Here we are at the start of the new year, the possibilities feel endless, our goals seem attainable, we’re renewed and reenergized… oh wait, what’s that? How quickly our moments of bliss can be snatched from our very reach with a child screaming, “Mommmmmm!” in the background. We often start the new year by assessing ourselves: “maybe I’ll exercise more,” “become more devoted my religion,” “focus on rebuilding relationships,” but how often are we stepping back and tweaking our parenting skills? Whether your child struggles with constant arguments between siblings, hyperactivity, anxiety, or incessant tantrums and indefusable anger…try these skills out on your little one and see the difference they can make…you just might catch yourself trying them out on yourself one day!
Before we get into the actual skills there are a few things to remember-
Your child will not always implement the skills! No…you haven’t failed! Children are often used to seeking an outside source to keep them in check: a “Stop that!” from a parent or a “Stay in your seat!” from a teacher…they’re not always used to cultivating their own skills to make better choices or diffuse a situation. This will take time and lots of repetition for your little one to implement on their own. Be patient!
Use these skills on you! These skills don’t have an age limit. Have a hectic day at work? Perfect opportunity to use some diaphragm breathing. It is quick, private, and effective; you’ll have a clearer mental space to take on the challenges of daily life. If it’s hard for you to implement it’s even harder for your little one, this goes back to that patience word again.
Use these to your advantage! Make it a game, a reward system, use it for your own good and frankly…mental sanity! Once your child has mastered the skill and acquired the knowledge of when to use it, it is in their hands to implement it. They can be used as your own secret weapon…prompt little Jonny to do his stress press and treat him with a reward (remember even verbal praise is very effective!) from then, you’re able to problem solve with a clear-headed, less emotion-driven youngster, a win-win for both of you!
Here we go! First thing is first- it’s all about the breath! A recent article written by Rich Preston from the Anxiety-Free Child Program explained:
“Yoga Journal quotes Swami Karunananda, a senior teacher at Virginia’s Yogaville who uses the breath as a tool to help people deal with the anxiety-related conditions of depression, anger and fear. ‘The breath and mind go together,” Karunananda says. “If the breath is calm, steady, and even, so are we. If the breath is shallow, agitated, and arrhythmic, the mind won’t be able to concentrate.’”
Breathing obviously comes natural to us all but in this instance the type of breathing is key, it should come from the diaphragm. A fun and easy way to demonstrate this with your child is to have him or her lie on their back. Instruct them to breathe using their tummy and watch as it rises and falls. They can even rest a hand or object on their abdomen to feel it physically rising and falling. This large rise and fall is different from our normal shallow breathing and gets your little one engaged in taking those deep breaths. *Tip: Have bubbles in hand? Instruct your little one to take a large breath from their belly and blow the bubbles with a long slow breath. This will further their understanding and practice of the skill.
Have a teen who struggles with anxiety, anger, hyperactivity, etc.? Teach them the deep breathing too! Probably not using the above instructions; warning: that will likely result in excessive eye rolling and storming off. 4-square breathing is a great trick for calming one’s current emotions and aids in making clearer, often better decisions. With 4-square breathing instruct your teen to breathe in for 4 seconds, exhausting their lungs of any air. Next, hold that breath for 4 seconds, release the breath for 4 seconds, and hold the breath again for 4 seconds. This is a great skill to use as it can be done discreetly in class before a test or standing beside that one kid who really gets under your skin!
Next is a progressive muscle relaxation technique. It’s a booming phrase in the mental health world for its undeniable benefits for getting your body and mind in sync! As written in an EmpowHer article by Elizabeth Stannard Grommisch:
“The University of Missouri-Kansas City noted that ‘progressive muscle relaxation works by reducing your blood pressure, pulse rate, physiological tension and respiration rates.’”
For the little ones, I like to call this technique, The Stress Press. Instruct your child to press his or her palms together, especially at the base of the palm, with their elbows out, for 10 seconds. After the 10 seconds is up, ask them to put their hands down and relax. Try this 3 times in a row, with 10 seconds pressing and 10 seconds resting. After lowering their heart rate and blood pressure, they will be ready to handle that playground argument more effectively, and maybe even take a second to choose a more respectful response to mom or dad- this helps the whole family! Instead of the usual, “Stop!” or “Calm down!” this way you’re prompting your child to use a skill that will physically benefit them. This can also be done discreetly with teens and adults! Squeezing your hands into fits as hard as you’re able to and holding it for several seconds before relaxing and repeating that motion is something that can be done underneath your desk at work or school. This gets your mind focused on counting and away from the distraction while simultaneously benefitting your body.
So there you have it! A few tricks to teach your children, young and old, about how to help themselves manage their emotions. New year, new skills, happier little ones!