From the moment they are born, children are growing, learning, and striving to understand themselves and how to interact with their environment. From learning how to walk to dealing with learning to share and other circumstances that come with growing up, certain situations might feel like the end of their world. And, knowing how to react to these situations isn’t always easy. Children can learn what’s “appropriate” from observation and discussion, but teaching them skills to navigate challenging or new situations can better prepare them to be successful in the future. Some of these skills include self-regulation and mindfulness—two skills that go hand in hand.
What is self-regulation?
Self-regulation refers to “the process of modulating systems of emotion, attention, and behavior in response to a given contextual situation, stimulus, or demand” (Cico, Raymond, & Razza 2013). It involves the mind working with the body to control reactionary impulses, allowing children to think about and perform necessary goal-directed activities at any time and under changing conditions (Hauke, 2005). This ability for children to control their thoughts and behaviors can be key in social and school settings. Being capable of shifting attention and regulating emotions gives children a better opportunity to respond and react in times of stress.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness practices can help to prevent the accumulation of stress by promoting self-regulatory skills. The term mindfulness is derived from the Buddhist concept of “sati,” which refers to refined skills of awareness, attention, and remembering (Germer, Olendzki, & Siegel, 2008). Mindfulness-based practices come in many forms—the most common include sitting meditative practices and mindful movement, such as yoga or dance. They aim to strengthen emotion-regulation skills by focusing attention on mental contents or particular objects, such as the breath, a sound, or a visualization (Tripathi & Yadav, 2015).
You might be thinking, “How do I get my child to regulate their emotions when they’re a baby?” Although you might not know exactly what they’re thinking and why they’re upset, modeling what to do when being upset can be the start to positive self-regulation. Start with breathing. With your child lying face up, bend over and put your face beside baby’s. Breathe in and out five times. Although, it might not stop them from crying, it models a self-regulating behavior for the future.
Benefits of mindfulness
Neuroscientists are finding that mindfulness changes how our brain works. Studies of the brain have demonstrated that children who have done, or are practicing mindfulness, are better able to handle stressful situations, and have a stronger ability to empathize with others. Mindfulness creates an improvement in attention, impulse control, and the ability to regulate emotions; and, leads to a reduction of anxiety, and development of empathy. This helps to have a positive impact on a child’s academic performance.
Improving self-regulation and mindfulness
Here are some simple exercises children can do to improve self-regulation and mindfulness.
Blowing bubbles. Have your child focus on taking in a deep, slow breath through the nose, and then exhaling steadily through the mouth to fill a bubble. Encourage them to pay close attention to the bubbles as they grow and eventually float away. The incorporation of deep breathing really helps to connect one with their body. Focusing on the breaths taken in and out helps with concentration.
Pinwheels. Use the same tactics for blowing bubbles to encourage mindful attention on a pinwheel. Your little one really has to concentrate on when to blow on the pinwheel, depending on how fast or slow it’s going. You can use this tactic to demonstrate how to take a minute of deep breathing during stressful situations.
Yoga. When your little one is old enough, try incorporating yoga into their daily routine. According to Harvard Medical School, yoga has been shown to improve both physical and mental health in children. Moreover, research has shown that yoga can improve focus, memory, self-esteem, academic performance, and classroom behavior, and even can reduce anxiety and stress in children. As the article explains, there are several ways to incorporate yoga into daily routines. You may even relate yoga poses to animals to keep your child engaged.
Meditation. Meditation can be considered a form of quiet time for your little one. Designate a “safe space” in the home where they can go to decompress and escape. Being in a quiet place—allowing them to tune into their thoughts and be in tune with their breath—can be a great way to regulate emotion and relieve stress. Find great meditation techniques for your little one at the Harvard Medical School.
Things to Remember
Mindfulness begins with the caretaker. From the moment your baby enters the world, it’s all the happiness and excitement you could dream. You are, however, going to be faced with extreme challenges. It’s important for you as the caretaker to take time for yourself, as well; work through your feelings intentionally and make sure you are in the right headspace so that when you’re with your child, you are present. Being present and gracious for what is happening in the moment is key in creating mindfulness.
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