Make Mindfulness More Fun
Great for All Ages, Stress Management

Make Mindfulness More Fun

For years I scoffed at the term “mindfulness”, associating it with free-flowing hippies and shrugging it off as not for serious people. It certainly did not fit with my fast-paced, high-pressured, very serious New England/New York mindset.

However, working in finance in New York, I realized the importance of at least appearing calm, a skill I had not yet mastered. I also noticed my health deteriorating as I worked long, stressful days with a 3 hour round trip commute to Connecticut. I wanted to be healthy and calm and I kept hearing how activities such as yoga and meditation help with reducing stress, improving health, and helping you live in and be calm in the current moment.

So I started with some breathing exercises I had learned from one of my psychology professors who I thought was crazy for bringing up meditation in a Personality psychology class. But there were two big problems:

ONE: Breathing is boring. I would stop the counting my professor recommended for breathing in for 8 seconds, holding it for another 8, and breathing out for 8. My mind would wander all over the place.

TWO: I was not good at it. I could not breath out for that long! I also could not breath in for that long. I felt terrible that I could not do it properly and thought “This is just not worth it.”

I am not alone in that feeling of failure either.

As the founder of Mindfulness + Magic explains: “During the discussion after the practice, one young woman was in tears. She had noticed her thoughts telling her that she was probably breathing wrong and wasn’t good at it. This led to tightness in her chest, her heart racing, and a feeling of anxiety” (Sharaf, 2015). That is exactly how I felt, but I did not have a meditation coach to highlight the “ridiculousness of not being good at breathing” (Sharaf, 2015).

Finally, two years later, I have found the answers to my mindfulness training problems.

  1. Coloring books (age/skill appropriate ones). They are not boring. They calm me down. And they focus my attention. As art therapist Lacy Mucklow explains, “The act of coloring can also be meditative in and of itself, bringing about calmness just through the simple act of picking up a colored pencil or crayon and focusing your creativity and thoughts on a single coloring exercise” (2014).
  2. Yoga. Kids seem to love it. I taught an after-school “yoga” class for 1st through 3rd graders and they were hyper focused and engaged.
  3. Apps
    1. Calm – a mindfulness app. It starts with one 5 minute guided meditation per day and I am now up to 15 minutes per day. The woman tells a story at the beginning of each session and gives you a different goal each time so you know what to focus on. Sometimes it is counting, but it is not always. And she reminds you not to judge yourself negatively if your mind wanders. She makes me feel good about my ability to meditate and keeps me from getting bored.
    2. 10% Happier: Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics. I have not tried this one yet, but it is in my queue for once I have finished all of the lessons in Calm. I love the idea behind this app. It was created by a meditation skeptic and a meditation expert. As described on its website, “Just in case you’re worried, meditation does not require a lot of the things people fear it might. For example, you don’t have to sit in a funny position. (Unless you want to, of course.) You also don’t have to: light incense, chant, or believe in anything in particular. There’s nothing to join, no special outfits to wear./To be clear, meditation is not going to solve all your problems. But it might make you 10% happier.”
    3. Headspace. Recommended to me by a friend when I said I was trying to be able to react calmly in real-time to stressful situations, as opposed to rehashing the experience later and coming up with a good solution/reaction then. In Headspace, you can connect with friends and cheer them on, but sometimes the ability to connect with others is a detractor when the app is for children.

In this stressful world where kids need space to think, mindfulness training can help them focus, de-stress, and ‘smell the roses’. Try it with your family! Let us know how it goes.

 


References:

Mucklow, L. (2014). Color me calm. Race Point Publishing: New York.

Sharaf, E. (2015). Teach mindfulness, invite happiness. Edutopia.org

Difficult Topics, Parent-Child Communication, Self-Advocacy, Stress Management

Tardiness Woes

Tardiness WoesImagine this situation:

Your child performs worse in math than in other classes. So, he hates to go to math, probably because he is embarrassed. He therefore finds a way to get to class a few minutes late every day, maybe he takes an extra long time at his locker, talking with friends, or in the bathroom. His consistent tardiness frustrates and offends his math teacher, who, in an attempt to encourage him to arrive to class on time, has decided to write your child’s name on the board in the corner and to keep a running tally of how many times he is late. Too many late arrivals and he will get a detention.

