kindness, firmness, and patience, whereas when I was feeling higher levels of stress I was more likely to snap at my son or give into whatever he wanted. Neither of these were effective strategies and left me feeling guilty and ineffective.

I realized that there was no way for me to be the mom I wanted to be without prioritizing my own self-care. I still have days, weeks, and months where I forget to prioritize my self-care. Sometimes the thought of adding it to my agenda feels overwhelming. However, I now know that I have to come back to it, because if I don’t then my whole family will suffer.

You don’t need lots of time or money

Self-care doesn’t have to be time-consuming or expensive, and it can be helpful to have a few options for the different amounts of time available. For example, if you have 30 seconds you can take 3 deep breaths to calm your nervous system or light a candle with a soothing smell. If you have 1 minute, get a drink of water or step outside. If you have 5 minutes, make a cup of tea, play a quick game on your phone, or do a few yoga stretches. In 10 minutes, you could take a walk around the block, have a snack, or check in with a friend. Of course, having longer stretches of time gives you more options, but as a parent you know that’s not always realistic. 

Self-compassion is key

I also learned that self-compassion is an important part of self-care. There will be times when you aren’t the parent you want to be, and that’s OK. Just like our kids have tough days, so do we. “Feeling compassion for ourselves in no way releases us from responsibility for our actions. Rather, it releases us from the self-hatred that prevents us from responding to our life with clarity and balance.” -Tara Brach 

We won’t always act our best, but if we can treat ourselves with kindness we can let go of some of the guilt, stop beating ourselves up, and instead focus our energy on showing up for our families. And, whenever you do mess up, there’s always the opportunity to repair and maybe even strengthen your relationship with your child. When you take responsibility for your mistakes and make a plan for doing better next time, you are teaching your child that yes, you make mistakes, but you care enough about your relationship to own up to it and try harder next time. 

Living through a pandemic is hard, and parents have so many demands on their time and energy! It may feel impossible to do it all and still take care of yourself, but I assure you that you deserve that care, now more than ever! 

Written by: Magdalen Marrone, LCSW


Find Your Peace in a Calm Down Place

Toddlers have a funny way of outwardly showing how most of us feel inwardly, especially lately. I am sure most of you experience the toddler meltdown that can come simply from blocks falling over, to a sibling touching their favorite toy, to not liking how you cut up their sandwich. We all have a mental picture of what this moment looks like, right?

After many of these moments happening at my house, I decided to implement something I teach to other kids and families often. The idea of a calm down place. The idea is as simple as it sounds. It is a tool used in schools often, and it can easily be adapted to your specific home setting. 

Cultivating the Space

The first step is to gather things to put in the calm down place. Depending on your child’s age, I would suggest getting their input for the items. For my two year old he wanted cookies only in his calm down area, so I picked most of the items. However, he has since added a few of his own items (see below).

Pick A Location

The second step is to decide where and how this area will look and what will be most helpful for each specific child. You know your house and child best. Maybe one kid likes this area in the loud and busy main space of the house and another may want it in a quiet small closet. I would also encourage you here to get your kids input. For my house, a small plastic bin with a lid works best given our space constraints, baby crawling sister, and want for it to be easy to transport from room to room as needed. Think outside the box as to what would work best for your child and for your space. 

Practice

The last step is to take time to teach and practice using the calm down space. It is a new idea and with any new concept, children need time to learn and practice. It may not go well the first or 24th time you practice and try using it. I would encourage you to help find a few times when the calm down place could be used successfully. This may mean that you suggest using this area before a full blow melt down happens. Once a child has felt some success they are more likely to repeat what helped them feel better. Finally, after you and your child have calmed down, it can be helpful to check in and have them identify what they were feeling and what helped them successfully calm down. You can model by sharing your feelings and how you calmed down as well. Celebrate the successful calm down. The length of time it took is not important!

Examples

Here are a few ideas and pictures of how simple this idea can be to bring to life. Some items that are helpful to include are something sensory, like a squishy ball, hard smooth toys or stones, musical items, art items (if your child can be trusted to keep supplies on paper), or a soft blanket. Another item we love at our house is books. Books of any kind work; feelings books, picture books, or novels. I also like to include some form of feelings identifying tool. This could be feelings cards, a journal, or a feelings faces chart. Get creative and have fun building this special place with your kid. 

I have learned the more your kid can help in creating something the more they will use it.  

Also, don’t leave your older children or yourself out! Do this with your teen or by yourself. 

Couldn’t we all use a place and a reminder to recenter and find our peace?!?

Written by: Kirby Schroeder, LPC-S, LMFT-S

Interested in even more ways to find peace during this stressful time? Check out this blog.


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