We all make them. Excuses. Especially when it comes to something for ourselves. This is written to my peeps. Yup, I said “peeps.” My tribe. My colleagues in the education industry. My - I’m just swimming enough to keep my head above water - fellow parents of young children.
Things are not easy right now. The daily grind is chaotic. Work is busy. Families are full of energy-because if your weather is anything like the weather here in Western NY, it’s been chilly and rainy for what feels like weeks, which means we are all a bit stir crazy!
BUT this is when we need to tune into ourselves the most. This is when we often have emotional reactions to things that are said to us. In the classroom, if students are short with us or are giving us attitudes, we may find ourselves mirroring a snarky response. When the kids are running in circles whining, “Mama, I want juice!” or “Daddy, I need my crayons!” and we are wondering where our sweet, well-mannered children have disappeared to, the simple tone of our response escalates out of pure annoyance. Or with our partners when they don’t get to unloading the dishes or changing over the laundry like you had asked help with, it’s flipping annoying. But, is the emotional reaction really worth the argument or hurt feelings that would likely follow? This is where the power of restraint - the power of mindful restraint - shines.
How do you cultivate the superpower of recognizing when it’s time to pause, observe, restrain, breathe and respond? Just sit. Everyday. Start with 3 minutes, then treat yourself to 4...5...10 minutes a day. There is no wrong way to give yourself the power of a sit. Focus on your breath, or the sounds around you. Repeat a mantra to calm your mind. Over time, research has proven that your brain will begin physically changing for the better to help you see the big picture more clearly and with more empathy. (For more information on how this is possible, check out this article from Psychology Today)
And before you creatively respond with something along the lines of, “I just don’t have the time right now. The kids have basketball everynight, it's conference and report card time, the holidays are coming...” Pause and think about that response. Is that an emotional reaction to the idea-an anxious reaction? I might have to say so... So, let's regain power. Take emotion out of the excuse and picture yourself sitting in a quiet space. Can you see it? If so, you can do it. Commit to yourself. Commit to your “peeps.” It’s a win for all involved!
Wholehearted (adjective) whole·heart·ed: completely and sincerely devoted, determined, or enthusiastic
Heartfulness (noun) heart·ful·ness: a beneficial state of positive qualities-like kindness, gratitude, and generosity-leading to greater well-being.
Heartfulness is a key support of mindfulness practice. In my opinion, this is where we can begin effective mindfulness practice with our youngest ones. Asking a two year old to practice “intentional sitting” can be tricky all in itself. They will likely just take off in the opposite direction on you -at least that is what my twins do! But that’s where we call in our creative side. Tap into our personal interests and the interests of our child(ren). I’m not suggesting that you have to go all out with this creativity, but rather just use things that you already have around the house. Keep it simple. ;-)
Creating the Space: Imagine creating space in our week to explore all of the people that we love. We can do this in a special seated location, such as on a pillow, blanket or cushion that is made especially for our little one. To keep the toddler hands occupied, add in an object that is special to the child; a toy, stuffed animal, crystal rock, plant or picture. Join your child in the same fashion as you share a few intimate minutes together in this unique, special space made just for you.
We will likely need to model the first few times, but once the habit is rolling, we may just find that it becomes the best part of the week as we savor the sweetness of a child’s heart. Listing the many people that we love, sending happy thoughts to someone that we miss, giving all of the reasons why we love someone on our list... these are the moments that can make our hearts FULL and get us through the more challenging ones.
Ever wonder about the scientific side of things? Emotional regulation is a key benefit of mindfulness. By creating this space in your week for heartfulness practice, you are strengthening the developing amygdala part of the brain that is responsible for emotional responses, as well as the prefrontal cortex that is responsible for making decisions in response to emotions. SOOOO, we are essentially training our child’s brain to pause after getting stepped on by a sibling and swinging back in response. Stimulus-Pause-Response. That’s a win in this house!!
Are We Passing Judgement With “Good Job?”
There was an article published on Scholastic.com not too long ago about the long-standing benefits of random acts of kindness. It is worth the five minutes to read. Why? Well, you may just change your language approach as I have with my little ones; not a complete overhaul, just some adjustments to consider.
Like many people, I have always been all about random acts of kindness and acknowledging them. It seriously makes my heart smile. But there are pieces that were missing from my acknowledgements; the action, the feeling and/or the why.
Here is an example from a recent experience with my Minis: Tomilyn watched as Ellie dropped her baby on the ground. Tomilyn ran over to pick up Ellie’s baby and hand it to her.
“Thank you, Tommie,” Ellie smiled.
Tommie replied, “Welcome.” (That alone makes my heart skip a beat at the age of 2!)
But rather than specifically acknowledging the behavior, I smiled and said, “Good job, Tommie.” I unknowingly may have passed judgement by saying that to be “good” she had to pick up something. That’s not what I was going for. I really wanted to reinforce the act of kindness so that it happens again, and again. To acknowledge the behavior that I noticed, all I had to do was tweak my language slightly. “Tommie, you just helped Ellie with her baby. Thank you!” or “Tommie, Ellie is smiling because you made her happy. You picked up her baby.”
Think about it-we do this with ease when there is a squabble.
“Ellie you just hurt Tommie’s feelings when you pushed her.” Ok, sometimes we may respond by saying, “Don’t push your sister!” but a more mindful response is typically one that includes the action and the why-as mentioned above.
Making a purposeful change in responses to behaviors that removes the so-called judgement we inadvertently place on children could help increase the rate at which children understand what an act of kindness truly is. And kindness breeds more kindness!
“Recent research shows that kindness counts in more ways than the obvious growth of morality. We are not meant to be completely independent or dependent, but to give and receive in mutual interdependence. Random acts of kindness —and regular acts of courtesy — foster the development of the higher centers of our brain. From these higher centers, our children grow to be readers, writers, scientists, artists, and mathematicians, exploring the wonders of the world.” ~Scholastic.com
Giving It a Try...
Avoid Judgment Phrases Such As (or at least add to them): Good job, way to go, I like what you are doing, don’t do that, that is naughty
Replace with Acknowledging What You Notice: When you notice an act of kindness in your home or classroom, acknowledge it by including the action, feeling and/or why. It may be more challenging than you first thought, but don’t give up. The lasting effects can be worth the transition.
Bella, you used kind words when asking for help.
Joseph, you are patiently waiting in line for lunch. You are helping to keep others calm.
This is by no means a suggestion to completely retire the (sometimes automatic) “Awesome work!” or “Way to Go!” phrases, but rather to balance them with simple and clear acknowledgements of feelings they produced as a result of their kind behavior.
Let us know how this mindful approach to noticing behaviors goes for you!
the blog space
I'm obsessed. This is fabulous. LOVE that you are doing this. The new way of being a student forces us to think outside the box and approach how we teach more dynamically.
~Derek, Father of 2 and Elementary School Principal
Just a girl with a dream to collectively build a healthy mind space for children, while creating a healthier mind space for ourselves.
Copyright Healthy Mind Space 2019