Just as each of your children are unique, so are the ways that their anxiety symptoms can manifest in everyday life. Unique differences like refusal to attend in-person school, lack of motivation to engage in social relationships with their peers, or an increase in irritability as well as angry outbursts and tantrums are common. Unfortunately, during stressful times the quality time you want to enjoy with your family members can be placed on the backburner, while your stress continues to distract from the present moment. These five, family-focused mindfulness activities will help to create opportunities for more quality time for you and your kiddos, while teaching your children about the importance of staying present and empowering them with tools they can use to alleviate their stress.
1. Mindful Mealtimes – Having structure and routine in the family has been shown to increase children’s sense of security and self-esteem levels– with shared mealtimes serving as a prime example of consistent quality time. Introducing the exercise of mindful eating can start with explaining to your kiddos that their technology will need to be put away until after the meal, so that you are able to hear about their day, their friends, and their opinions! Have each of your kiddos describe how what they are eating looks, smells, and tastes while each member of the family shares their observations. It’s almost inevitable that someone, or everyone, will wander off track in the conversation which is part of the process! Remember to steer the conversation back to what the family is eating, while making sure each person at the table is given the space to share their observations.
2. Gratitude Jar Activity – Another popular mindfulness exercise is the practice of expressing gratitude to ourselves individually, as well as with our loved ones to increase positive emotions overall! The gratitude jar starts with having parents and kiddos make their own, decorated jars where each member of the family will save their gratitude statements at the end of each day. Each member of the family can write three of their own gratitude statements, which can include things they are grateful or happy for, on three separate slips of paper. Parents can also create prompts such as, “Something I accomplished today…”, “Something funny that happened today…”, or “I’m proud of (person), because…,” concluding with each member of the group going around and sharing their gratitude statements before placing them in their jar.
3. Practice Listening – An exercise that is especially helpful for teaching your children to be in the present moment is the practice of grounding techniques such as taking a “listening walk.” This activity is an expansion of the “5-4-3-2-1 Technique,” in which an individual pauses to take in the details of their current surroundings – using the five senses as the jumping off point! Take your child on a walk in your neighborhood, out to your balcony or your backyard, and have your child pause to name five things they can see in that environment. You and your child can then take turns naming four things you can feel [texture of the grass, your clothes, the concrete], three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste [this activity is ideal to practice during snack time]! Parents can also put a fun twist on this activity by taking your kids to a variety of places such shopping malls, restaurants, or the local park.
4. Travel Games – Adding variety to car rides can also be a fun way to stay engaged with your kiddos and give them a break from their technology! For younger children, parents can bring back a classic car game: “I Spy!” Have your little one spot a color that they see while driving, inside or outside the car, and other family members in the car [or just you] can attempt to guess what your child has spotted. This will encourage your child to take in their surroundings in the moment and help them notice things that they would miss in normal circumstances. Kids who are learning to read might also enjoy the Alphabet Game, which has each person in the car choose a letter and take turns naming words in their environment that begin with that letter – such billboards or traffic signs.
5. Bedtime Body Scan – Maintaining bedtime rituals with your kids is another form of consistency that serves as an opportunity to practice mindfulness! As your child is getting tucked into bed, they have used the restroom, been read their favorite story [oftentimes two or three], and are settling in to sleep, you can introduce them to the “Body Scan” exercise. Sit or lie down with your child and have them start naming one part of their body from their toes to the top of their head – with you and your child taking turns in order to encourage engagement. Your child might start with naming, “I can feel my legs, and they feel tingly,” while you go on to describe, “I can feel my lips, and they’re a bit chapped.” This activity can be a great avenue to help encourage awareness in kids and how feelings show up in our bodies!