If you’re a parent worried about the start of the school year, you’re not alone. Many parents and caregivers are overcome with uncertainty about how to manage a complicated re-entry and make sure their kids stay safe, healthy, and sane as COVID-19 continues to spread through the fall.
Meditation cannot fix the vast structural problems that schools and families are facing, but cultivating a mindfulness practice can help us manage the inevitable anxiety and stress. Mindfulness also offers tools that make it easier to remember to do the things we need to do to protect ourselves from COVID-19—such as washing our hands, staying calm, and practicing social distancing.
Whether your child is transitioning back to in-person, hybrid, or remote learning, a meditation practice may mitigate the emotional tumult that can arise from attending classes during a pandemic. Here are a few ways you can support yourself and your children by using mindfulness to stay grounded and centered during back-to-school season.
Start the morning with a family meditation practice. Taking just a few moments for mindfulness meditation can offer a powerful sense of calming and connection. This will also help the whole family be intentional about taking care of their emotional health from the very start of the day. Invite your child to find a comfortable space in the home where the family can sit together. Better yet, work together as a family to create a designated “Zen den” or “calming corner.” This is a great time to let go of attachments you have to rigid meditation practices that may not appeal to your children and explore different options by inviting each family member to take turns facilitating the meditation.
One excellent morning practice is a gratitude meditation, which can help spark a sense of joy when facing so many unknowns. Have your child brainstorm a list of different elements in their life that they’re grateful for, including their own character strengths, supportive people in their life, and comforting activities, objects, or places. Practice sending gratitude outward, making space for warm and loving feelings to hold onto throughout the day.
Stay curious about your feelings and your child’s feelings. Simply acknowledging the presence of difficult feelings helps calm tense and anxious nerves. During stressful situations, it’s helpful to continuously check in with your mind and body using mindful awareness. This includes directing your awareness to your internal experience—including your thoughts, physical sensations in the body, and emotions—with openness and curiosity as opposed to judgment or resistance. Consider the following questions to help guide this emotional inquiry for children and help spark their curiosity:
- What feelings are coming up for you right now, and what’s happening in your body as a response?
- What’s your emotional temperature right now? Are you feeling hot and bothered, cold and tense, or somewhere in the middle?
- If feelings were weather, what’s the forecast right now? Is it sunny, cloudy, or is a storm brewing?
- If you could represent how you’re feeling right now with a color, what color would you choose and why?
Have your children write these questions down and hang them up in your home, or have them bring them to school as a gentle reminder to check in with themselves throughout the day.
Take mindful movement breaks between online classes. If your children will continue learning remotely or will split time between home and school, find opportunities for mindful movement as a way to get space from the screen throughout the day. Movement-based practices help support your child’s learning by replenishing their energy and helping them find their focus. Before suggesting a mindful movement activity to your child, try asking yourself what it is your child might need right now. Are they struggling with inattentiveness? Help them engage their five senses by going on a mindful sensory walk outside, inviting them to notice what they see, hear, smell, and feel as they explore their environment and practice bringing awareness to their senses. Are they fatigued and need to re-energize? Invite them to shake out their body for a quick energy boost. Are they having trouble sitting still? Have them take a few moments to find stillness in a restorative yoga pose, such as legs up the wall or child’s pose. If your child is back in the classroom, help them create what I call a mindful movement menu, a list of mindful movements they can practice at school—while socially distanced from other kids.
Connect to your breath throughout the day. Finding space for mindful breathing helps regulate your child’s and your own nervous systems when activated by anxiety or stress. Help your child explore different breathing techniques by integrating breathing breaks into their daily routine, whether they’re learning at home or at school. Invite them to notice the sound of their inhale and exhale, and any sensations in their body when bringing awareness to their breathing. If you have a younger child, ask them to choose a calming color to visualize while breathing. This helps children better maintain their awareness of their breath. Invite them to imagine inhaling and exhaling that calming color, allowing their bodies to relax and let go of any tension with each breath they take.
Whatever changes your family may encounter with the return to school this year, mindfulness is always available to you—to help you navigate uncertainty and worry and help your children recognize their inherent strengths and tap into powerful tools. By inviting children to stay mindful with compassion and curiosity, they will better recognize their ability to learn, grow, and develop resiliency in the face of any obstacle.
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