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July 25, 2016

Slow Down

By Tampa Bay Parenting

The first day of school is coming at you fast, and you and your child are looking ahead (and maybe stressing a bit) about the year to come. Summer is already in the rearview mirror; all that fun over way too fast.

Sound familiar? Then it’s time to stop. Breathe deeply, focus on the present and just be.

Seeking out stillness is tough, especially at busy times of the year. But those are the times when it can benefit you the most to practice mindfulness. It’s about more than taking a break. Mindfulness refers to focused attention on the present where thoughts and feelings are acknowledged and accepted, free of judgment.

Mindfulness practice can help you improve attention, manage emotions and handle stress, research shows. A study in the journal “Health Psychology” demonstrated a link between increased mindfulness and decreased cortisol, a stress hormone. There’s even evidence that it can change your brain. A team from Harvard documented that the amygdala, the “fight or flight” part of your brain, shrank after research participants went through a mindfulness-based stress reduction program. Meanwhile, other areas of the brain thickened, including those that govern learning, emotion regulation and empathy.

Children as well as adults can benefit from mindfulness. The nonprofit organization Mindful Schools has trained educators worldwide on integrating mindfulness into the classrooms. At Corbett Prep, mindfulness makes up part of a larger initiative on social and emotional learning with the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, which includes mindfulness as one of its four pillars of wellbeing.

Try it for yourself along with your kids. Here are seven ideas to help families introduce mindfulness into their lives and welcome calm amid the back-to-school hubbub.

Breathe: Of course we all know how to breathe, but children may need help understanding how to “belly breathe,” a slower and more deliberate way of breathing to help with focus and managing emotions. You can tell kids to pretend they are inflating a balloon or blowing out a candle. Psychologist and bestselling author Daniel Goleman shared in an Edutopia video another technique he observed: lie on the floor with a stuffed animal on your stomach. Breathe slowly and deeply and watch the toy move up and down.

Take a walk: Walking becomes a form of meditation when you take time to observe how you feel and what you see. Try a short, silent walk where all you do is listen to the sounds around you. Or go on a “noticing walk,” as blogger Sarah Rudell Beach suggests. Bring your phone and let your children take pictures of the beautiful and interesting sights they encounter.

Be Spidey: Superhero fans will appreciate the chance to test their Spidey Senses. Spider-Man has the ability to tune into his senses and let go of distractions. In this activity from the website KidsRelaxation.com, parents select a bell, flower and small bit of food and give them one at a time to their kids. Children activate their super senses by listening closely to how the bell sounds, smelling, feeling and observing the flower and describing the different tastes and sensations of the food they eat.

Color: Adults are discovering what kids have known for years: Coloring is fun. Whether you choose a simple children’s coloring book or a more intricate design, coloring steers your attention to the present and can alleviate anxious thoughts.

Reflect on the summer: Mindfulness and gratitude go hand in hand, and a gratitude journal can improve your physical and mental health, according to Robert Emmons, who has researched the topic for years. Start these regular reflections by thinking back on your summer, writing down the large and small moments that made your family happy.

Try a twist: Yoga is good for the body and the brain. Counter the time kids (and adults) spend hunched over computer keyboards or phones and boost energy and focus with simple yoga poses. Yoga Journal offers a 10-minute “homework break” routine that includes side bends done from your chair, seated twists and three to five rounds of cat and cow, inhaling and exhaling as you alternately raise your chest and then round your back.

Fill your bucket: Corbett Prep’s kindergarten team likes to start the school year by introducing the concept of bucket fillers and bucket dippers. The bucket is your emotional self, and when it is full, you feel confident, patient and positive. Read the book “Have You Filled a Bucket Today?” with your child and talk about actions that fill, or withdraw from, buckets. You can even get several children involved with filling a literal bucket in a fun, watery relay!

Simple strategies for mindfulness keep us from getting too far ahead of ourselves, providing both children and adults with ways to lower stress and increase focus. It seems like everything starts speeding up as a new school year begins. But sometimes slowing down is just what you need.

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