This is a true story of a plight of one of my clients’ children.

While I was immediately appalled by the use of shame to coerce compliance, I have to hope that the teacher had good intentions and simply did not know a better way to entice his student to get to class on time. However, there are other, more productive and shame-free options.

To combat this ill-thought-through plan, first, as always, talk to your child about the problem in a judgment-free fashion. “So, your math teacher wants to write your name on the board and keep track of how many times you arrive late to class. How do you feel about that? (Wait for a response…) I can see how that would make me feel embarrassed or uncomfortable. I would not want my teacher to do that to me. You do need to arrive at class on time (that is a non-negotiable). Let’s try to think of other, less embarrassing ways, to get you to math class on time. Do you have any ideas? (Wait  for a response again…) Why do you think you are late to math so often?”

Perhaps your child is embarrassed that he is so bad at math. A potential solution would then be for his math teacher to tutor him or review the homework answers with him before class, so that he is better prepared for class and ready to pipe up with answers instead of skulk off in the back of the class hoping to be unnoticed.

If your child is only late to this one class, the root of the problem is not a time management issue. There is something about that class that needs addressing and no amount of shame or punishment will force him to be on time or participate more. In fact, it will most likely persuade him that “math sucks” even more and he will disengage from learning in that class further, even if it does force him to be there on time. To solve the problem, you will need to find the true source, which will require you to:

  1. Be empathetic
  2. Be positive
  3. Be calm
  4. Keep all negative judgments of your child to yourself
  5. Listen to your child
  6. Problem solve with your child.

Continue reading “Tardiness Woes”

Definitions, Easy Action Items, Great for All Ages, Special Phrase Language, Stress Management

The Absence of a Negative is Not a Good

 

The Goods:

  • One good thing you did. (“I shared my cookies with my brother.”)
  • One good thing someone else did. (“Cindy walked with me to the nurse’s office when I wasn’t feeling well.”)
  • One good thing. (“We played dodgeball in gym class today.”)

Going through The Goods once a day (with your kids) helps you (and your kids) maintain a positive outlook on life. It helps us consistently search out the good things in our lives instead of the negatives.

Happy family having fun on floor of in living room at home, laug

But sometimes what your child may think is a “Good” is actually not: the absence of a negative is not a good. Why? Because it keeps the focus on the negative and not the good. For instance:

  • “I don’t have homework tonight” is not a suitable “Good”.Classroom Under Control
  • “School was canceled today for a snow day!”
  • “My English teacher was sick so we had a substitute and did not do anything in class today!”
  • “My math teacher didn’t call on me.”
  • “I didn’t have a pop quiz like I thought I would.”
  • “I didn’t punch my sister.”

Goods look more like:

  • “I have a lot of free time tonight! I’m going to read a book” (in our dreams…).
  • “We had a snow day and I played outside with my siblings!”Kids Playing In The Snow
  • “And I made a snowman!”Funny kid boy in colorful clothes making a snowman, outdoors
  • “I did well on my math quiz!”
  • “I dominated my pop quiz.”
  • “My sister and I played cards when we got home from school and had a really fun time.”

Good luck finding The Real Goods!

Executive Functions Training, High School, Middle School, Special Phrase Language, Stress Management

Big Deal, Little Deal

Big Deal, Little Deal

When our students, children, and selves start stressing over a problem from which they (we) cannot be distracted, psychologist Peg Dawson recommends asking, “Is this a big deal, or a little deal?” If the response is, “A big deal”, press a bit further. “Is this a big deal or a little deal that feels like a big deal?”

Great. This asks the person to take some perspective on the situation and reassess his cognitive, emotional, and behavioral response. But then what? It still feels like a big deal!

