Emotional Fluidity: Teaching Your Children to ‘Surf’ Anxiety – Part Three

This is part three of a three-part series, “Emotional Fluidity: Teaching Your Children to ‘Surf’ Anxiety” .  Click here to read the rest of the series. 

Mindfulness doesn’t have to be set aside like fine china, only to be used on special occasions or formal meditation sessions. You and your children can incorporate mindfulness practices into your daily lives any time you feel anxious, or any time at all.

The more you and your children practice mindfulness, the easier and more natural it will become. Instead of a foreign concept, it can become an ingrained habit that grows strong and starts to automatically kick in every time anxiety rears its annoying little head. Working on your mindfulness skills can also be a group effort you practice with your children on a regular basis. Try it after dinner instead of dessert!

Exercises: 4 Marvelous Ways to be Mindful

These marvelous mindful exercises can be effective just about anywhere: school, work, on the bus, on the playground, or waiting in the doctor’s office. Just refrain from the exercises when you might be called on during a business meeting or your kids are sitting in class when they are supposed to be being mindful of the teacher.

Feel free to use variations of each exercise as long as you keep the goal in mind. The main aim is to practice being acutely aware of things without judging them.

Stare at a rock.

Rocks can be pretty amazing, a fact you and your kids will find out when you stare at one for an extended period. Either share a rock or have each family member get their own rock, then take several minutes to observe the rock as if you were going to describe it to someone else. Note the color, texture, temperature, weight, size and shape. Observe every nook and cranny, every jagged edge, every smooth indentation and all other traits that can come with a rock. Share your observations on paper or out loud.

You can switch up this exercise by choosing any object you like: a pencil, a placemat, your shoes. Once again, the point isn’t focusing on a certain object, but focusing in general.

Tune into the noise around you.

Close your eyes and observe only sound. Taking away your eyesight heightens your other senses, and sound can be much more acute when your eyes are not trying to distract you from it. Close your eyes and simply listen to all the noise around you. Don’t judge it as annoying or soothing or good or bad, but merely take note of it with no emotions attached. Open your eyes and discuss what you’ve heard.

Honor your hands.

Your hands do so much throughout the day. They grasp, they clap, they fidget and they tap. Honor them by paying acute attention to their activities at varous times during your busy schedules. Focusing on and honoring your hands will not only immediately draw you and your kids back to the moment, but you’ll soon be astounded at all the awesome things they do for you.

Check out the clouds.

Cloud gazing is a fabulous mindfulness exercise. Take some time to sit quietly and watch the sky with your kids, encouraging them to describe the different shapes, colors, and movement of the clouds across it. Unless you happen to always be near a window or skylight, literally watching the clouds flit across the sky may not be possible any time you or your kids feel anxious. You still can, however, use the concept to practice mindfulness when it comes to your thoughts.

Imagine your thoughts and emotions are like those clouds in the sky that float, stream, billow, change shapes, and otherwise move across the horizon. This concept reinforces the idea that your thoughts and emotions go through the same type of evolution and metamorphoses, never remaining the same from one moment to the next. Like the clouds, they also always pass – and always at their own pace. Just like you don’t have to hop on or try to ride a cloud, you don’t have to hop on your thoughts but observe them from distance.

Exercise: How mindfulness can help your kids’ anxiety

Sitting around the dinner table informally practicing mindfulness may be great fun and generate plenty of laughs, but it won’t necessarily help with your children’s anxiety unless you illustrate how it can. One of the best ways to drive home the usefulness and importance of mindfulness for anxiety is to open a discussion on how your kids can use it when they start to feel anxious at any point throughout their day.

Ask your kids to bring up something that typically makes them feel anxious, then ask them how mindfulness can help. Let your children come up with a few ideas for incorporating mindfulness into the situation.

Let’s say your child says she’s always anxious before her class presentations. Her thoughts tell her she’s going to forget her notes, drop her note cards, flub up her lines and pass out in embarrassment in front of the whole class. While all these thoughts are a bunch of lies, they can also be damning when it’s her turn to get up and speak.

A helpful mindfulness technique may be deep breathing and counting to five before she gets up in front of the classroom. Deep breathing immediately soothes the mind and calms the body, helping to normalize her heart rate and alleviate rapid respiration.

Another may be to focus on her hands holding the note cards and honoring them for being so strong and helping her create the cards. Looking at her hands takes her mind off the crowd of students in front of her, which can induce anxiety even in the minds of adults! It also brings her back to the present moment so she can focus on delivering her presentation.

The cloud-watching technique may also be useful for quashing the anxiety that arises before a class presentation. Those nasty thoughts that tell your child her presentation is going to bomb will eventually pass, just like the clouds. If she waits out the cloudy negativity, she can once again focus on the presentation at hand and deliver it under sunny skies, so to speak.

Mindfulness is more than just a technique to use in life, it can become a way of life with enough practice. Habitual mindfulness may not only help quell anxiety, but it can make each moment richer and more enjoyable. And those moments, as you’ve learned, are all we have.

This is part three of a three-part series, “Emotional Fluidity: Teaching Your Children to ‘Surf’ Anxiety”. Click here to read the rest of the series.