Managing the Chaos
I decided it was time for me to take back my afternoons.
Like clockwork, my afternoon default emotions had become some combination of nervousness, anxiety, anger, exhaustion, and short-temperedness.
I was becoming overwhelmed by all the things I hadn’t gotten to yet—after-school drop off and pickups, work, meetings, preparing dinner, sibling conflict intervention, cleaning, laundry, lather, rinse, repeat. It was bringing me to a frustrated and cranky standstill.
What’s worse, I noticed that my children were reflecting these emotions in their words and actions. Yikes.
Time for a Change
I decided it was time for me to take back my afternoons. As a curriculum designer, I had heard of practices like mindfulness, meditation, and social and emotional learning, but it never occurred to me that they could help transform my own home life. I grew up with the “tough it out” mentality, which worked for me before I became a mom of multiple children. Alas, it wasn’t working anymore.
I wanted to learn new tools, and gift my children helpful tools as well. If my children are going to reflect my thoughts and actions, I want them to have the best reflection possible.
I love research, so off to the library I went! I discovered that mindfulness is not just a cutesy buzzword, but an “awareness of thoughts, emotions, and surroundings–and acceptance of that awareness.” I read my first self-help book: 10 Mindful Minutes: Giving Our Children—and Ourselves—the Social and Emotional Skills to Reduce Stress and Anxiety for Healthier, Happier Lives.
That title is a mouthful, but the root of my problem was easy to understand: I needed more “nondoing” in my life. Nondoing would give my brain a chance to shut down and reset.
A Mindful Twist to Classic Games
My children love games and competition, so I knew I wanted the beginning of their journey towards mindfulness to encompass games and play somehow. To my surprise, I learned that many classic games could have a mindful twist.
The goal of Simon Says is to be the last person standing because you only moved when “Simon”—the person giving commands—included “Simon says…” at the beginning of the command. Everyone who moves when Simon gives a command that does not start with “Simon says…” is eliminated. Typically, the commands involve jumping around or dancing. The last player standing is the winner. This game is fantastic to cultivate good listening skills—if only kids listened on a daily basis as well as they do to Simon Says!
- Freeze and Melt, a mindful twist on Simon Says: Commands are involved, but it’s not competitive. Ask your child to dance or run around like an animal before you say “freeze.” They will freeze in place until you say “melt,” at which point they should slowly melt into a puddle on the ground. When they’re done melting (cue the Wicked Witch of the West!), have them stay on the floor for a few moments of deep breathing. Then, tell them to go crazy again and repeat the “freeze” and “melt” commands. After a few rounds, ask your child what it felt like to transition from one movement to the other.
- Mindful Goal: Help your child become aware of the tight muscles in the “freeze” position and contrast those with the loose muscles of the “melt” position to build body awareness during tense or emotional situations.
“I spy with my little eye” is a common phrase in this game. One player describes an object they see and the other players have to guess the correct object. Then they switch roles. The goal is to figure the from the description which object your opponent is talking about.
- Eye Spy, a mindful twist on I-Spy: Have your child describe things they see in a quiet environment. Point out objects they don’t typically notice and describe them. You can also have your child guess a new object they haven’t noticed.
- Mindful Goal: Taking the time to pause and observe things will help your child calm their brains so they will see things in slow motion, and then be able to process information without being overwhelmed. It can also help them become more open to appreciate different things around them.
This is a speaking and listening game where a group of people form a chain and one person whispers a sentence to the next link in the “telephone” chain. As one person after another repeats the sentence they heard to the next person in the chain, the words are often confused and the message is continually changed until the last person shares the sentence they heard with the whole group. It’s an interesting game that almost always has a funny result.
- Echoes, a mindful twist on Telephone: Say a short sentence to your child and have them repeat it back to you. Share a longer sentence and have your child repeat it back to you again. Vary the length of sentences each time. Ask your child if it was hard or easy to repeat the sentences. Test your own memory by asking your child to create their own sentences for you to memorize and repeat as well.
- Mindful Goal: Trying to remember someone else’s words can help your child focus and really hear what someone is saying. When children focus on other people’s words, they can learn empathy.
Trying all of these games with my little ones, with varying degree of success, was fun and enriching for our family. These games serve as purposeful time spent with my children, but also gives us tools to call on in moments of stress or conflict. In tense moments, you can redirect your children to play one of these games, or have them focus on their breathing, to help your child calm their brain and refocus.
Check out this parent-friendly resource to read more about how to incorporate mindfulness in your home: 10 Mindful Minutes: Giving Our Children—and Ourselves—the Social and Emotional Skills to Reduce Stress and Anxiety for Healthier, Happier Lives.
By Jennifer Sobalvarro, who has experience teaching in 3rd and 5th grade classrooms as well as ELL instruction.