  1. Write down or say aloud the situation that caused the current state of stress. (I prefer writing it down because writing takes longer, which forces you to slow down. When you say it out loud, you can ramp up your speed and maintain a higher anxiety level).
  2. Forgive yourself. Take a moment to remind yourself that everyone makes mistakes and that you will do better next time.
  3. Try to fix the mistake as best you can now. Talk to your teacher about what you missed in your paper so that next time you will know what to be sure to include. Perhaps see if you could rewrite or edit the paper for extra credit (or just for good will). Apologize to a friend for having started a fight.
  4. Make a concrete plan for next time so that you know you actually will do better next time. Without a concrete plan, you may start worrying that you will forget what you learned this time around and the stress may resurface. Therefore, next time you will cite three sources in your paper and have better transition sentences.Illustration of Twin Boys Fighting Over a Stuffed Toy Or, to avoid a future fight, when your friend notices an argument brewing, see if she might be willing to ask you, “Is this what you really want or mean?” Or perhaps come up with a code word that means “This is getting out of hand. I do not want to have a fight about this. Do you?” This will give you a chance to reflect on whether or not the situation warrants an argument.
  5. With that concrete plan, create visible reminders for yourself in the future. For instance, start a new Microsoft Word document titled “Next Essay for English Class” in the appropriate file. Use bullet points to lay out the feedback you received from your teacher. Write examples of good transition sentences. (If your teacher did not give you examples, ask him to help you understand what would have been a better transition sentence based on the ones in your most recent paper). When you start to write the next paper, write it in this document.

Slow down. Assess the situation. Forgive yourself. Plan for next time. Help make sure the plan works!


Reference:

Dawson, M. & R. Guare. (2015). Smart but scattered: Helping teens strengthen executive skills to reach their full potential. The Science of Character: Using Brain Science to Raise Student Self-Regulation, Resilience and Respect. Boston: Learning and the Brain.

 

Easy Action Items, Great for All Ages, Stress Management

No One is Shooting at You

The scene: Psychology Department classroom at UNC. Me: a sophomore who somehow ended up in “Personality Psychology” for upperclassmen. 

We were playing a game: stand up if _______ describes you. I was the only student standing after the professor said, “You are of Scandinavian descent.” (Why were playing this game? To this day I do not know the answer. It was not a “getting to know the other students” activity because it was the middle of the semester. Plus, you do not really play those games in college courses.) I was about to sit down in accordance with the game’s guidelines, but I guess that since this was the first time in the game, which we played the entire class period, that only one person was standing, he asked me, “Where are your ancestors from?”

Remember how we lose IQ points when we are anxious (The Effective Break Adjustment)? I think I lost all of mine. I responded, “The Netherlands.” Blood rushed to my chest, neck, and face. I sat down in shame, head down hoping we would move on quickly because the Netherlands are not part of Scandinavia and also because none of my ancestors came from there. I did not pay attention the rest of class, instead I obsessed over my humiliating experience.

 

There were plenty of other times I got anxious at school and it negatively affected my performance. Here are a few examples:

  • I received a 60% on a vocabulary exam in 6th grade.
  • My best friend and I liked the same boy in 7th grade and got into a fight about it. (Do not worry, we are still close friends).
  • I earned a 54% on my AP US History exam Junior year of high school, made worse by the fact that my study-buddy got a B.
  • After giving my interpretation of a poem, my English teacher said, “No. And I have no clue how you ever came to that conclusion, but just no.”

Each experience felt as though it were a life or death situation – a very big deal. Looking back, none of them were. But I reacted as though they were.

 

Continue reading “No One is Shooting at You”

Easy Action Items, Great for All Ages, Stress Management

First Happiness, Then Success

I will be happy if I…

  • Own that awesome sweater.
  • Get onto the soccer team.
  • Do well in Chemistry class.
  • Get into a good college.
  • Get a prestigious, well-paying job.
  • Have a dog.

These are all thoughts I have had. But then I also always had something else to achieve once I reached each goal.

Once I bought that awesome sweater, I wanted more awesome clothes. Once I made it onto the soccer team, I wanted to be the best on the team. Once I did well in Chemistry class, I wanted to do well in AP Chemistry class next year. Once I got into a good college, I wanted to get a prestigious, well-paying job. (I became a teacher). Once I got a dog, I wanted a baby. (If my husband is reading this, I am just  joking, I mean I wanted a second dog…).

 

With all of these new goals, I rarely had time to sit back, relax, and enjoy the moment. My dad often told me I needed to not stress so much. But if I did not stress, I would not do as well in school, which then stressed me out! How would I achieve my dreams and ever be happy if I did not do well in school? 

Now, I consider myself a happy person in general, but I do stress more than I believe the average person stresses. And I certainly would benefit from appreciating what is happening in the present moment instead of focusing so much on the future.

And, according to psychologist Shawn Achor, I would actually be more successful if I did! Continue reading “First Happiness, Then Success”