Five Ways to Get Mindful and Ready for Back to School
For many parents and their children it’s that inevitable back-to-school time of year. No more lazy days at the pool or beach. Goodbye to staying up late and sleeping in! For some students the back-to-school process can be pretty seamless, while for others it can induce dread and anxiety. Plenty of thoughts may occupy children’s minds as they are told school starts soon. How will I make new friends? Will the math be hard this year? Will I sit next to someone nice? What if my teacher is nasty? The anticipation and uncertainty can get overwhelming for some kids, but there are many ways to ease this transition and make it smoother for those that fret before the school bell rings.
One great way to transition into a new school year is to practice mindfulness. Yes, it’s that buzzword you keep hearing everywhere and for good reason! For those who are not sure what it is, mindfulness is defined as follows by the Cambridge English Dictionary:
“The practice of being aware of your body, mind and feelings of the present moment, thought to create a feeling of calm: Mindfulness can be used to alleviate feelings of anxiety and depression.”
In fact, in recent years mindfulness programs in schools have become more widespread. While the practices can vary, schools primarily focus on exercises that help children pay attention, build empathy and self-awareness, improve self- control and reduce stress. Meditation, yoga and breathing exercises are used widely and are adapted to the age groups of the children.
Here are five versatile practices you can start at home as a family and use throughout the year as part of your routine. Do note that they are beneficial for all kids (whether or not they have the back to school jitters) and for all ages. Mindfulness has amazing benefits for everyone!
1. LET IT R.A.I.N
This first exercise, ‘RAIN’, comes courtesy of mindfulness expert Julie Potiker, and we simply like how it helps you talk through feelings with your child. The acronym offers a word of advice for each letter, which parents can use with their children to allow them to step back if they are feeling anxious or overwhelmed:
R= Recognize your feeling and name it (i.e. “I am feeling scared”. “I feel angry”. “I feel sad.” You get the idea).
A= Allow your feeling to be there without judging it.
I= Investigate with curiosity why this feeling is there.
N=Nourish yourself with what you need. What do you need to do, give yourself or hear right now which can make yourself feel better.
Using this process allows us to help children go through their feelings in a non-judgmental way and give them the space to acknowledge them. The aim is to encourage self-care to help children feel better.
2. THE 7-11 BREATHING
Take a moment to stop and focus purely on taking a few slow deep breaths together.
Ask the child to stand still (or they can do this seated). For better focus they can shut their eyes too. Ask them to breath in and count to 7 and slowly breath out and count to 11. By making the exhale longer than the inhale, you relax the nervous system and the overworked mind. The 7-11 Breath can be done five breaths at a time. If you have more time, you can do it longer as it helps the child to briefly relax and connect with the present before going off to a busy day at school!
3. CONNECT WITH NATURE
Be outdoors with your child and connect with the surroundings. You can watch the sunset together or sit in a park, garden or at the beach. Or make a nature mandala together; it’s easy and fun to do! For this let the children gather whatever objects appeal to them, such as rocks, smooth stones, shells, pine cones, flowers or feathers (give them a small bowl or bucket to collect). Once they have amassed enough items, ask them to choose which ones they want to keep and have them place the items however they want in a circular pattern on the ground (a flat area). The practice of walking in and out of the circle helps the children get into a relaxed state while they connect with themselves and the creative part of their brains. They can make the mandala on their own, with other children or with you. An activity in nature puts children right in the moment, removing external pressures and stresses!
4. PRACTICE MINDFUL EATING
Start to practice mindful eating at home with your children. You can begin with dinner when the entire family is seated together at the table. Make a rule that there is no computers, phones or TV’s during mealtime! You may try serving foods that take longer to eat, such as soups, salads and fresh vegetables and fruits. Encourage kids to savor the food by asking them to describe its color, shape, texture and taste. The conversation should also be uplifting. Avoid talking about discipline or homework (do that before or later!), so mealtime does not have a negative connotation. Encourage the child to talk about a happy memory from the day or you can share a funny story. If you have a fussy eater, it is best not to force the child to eat, as it encourages them to ignore their actual sense of hunger and when they are full.
5. START THE DAY WITH A YOGA POSE
Yoga is an excellent activity for parents and children to connect with their body and breath. For an easy-to-do exercise at home, try practicing the tree pose (Vrksasana) as a family. You may know this popular pose already!
1.First, stand on one leg, then take the opposite foot and place it at the inner thigh or shin of the standing leg (focus to keep your balance).
2. Then, bring your hands together in a prayer position in front of your chest.
3. Next, as you inhale slowly lift your arms over your head so they are a shoulder width apart and extended completely.
4. Try holding this pose for at least five deep breaths (as you get better with it, gradually increase the number of breaths while in this position). When done remember to release the pose slowly and gently.
This pose helps children improve balance and mental focus. It’s also a lovely symbolic exercise for them to feel grounded; so no matter what happens at school or elsewhere, they have strong roots and a family that loves and accepts them for what they are!
Well, we hope you enjoyed reading about some ideas you can start doing as school begins and even make them part of your family’s permanent daily routine! Remember to also encourage your children to go to bed earlier so they can wake up earlier, and limit their evening screen time (cut if off at least an hour before bed). You can encourage reading a chapter from a book or completing the breathing exercises (mentioned above) just before hitting the sack. Finally, from The Wellness Project, we wish you all a wonderful, grounded and mindful new school year for you and your kids!