Imagine a world without temper tantrums or messy meltdowns. A parent’s dream? Perhaps – but also one that (sadly) isn’t altogether realistic! Meltdowns are often a natural part of a child’s development. What families can do instead is to learn how to mindfully manage these moments.
makchic recently caught up with Leigh Janett, Deputy Head of Junior School and Mindfulness Coach, as well as Zoe McPherson, School Counsellor, Registered Psychologist and Mindfulness Coach from the Australian International School Malaysia (AISM).
We share their tips on mindful parenting and how this can help our children, and us.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is about paying attention and being aware of the present moment, without judgment. According to Janett, being mindful helps us learn about our reactions, patterns, and ourselves. We begin to understand that we have choices and can take space to respond, rather than react to everyday stresses.
Scientific studies have proven that mindfulness practices increase activity in our prefrontal cortex (the hub of higher-order thinking skills such as planning, decision-making and moderating social behaviour), while lower-order brain activities decrease. This allows us to focus on what is important in the present, rather than worrying about events from our past or things that are yet to occur.
How does being mindful help my child?
Mindfulness has a significant focus on empathy and gratefulness. By practising short and fun mindfulness exercises regularly, children are more likely to recognise the good in others. They are guided to think beyond just how they feel in a situation, and encouraged to develop the strategies to reflect upon how their own actions can make others feel.
How do I approach a child who is having a meltdown?
When a child experiences a meltdown, their logic and reasoning go out the window! They run on high emotions. This is not the time to solve the problem or offer solutions. According to McPherson, the best option is to provide them space that can allow them to express themselves and just be.
Once the meltdown is over and their emotions are low, you have an ability to connect with your child. Listen without judgement and help your child find their own solutions, before offering answers of your own.
Try to encourage your child to have a go at naming the feelings they were or are experiencing. Janett mentions that “The idea is to name it, to tame it , in order to own it.” Next, ask your child to take slow breaths in and out. This results in longer breaths, which ultimately calms their nervous system down. You could also guide your child to think about any conversations they may need to have, which empowers them to show compassion to themselves and to others.
Here are more mindfulness tips and resources for you to try out at home!
When you or your child are reaching a tipping point, try the S.T.O.P exercise instead:
S = Stop what you are doing; put things down for a moment.
T = Take a few deep breaths.
O = Observe your experience, just as it is.
P = Proceed with something that will help you in the moment.
- Birthday candle breathing
Put out your hand and pretend that each outstretched finger is a birthday candle. Take a deep slow breath in and slowly blow out a ‘candle’ and fold that finger down. Repeat your slow inhalation of breath and exhale on the second ‘candle.’ Repeat until all five ‘candles’ are blown out.
- Tumble Dryer Breaths
Place your pointer fingers horizontally in front of you, one slightly above the other. As you take a deep breath in, roll your pointer fingers around each other towards your body. When you’re ready to exhale, change the motion of the finger rolling to move away from your body as you exhale slowly. Repeat this as many times as needed.
- 3-2-1 exercise
A simple body scan or grounding exercise can get us into the present moment – the now. This exercise is also perfect to help your distracted learners.
Start by noticing things you see, looking around the space you’re in, and noting three things you use. This brings attention to your visual perception. Next, notice two things that you hear. For this one, you have to be a little quieter and listen. Finally, notice one thing that you feel. Here, you can use your sense of touch, like how your skin feels or the sensations in your body (e.g. are you thirsty or are you hot? What is one thing that you feel?)
When you sense that your child is becoming frustrated, try this exercise to avoid a tantrum. Do this together with your child and talk about the similar or different things you are seeing or feeling as a way of building connections.
- Gratitude Jar
Another simple activity that Janett suggests is to create a family “Gratitude Jar,” where all family members add a marble when they are grateful for something. The key point of this activity is the sharing of dialogue, for example “I’m so grateful for those calming cuddles from Sarah,” or “I’m grateful for the kind words that Adam said to me today. It made me feel really good.” These connections will help your children feel more safe and supported.
Janett also recommends The Smiling Mind app, which offers free programmes for all age groups and is a great introduction to mindful tools and techniques to help you build healthy habits.
Books are also excellent tools to introduce the concept of mindfulness to young children in an age-appropriate manner. Here is a list of recommended books to help you get started.
- Online videos
YouTube is a treasure chest of fun mindfulness videos that you could try out with your children. Check out channels such as Cosmic Yoga and Go Noodle which celebrates happiness and provides simple coping strategies.
When my child loses his cool, I do too!
As a parent, it is important to recognise your own limitations and start to develop your own coping mechanism to help you self-regulate. Learn to recognise your own stress triggers. If you start to model these behaviours, then your child will more likely start to as well. When we feel calm and accept our emotions in a situation, the outcome is more likely to be a pleasant one.
It may not be easy, but try to accept the meltdown as it unfolds. Listen mindfully to your child as you guide them to formulate their own reasoning. Encourage your child to find their space, using some of the guided practices mentioned previously, such as naming their feelings or practicing calm breathing. Take some space of your own too, if needed.
The AISM Way
At AISM, mindfulness is an important part of the curriculum as they believe in its positive impact on their students’ wellbeing, happiness and academics, especially in an increasingly demanding world. Students, as well as teachers and parents, are encouraged to learn how to tune into themselves and the world around them, becoming more aware of their own needs and the needs of others.
Every week, AISM students are given the opportunity to participate in mindfulness lessons and practices. Students as young as three, all the way to 18 follow 20 topics across the year such as setting goals, positive relationships, gratitude, self-compassion and resilience. This, combined with the school’s Visible Learning approach and its strong emphasis on wholesome education through the Australian curriculum, creates a conducive environment for students to grow as adaptable and effective communicators, collaborators and creative thinkers.
“Students and teachers share a common language of learning. Where learning intentions and success criteria are clear, feedback is valued and self-assessments for improvement are constant,” adds Janett.
By Liyana Taff
This is a sponsored post by AISM.
If you are interested to know more about how Australian International School Malaysia (AISM) focuses on the wellbeing of their students in the learning process, join their Virtual Open Week from the 23rd to 28th August from the comfort of your home. Register your interest now to enjoy up to 75% on the admissions fee waiver. Click here to register and book your virtual 1 to 1 appointment today!