Archive of ‘Family Time’ category

8 Ways to Practice Mindfulness with Children

Often, when we think about mindfulness, we think about meditation or a formal, structured exercise that helps us tune into our thoughts or somehow clear our minds entirely. Perhaps you have heard that mindfulness is good for children, that you can even practice it with your preschooler. Maybe you have tried this and it worked, or maybe you tried and your child squirmed, wiggled, and complained that it was boring. For some children, particularly those who are young, have experienced trauma, or appear to be bursting with energy, sitting still for more than a few seconds may seem impossible. Today, I want to share some ideas for sneaking simple, fun mindfulness activities into everyday life and everyday play. While mindfulness can be a discipline, a way of moving through the world, it shouldn’t cause added stress or power struggles. 

So what is mindfulness?

According to Sylvia Boorstein, “Mindfulness is the aware, balanced acceptance of the present experience. It isn’t more complicated than that. It is opening to or receiving the present moment, pleasant or unpleasant, just as it is, without either clinging to it or rejecting it.” It can be practiced at any time, in any place, during any activity, without changing a thing except the way that you relate to the present moment. 

Why practice mindfulness?

You might wonder, why even bother? I often have parents tell me that their children don’t seem to know how to calm themselves down, or they’ll explode, seemingly out of nowhere. When the parent asks what happened, the child may shrug, or say that they were mad. While they may have been angry, there were likely other thoughts or feelings that led them to express anger. If children (and adults) can tune into themselves in the present moment and notice their emotional and physical states, without judgement, they may begin to notice when difficult feelings are just starting to bubble up. How much easier is it to calm ourselves down when we’re just a little bit upset than when we’re hysterical? Mindfulness can help us connect the sensations in our bodies with our thoughts and feelings, thereby increasing our understanding of ourselves and our reactions. Further, research is showing that mindfulness can help children and teens who struggle with symptoms of ADHD and Anxiety. It gives them an experience of stillness and calmness. It helps them focus on the present moment without worrying about the future or lamenting the past. 

While mindfulness is less about the specific activity, and more about our relationship with the present moment, the activities below can help facilitate the practice of mindful awareness. Ideally, these are practiced when your child is calm, and then can be used to help them return to calm when they begin to feel anxious, angry, or frustrated. 

Mindful Listening

Tell your child that you are going to play a game. They can close their eyes if they’re comfortable doing so, or just soften their gaze. Tell them that you’re both going to listen carefully and see how many sounds you can hear. Pick an amount of time that you think is doable for your child, up to about a minute, and set a timer. When the timer goes off, compare notes on the different sounds you heard. This exercise could be completed on a nature walk or while sitting at your kitchen table.

Nature walk

Take a walk in nature and ask them to notice what they hear, see, feel, and smell. You can also have them find an object in nature and then explore it together with different senses.

Bag of Objects

Fill a bag with objects of different shapes, sizes, and textures. Have your child reach in without looking and describe what they feel. Have them guess what’s in there.

Bubbles

Blow bubbles together and notice the colors, sizes, and how/where the bubbles float. Blowing bubbles is a great way to practice breath awareness too–have your child take deep breaths, filling up their belly like a balloon, then breathe out slowly. They can even see how big or small the bubbles get depending on how quickly or slowly they breathe out.

Strike a Pose

Do a yoga pose together, such as tree pose. Have them imagine that one of their feet is rooted to the ground, and slowly lift the other until it is resting on their calf. See if they can raise their arms up to “grow” branches. Can they sway in the wind? You can ask them what sensations they notice in their body. If you or your child loses balance (which will probably happen), laugh together!

Rocking a Stuffed Animal

Have your child lie down on the floor with their favorite stuffed animal or doll resting on their belly. Tell them that you are going to rock their animal to sleep. Take slow, deep breaths together and notice how the animal moves up and down with their breath.

Chime or Singing Bowl

Tell your child that they are going to practice listening. Tell them that you will ring the chime or singing bowl and that you’ll both listen closely and see how long you can hear the sound. When they can’t hear it anymore they can raise their hand.

