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Mindfulness Practices for Families

Posted: 15.05.20

The COVID-19 pandemic is a strange time for everyone. Children in particular could be affected as the closure of schools displaces children from their friends, learning and their school community. To help them through this time, we need to consider how this new world looks and appears to them. By now, you and your family have most likely worked out a daily routine at home that works for you all. But still tensions can run high and children can quickly become upset and exasperated. This is where mindfulness comes in. Mindfulness is noticing what’s going on outside—and inside—of us with acceptance and kindness. As mindful parents, we can be curious and open to understanding what our children are feeling and experiencing. Practising mindfulness might be useful to use if children are feeling anxious or frustrated, providing a way to calm down and a moment to be together. The four mindfulness exercises below are designed to help both parent and child experience a sense of calm connection.

Balloon Breath:

In this practice, use deep breathing and gentle movements to calm your mind and body. Show how to do it and have your child copy your actions.

• Seated or stood up, place both hands on top of your head.
• Begin to breathe in and out slowly. As you inhale, raise your arms above your head, like you are blowing up a balloon. When your lungs are full of air, your arms should look like a big, round balloon on top of your head.
• As you exhale, slowly bring your hands toward your head. Do your best to match the timing of your inhale with raising your arms up and the timing of your exhale with bringing your arms back down.
• Try to deepen your breath with each inhale as you’re able.
• Continue with this breath and arm movement 2-4 more times.
• On the last breath, press your lips together and blow the air out, making a silly sound like a horse (giggling is encouraged).

Starfish Breathing:

In this practice, use the sensations of breathing and touch to settle both mind and body. Learn the actions and have your child copy you.

• Choose a hand to be your starfish. Extend this hand, palm out, with fingers spread wide.
• Use the pointer finger from your other hand to trace the starfish as you breathe. Start at your thumb, and as you breathe in, trace up your thumb to the top. Do this carefully, so your movement matches your inhale.
• Now, with your out breath, trace down the inside of your thumb. Again, move slowly paying attention to keeping the breath and movement together.
• Continue breathing up and down each finger, matching your movement with your breath. As you breathe and trace, notice the sensations of movement in your body – your chest and belly moving in and out and your finger moving up and down.
• When you come to the base of your wrist below your little finger, rest for a moment. Check in with yourself. Notice how you are feeling without overthinking or judging.
• Try this again with your other hand.

Calming Glitter Bottle:

Below is a simple way to make a calming tool, basically a homemade lava lamp! It might be good to have on hand if your child/children are needing a moment to calm down and focus on something away from technology or schoolwork.

• Find a plastic bottle or jar.
• Fill the jar ⅛ to ¼ full with glue. (Use Elmer’s Clear School Glue or similar.) The more glue, the slower the objects will settle after shaking.
• Add 1-2 tablespoons of glitter. A small funnel is very helpful for this step.
• Fill the bottle the rest of the way with very warm water.
• Add food coloring (optional).
• Glue the cap on the bottle. Let the bottle rest to allow sealing glue to fully harden or the bottle may leak.
• Once the cap on the bottle is dry, shake it and watch the glitter fall gently to the bottom. Notice how your mind and body feel before, during, and after this activity.

When we shake up a glitter bottle, the water becomes cloudy with all the contents swirling around quickly. We can think about our emotions swirling like this when we are worrying, angry or stressed. As we watch the little bits of glitter fall slowly to the bottom, we become calmer. When we sit quietly and watch the settling, we give ourselves time and space to regain a sense of control and ease. Watching the glitter engages our senses and brings us into the present moment. Seeing how the water becomes clear when all the contents are resting quietly also reflects our ability to see more clearly when we are in this calm state.

Breathing with a Buddy:

This exercise helps you engage your belly and diaphragm (the muscle at the bottom of your rib cage) to help calm your nerves and relax. It’s a great bedtime exercise for children, rocking their teddy to sleep with their breath.

• Get your child to select a teddy to be their buddy, maybe select one too so you can show them what to do.
• Both lie down on your back with your legs straight and your arms at your sides. Take a moment to relax.
• Place your buddy on the soft part of your belly. Feel the weight of your buddy resting there.
• Now, rock your buddy by taking deep breaths:
• Take a long, slow breath into your belly making your buddy rise up, as you whisper “up.”
• Breathe out even more slowly, feeling your belly and your buddy go down, as you say “down.”
• Close your eyes and continue this slow breathing for several minutes allowing yourself to rest and relax.
• Notice how your body is feeling after doing this deep breathing for a few minutes.
• Your child might fall asleep while doing this activity, you can thank us later.

Of course, it can be pretty tricky to get young children to sit quietly for longer than a few minutes. So, don’t expect to practise all of these methods in one go, or for them to work first time (if only). Being stuck in the house so much and not seeing other children their own age, but not fully understanding why this is for the best, can lead children to being frustrated, upset and maybe acting in ways they would not normally. So perhaps try one of these techniques to create a moment of calm, allowing both children and you to take a breather away from schoolwork and technology. If you are struggling or just want somebody to chat to, remember you can always reach out to the Care & Support team at:

Researched and written by NPUK Communications Assistant, Eleanor Lily Taggart.