Mindful Mondays: The Calm Down Corner

“That’s one.  That’s two.  That’s three.  All right, time out!”

For years, these words echoed through the hallways of our house anytime our children got in trouble.  Write with a marker on the wall.  Time out!  Fight with your little brother.  Time out!  Refuse to clean your room.  Time out!

We knew that we didn’t want to isolate our children while in time-out, so they sat smack dab in the middle of our kitchen on a chair “thinking about what they’d done.”  They wiggled.  They sometimes giggled.  They usually sat quietly.  So for a while, we thought, “Hey, this is working!”  Except it really wasn’t.  We came to a stark realization that time-outs weren’t truly changing our children’s behavior nor were they honoring the “why” of our children’s behavior.  While we knew all behavior is a form of communication for children, we weren’t really taking time to pause and figure out what was behind the misbehavior.   We weren’t modeling calm down tools for them to use in times of distress.  And most of all, we weren’t giving our children the compassion and attention they needed to figure out how they were truly feeling and what emotions hid in the shadows behind their behavior.  

According to Rebecca Eanes, “becoming and remaining calm during anger [or frustration] is an important skill for children to learn.  When we are angry, something significant happens in our brains.  We experience an ‘amaygdala hijack’ and the primitive part of our brain is activated.  This is the fight, flight, or freeze response.  The purpose of a calm-down corner is to get out of fight or flight and engage in the thinking part of the brain again.  Until the anger has subsided, a child can’t really learn the lessons we want to teach them” (https://afineparent.com/positive-parenting-faq/calm-down-corner.html). 

Cue the Calm Down corner.  Inspired by the work of Generation Mindful (www.genmindful.com), we began to create a calming space in the corner of our living room filled with comfy pillows, stress balls, books, and charts about feelings.  After prepping the corner, we filled our kids in on a little secret.  We would no longer be using time-outs in our house.  Instead, whenever someone needed a break, we would be using the calm down corner.  A space to breathe.  A space to regroup.  A space to problem-solve and make amends when they are called for.

So how does the corner work?  When one of our children is facing a big emotion, from anger to overwhelm, we gently guide them to the calm down corner.  Once we are there, we coach them through some variation of these three steps:

  1. Understanding how they are feeling using labels to identify their emotions

  2. Finding a tool to calm down

  3. Figuring out how to fix the problem

Or in kid-friendly terms, we say:

  1. How am I feeling?

  2. What can I do to calm down?

  3. How can I fix my problem?

And, to our amazement, the calm down corner has worked.   We have a much more peaceful and connected home.  And our kids have started problem-solving without our help, often telling one another how they feel and working their problems out without adult intervention.  We can physically feel the shift of energy in our home, from one of frustration and overwhelm to one of peaceful connection.

The calm down corner is truly empowering our kids to take charge of their own emotions, and that is something we definitely want to celebrate! 

Mindful Mondays: Just One Breath

Between stimulus and response, there is a space.  In that space is our power to choose our response.  In our choice lies our growth and our freedom.

Stimulus:  A pile of dirt on the front driveway, carefully scooped from our garden and placed there with pride by my 3 year-old.  His little face beaming with “Look what I did, Mommy!”  An ordinary mess from a little boy on an ordinary Tuesday.

Response:  My mommy brain began whirling.  The frustration of YET. ANOTHER. MESS. in my driveway.  This mess compounded with the pile of blankets on my living room floor and the matchbox cars scattered across my kitchen was almost too much.  My mind silently screaming, “Why?  Why can’t we just keep this house clean?”  I felt it.  The irritation and frustration at losing control of our orderly house yet again.   My carefully curated home was littered with remnants of toys and snacks and little messes everywhere.  I was about to launch into a lecture and give a consequence … and then I noticed it.   A tiny little broom.  

The Space:  I paused.  What was this little broom doing out?  And then I saw the attempts of a young child trying desperately to please his mommy and to clean up his messes.   I breathed.  Just one breath.  I was able to recalibrate and recognize that messes are part of motherhood.  And that (as I tell my kids), mistakes are how we learn.   In that pause, I was able to let go of my agitation and recognize how imperfectly perfect kids truly are.  In motherhood, messes are part of the territory, whether we like it or not.  It becomes our choice whether to embrace or resist the mess, whether to fight the tide or ride the waves peacefully to shore. 

Today, I am humbly reminded about the power to choose our responses.  I am reminded that between stimulus and response, we always have the choice to pause, to take just one breath.  That one breath can give us the space to choose.

And therein lies our freedom.     

 

 

Mindful Mondays: Finding the Light

False Light  \fols lit\   Seeking spiritual illumination from false sources.

Life is stressful.  And when stress hits, it’s easy to find solace in food and Facebook.  Here is the story of my August and what I learned about seeking false light. 

August was a month of dichotomies for me - split between truly savoring the moments with my family and then conversely, seeking false light.  In so many ways, the month of August for me meant pulling inward, listening to the whispers of my soul and the desires of my heart.  EXCEPT ... my friends, August is a hard month, especially for a mama whose baby just stepped foot in kindergarten last week.  And then there's a lack of routine.  A lack of productivity.  And sibling fights and bickering that escalate as the summer wears on.  So, instead of always relishing the moments, I sought some false light.  I struggled to put language to this until I heard Barbara Brown Taylor state it so eloquently -- that so often we seek false light when in fact nothing can illuminate us except the one, true light.  The LIGHT.  

Some ways that I found myself seeking false light in August:  

Eating all. the. food.  Summer has some GOOD food, friends. Yes, there is healthy food from the farmer's market like tomatoes and cucumbers but also ice cream and barbecue and did I mention ice cream?   Food can be fuel.  But food can also be used like a drug to numb us, to stop us from feeling.   