Engine Checks

One way to help children tune into the physical states is to have them think of their body like a car engine. Ask, what happens if a car is going too fast? They might say it crashes or runs off the road. What about if it goes too slow? It might cause a traffic jam, or stop all together. What if it is going just the right speed? How would that feel? Tell them that our bodies are kind of like car engines. Sometimes they feel like they’re going too fast, sometimes too slow, and sometimes just right. What is it like when they are going “too fast”? (Maybe they have lots of energy, can’t stay still, get in trouble at school). What about “too slow”? (maybe they are tired, lack energy, it’s hard for them to do things). What does “just right” feel like? (calm, focused, in control, etc.) Check in with your child occasionally by asking how their engine is running. Once they get used to this language, you can ask them when you start to notice that they might be starting to run “too fast” or “too slow.” When children are more aware of their physical and emotional states, they are more likely to use calming strategies like mindful breathing.

Any of the above techniques can be incorporated into everyday life. These tools will help your child (and you!) become more aware of the present moment and their relationship with the here & now. What mindfulness technique are you going to try today?

Written by: Magdalen Marrone, LCSW

Summertime: 7 Ways to Maximize Free Time with your Kiddos

With summer’s arrival, as a parent or caregiver you may find yourself with anxious feelings about the long warm days and idle time coming – you may be thinking, how in the world am I going to keep these kiddos entertained all summer? How can we keep TV and video games to a manageable level? How can we help our kids feel engaged in activities that are exciting, but simultaneously include some aspect of learning (or at least not staring into a screen)?

If you are like me, these thoughts have been crossing your mind a lot lately. You are in the right place and hopefully this post can spur some ideas to help your family thrive in downtime together this summer!  

~This is by no means an exhaustive list, and with some adaptation, the below activities can be appropriate for mostly all ages of children~

Cultural Events

  • Attend a cultural festival or event of any sort, such as an art, music, or theatrical performance. Not only can these events be engaging for the whole family, they can spark creative interest in a subject area your child may not have had before.

Reading

  • Read (anywhere!) and join the Austin Public Library! Reading together is one of the best ways to spend quality time, increase vocabulary + introduce concepts for younger children and avoid the summer slide for school-age kiddos!
    • There are of course many ways to do this – in your favorite park, cozy spot at home, or at many of the public libraries in Austin. https://library.austintexas.gov/events/calendar
    • If you haven’t yet visited the new central library downtown, it is a site to see!  It even includes a special Teen Lounge devoted to adolescents and many special events.
    • Book People also offers many events and storytime for younger kiddos; events calendar here https://www.bookpeople.com/event

Museums and Historic Sites

  • Visit a museum or historic site. Here are some favorites!  
    • Laguna Gloria – bring a picnic or pick up food onsite from Epicerie and enjoy on the lawn
    • The Blanton Museum
    • The Thinkery Children’s Museum + Mueller Lake Park
    • Bob Bullock History Museum
    • Austin Aquarium
    • Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
    • Austin Nature and Science Center

Gardening

  • Plant a small plant or garden to tend; even an indoor plant for when it’s too hot outside! Gardening with your child will give you a sense of shared purpose and responsibility! Here are some of my favorite nurseries to help get you started:
  • Shoal Creek Nursery
  • The Great Outdoors
  • East Austin Succulents  / Tillery Street Plant Company

Photography

  • Practice photography – Even some of our smallest kiddos will enjoy taking pictures with a Polaroid. It can give you a few free minutes while they explore the house or backyard and then provide you with some quality time as you review their gems together! This can create a sense of pride for your children in their work!
  • Spend time making a collage or photo book together of your favorite memories.

Donate to Charity or Volunteer Together

  • Host a lemonade [popsicle / cookie / whatever] stand together and decide on a charity to which to donate the profits.  This activity really stands out as you can teach entrepreneurial skills, create awareness around money, engage in social skills with neighbors, and give to others in need.   

