With today’s unprecedented uncertainty, children may be experiencing a range of big emotions like sadness, anger, frustration, disappointment, and nervousness. It’s okay to have big feelings and children may experience more than one emotion at a time. What’s important is developing the skills and using self-regulation strategies to help them manage these emotions through mindfulness.
As adults, we can sometimes get overwhelmed by our emotions, so imagine how difficult it is for young children who may not yet have the words to understand, express, or an ability to calm their emotions. To help children manage their emotions, it is important to recognise, validate, and label how they are feeling and provide a range of strategies to help them calm down their big feelings.
The ability to understand and label the emotion, be more reflective, and behave in a more purposeful way during emotional moments are important resiliency skills. One great tool to build resiliency and help young children manage their emotions is mindfulness.
Mindfulness is being in the present with what is happening around us, what’s happening inside us, what we are doing, and how we are feeling. As children become more skilled at thinking calmly, they are more likely to understand the perspectives of others, be more empathetic to another’s feelings, and think flexibly about a situation.
Simple mindfulness practices such as taking slow deep breaths, shifting your attention to another activity, or repeating affirmation self-talk phrases can help kids to focus their attention to what is happening around and inside of them.
Here are some simple mindfulness techniques that parents and caregivers can model and teach their young children:
Belly breathing can be done while your child is standing, sitting, or lying down. If lying down, have your child place their favourite toy on their belly, and as they slowly breathe in through their nose and out through their mouth, they can watch the toy move up and down. Or just have them place their hands on their belly. Belly breathing is a wonderful physical strategy to re-centre and calm down, and is a quick way for a child to regulate any overwhelming feelings.
Watch: Sesame Street Monster Meditation #5: Belly Buddy Breathing with Rosita and Headspace on YouTube
To help your child transition to sleep, start with a few belly breaths as they are lying down in bed. Then have your child do an exercise called ‘Goodnight Body.’ Model for them how they can say goodnight to each of their body parts, starting with their feet, moving to their legs, and moving all the way up to their eyes and head. Ask them to wiggle each part of their body as they say goodnight and then relax. Have them finish with another deep belly breath before it’s lights out.
Watch: Sesame Street Monster Meditation #2: Goodnight Body with Elmo and Headspace on YouTube.
If your child is growing impatient or anxious (just as Cookie Monster grows impatient waiting for his cookies to bake), shift their focus by playing a game of I-Sense, similar to I-Spy, but using all of their senses. Ask them to spy something first with their sense of smell, then touch, then with their eyes, their sense of hearing, and then taste. By focusing on each of their senses, they’ll shift focus from their feelings of worry or impatience.
Watch: Sesame Street Monster Meditation #1: I-Sense with Cookie Monster and Headspace on YouTube.
Make A Glitter Jar
When a child is having a big feeling, a glitter jar can be used as a calming strategy to help regulate an emotion. The glitter inside the jar symbolises the feelings swirling around inside. Have your child take deep belly breaths as they watch the glitter slowly fall and settle down – and they calm down too. Once they can see through the jar, you can talk about their emotion and what you can do next now that they are in a calmer state.
Making a glitter jar is a simple and fun activity you can do with your child and all you’ll need is a clear jar that closes tightly, warm water, glitter glue,
1. Pour warm water into the jar until its threequarters full.
2. For every cup of water used, add one or two drops of glitter glue to the jar.
3. Fill the bottom half-inch of the jar with glitter.
4. Secure the lid on the jar. For extra protection, you can put regular glue on the inside of the lid before closing. Allow the glitter to dry.
5. Your glitter jar is now ready to shake whenever your child needs to calm down.
If your child is feeling scared or worried, self-talk is a terrific tool to help calm them down. Statements like ‘Today is going to be a great day!’; ‘I can do it’; ‘I am proud’; and ’I am special’ can be used to turn negative thoughts into positive ones, and build your child’s self-confidence.
The Power of ‘Yet’
The power of yet is another great way to encourage perseverance and manage frustration. Your child may not be able to do something now but will with practice and hard work. Have your child add the word ‘yet’ to statements and positive self-talk as a reminder to keep striving to reach their goals. For example, ‘I can’t do this yet’, ‘I don’t understand this yet,’ or ‘I’m not good at this yet.’
Model and practice these simple mindfulness tools to help your children understand their emotions, and cope with their feelings by regulating those big emotions. Giving your child a toolbox of strategies will help them as they grow smarter, stronger, and kinder and navigate the world around them.
Sesame Workshop, the non-profit educational organisation behind Sesame Street, has joined forces with Headspace to create “Monster Meditations,” six animated shorts to help children learn the fundamentals of mindfulness, meditation and social and emotional learning. Monster Meditations can be found on YouTube and YouTube Kids.