Shopping for all. the. things.  It’s easy to justify purchases when they are "such a great deal on super extra clearance!" or "It's a back-to-school necessity!"  But in reality, shopping can become a form of false light, a way to light up the dopamine center of our brains and make us feel happy for a few milliseconds in anticipation of the latest package landing on our doorstep. 

Scrolling through all. the. feeds.  Enough said.  Scrolling through social media feeds often does not serve us.  Too often, it creates dissonance and distractions for us.  Eventually, it can dim our authentic light.

And yet, my candle still burns brightly.  I fed my soul with so much nature and family and goodness in August that I can barely contain my gratitude for how it illuminated my soul.  We hiked.  We swam in waterfalls.  We held butterflies in our bare hands and collected shells from the shore.  We sang until our voices were hoarse at concerts.  We witnessed the beauty of Lego artwork painstakingly made with thousands of pieces.  I found tiny moments of magic amidst the mundane, like a clear babbling stream that arose from nowhere on an ordinary hike on an ordinary day.    

With September at our doorstep, I've found myself drawn to candles.  I can't help but feel that the candle is a literal metaphor for the illumination of the truth that resides within my soul.  I’ll be relishing the beautiful fall leaves and sipping on pumpkin spice latte this month.  But above all else, I’ll keep lighting my candle.

 

Mindful Mondays: Helping Kids Cope with Tragedy

Today, my heart is heavy.  I woke up to the news of another mass shooting, this time in Las Vegas.  This is the country’s largest mass shooting according to some news sources.  As I sit down today, I am reminded that our children also feel fear and stress and anxiety in these uncertain times.  As adults, we can’t erase the violence in the world, but we can be our children’s guide through the uncertainty. 

As a parent, you may wonder what to say to your child to help ease the pain and anxiety.  While you may not always have the perfect script, it’s important that parents provide a pillar of security for children during times of tragedy. 

Here are some tips to help mindfully help our children cope with tragedy and uncertainty in the world.

1.        We must first and foremost be willing to talk with our children.  “Talking to your children about their worries and concerns is the first step to help them feel safe and begin to cope with the events occurring around them” according to the American Psychological Association (http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/aftermath.aspx).   Allow children to share what they are feeling without interrupting or judging them.  Provide love and concern for your children by providing empathy and hugs as they share about their worries with you.  

2.       Be mindful of media.  Even when you feel children may not be listening, they often internalize news stories that they overhear on the television or radio.  As a parent, consider taking a break from the news during times of tragedy when possible, especially when your children are within earshot.  According to the American Academic of Pediatrics, “keep young children away from repetitive graphic images and sounds that may appear on television, radio, social media, computers, etc.  With older children, if you do want them to watch the news, record it ahead of time. That allows you to preview it and evaluate its contents before you sit down with them to watch it. Then, as you watch it with them, you can stop, pause, and have a discussion when you need to” (https://www.healthychildren.org/English/family-life/Media/Pages/Talking-To-Children-About-Tragedies-and-Other-News-Events.aspx).  Be available to help your children process through what they are hearing and seeing on the news.

3.       Be a safe haven for your children.  During times of uncertainty, children reach for safety and certainty.  Mental Health America recommends that even during times of tragedy, children benefit most from maintaining their routines as much as possible (http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/children-cope-with-tragedy).   Children need the stability of knowing what to expect next in their daily routine when dealing with frightening events in their lives.

4.       Use mindfulness as a tool for self-care.  As adults, it’s important to first take care of ourselves so we can provide support for our children.   Consider incorporating practices such as yoga and meditation into your daily life to help with your own stress management.  According to Ronald Alexander, Ph.D., “you too have the ability [to use mindfulness] to tap into your inner courage, move forward with your life and even reinvent yourself” (https://www.mindful.org/6-mindful-strategies-for-recovering-from-loss/).   By using mindfulness, we can begin to model positive coping mechanisms for our children in the face of uncertain times. 

In the words of Mister Rogers, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers.  You will always find people who are helping.”   As a parent, you too have the power to be a helper to our children, to help them make sense of this scary and uncertain world … to spread love in our families even in the face of frightening world events. 

Sending love and safety your way today! 

 

 

Mindful Mondays: Teaching Mindfulness to Teens

Students in the Fox Cities area are getting a “Jump Start” to their school week by participating in Mindful Monday.  Jump Start is a program at Kaukauna High School that allows students to start the day with a breakfast and beverage while enjoying connections with other students and staff through discussion-based activities.  Jump Start supports students by offering academic and emotional support while monitoring student progress in all classes to foster academic success.

This morning, I had the honor of joining the Jump Start students and staff for Mindful Monday.  Together, we learned what mindfulness is (and is not) and had the opportunity to practice several forms of mindfulness as a group, including deep breathing, meditation, and gratitude journaling.  Empowered by the meditation session, students said the practice left them “relaxed” and “feeling good.” 

The students were surprised to learn that another form of mindfulness can simply be the act of gratitude or focusing on what you are thankful for in your life … right now in this moment.  During the presentation, students had time to reflect on three things in their they are grateful for.   Their responses ranged from “coffee” and “food” to “family” and “friends.”   But in the end, the students agreed that they have lots in their life to be thankful for when they take a moment and reflect on all that is good in their lives. 

As the presentation came to a close, I gave the students a challenge:  How can you integrate mindfulness in your daily life?   The students were reminded that mindfulness can be as simple as the act of breathing deeply.  In the words of Eckhart Tolle, “One conscious breath – in and out – is a meditation.” 

How can you integrate mindfulness into your day?  What can you do to be more present in your daily life?   If you want to truly change your life, you must first change your mind.  And mindfulness provides the daily framework to transform yourself, one breath at a time.