Get the Wiggles Out

  • Austin Bouldering Project – Indoor and outdoor rock climbing for all ages Austin Bouldering Project
  • Play for All Park – This amazing park is located in Round Rock and was made with children with special needs in mind. It is massive and children of abilities will enjoy the many features it offers. Play for All Park
  • Marathon Kids: Walk and Talk – over the summer, walk the total distance of a marathon with your child and talk along the way. Sign up and receive a mileage tracker and conversation topics for each walk! https://marathonkids.org/walkandtalk/
  • Hamilton Pool – beautiful, historic swimming hole located about 20 miles west of Austin. Don’t forget you need reservations for summer visits!  https://parks.traviscountytx.gov/parks/hamilton-pool-preserve
  • Deep Eddy – take a cool dip in Texas’ oldest swimming pool.  This “beach entry” pool is awesome for small kids and adults alike!
  • Zilker Park – an Austin dream day – Ride the Zilker Zephyr miniature train, hang at the park / playground and take a dip in Barton Springs (this one’s better for the older kiddos)
  • Your backyard / a neighborhood street: For a quicker adventure with littles, cruise around the backyard or walk the block to collect some sticks to turn into snakes (try to find some with a fork that can be the mouth!).  Set your child up with paint and paintbrushes and see them transform into snakes. You all can also paint rock families!
  • Play at a Splash Pad! https://freefuninaustin.com/austin-area-splash-pads-2016-schedules/

Making Meaning From Your Time Together

Now that you’ve invested time and energy in an activity together, remember some ways to make it even more meaningful while you are engaged in the event or afterward.  These tips are easy and can really strengthen connection between you and your child.

  • Actively listen! Ask open-ended questions!  When your child is talking, listen for feelings they’ve expressed. Notice these and dig a little deeper.
  • Ask your child to name Three Positives at the end of the day or as you’re tucking them in at night.
  • What are you thankful for in your [day / time / activity we shared]?
  • What was your favorite part of the day?
  • Tell me more about your photo [the book we read / the place we visited/ etc.].
  • Don’t forget the nonverbals! Make sure you are making eye contact, getting down on eye level or putting your arm around your child as you are having conversation.

Know that not every adventure will go exactly as planned (or be free from tears, for those with smaller humans!). Just remember that it is the love and attention you are giving your child and the time you are investing in your relationship that will mean the most.  Have fun and see you out there!


Written by:
Brooklie Gonzales, LPC-Intern supervised by Emily K. Slaughter, LPC-S

Anxiety in Children: When Should You Seek Help? (Part 2 of 2)

For a reminder about anxiety in children and what is or is not normal, check out part 1 of 2 of this series.  Hopefully, this will give you as a parent, some better ideas on how your child is doing and how to differentiate normal & abnormal anxiety and stress management. If you’re still worried about your child and feel they are displaying more than what is typical for a kid their age, read on to determine when you should seek help.

Anxiety-Related Red Flags

As a parent, the main thing to keep in mind when trying to establish if your child needs extra help managing their anxiety is how it is affecting your child’s functioning. What your child is having anxiety about may be a developmentally appropriate subject, but the level of anxiety and suffering may be problematic. For example, your preteen might be worried about how she is going to do in her band recital. This is a normal response to a novel situation. However, if your child is not sleeping because of her nervousness, is overly emotional about the event, she is avoiding the event, or cannot be reassured, then it might be time to seek professional help for your child.

Other issues to look out for when identifying anxiety in your child are headaches, stomachaches, nausea, vomiting and sleeplessness. These anxiety symptoms can last for months at a time. Symptoms can include clinginess, heightened emotionality, tantrums, difficulties concentrating or making decisions, as well as excessive anger or irritability. Children suffering from anxiety seem to be pessimistic, have catastrophic thoughts, and unreached perfectionistic ideals. Reassurances from caregivers is often not enough to calm down a child whose anxiety is out of their control.

As seen above, these symptoms are definitely interfering with a child’s day to day life. Another aspect of anxiety can be more difficult to initially notice. People pleasing and perfectionism are insidious ways that anxiety can manifest. These are generally seen as good qualities, but can be extremely distressing to your child if they never feel like they are good enough. If you notice your child “blowing up” over events that seem out of proportion, it could be a sign of perfectionism anxiety.

What to Expect from Therapy

Your child’s therapist will likely want to first meet with you to discuss all the concerns you have about your child. Once your child begins therapy, she will have a safe space in which she can discuss, through play or activities, the anxiety she is experiencing. Your child’s therapist will also equip you and your child with new skills to handle the anxiety when it feels too big. Sometimes in therapy the issue gets worse before it gets better, meaning that as your child’s therapist works through the anxiety with your child, your child might act out again. This is a normal process towards healing. Wait out the storm and trust the process. By taking these measure and getting your child to therapy at an early age, you could be saving them from years of detrimental anxiety.

Questions? Feel free to contact Michelle at [email protected]

By: Michelle Beyer, LPC – Intern Supervised by Karen Burke, LPC-S, RPT-S


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