When my middle child was in third grade, she was very anxious about taking tests. Her stomach would hurt and she would obsess about all the things that might go wrong. She had trouble sleeping and cried easily whenever she made a mistake. Her anxiety became contagious, as the rest of the family tried every trick we could think of to calm her down.
Many situations and events can cause children and families stress: schoolwork, the birth of a new sibling, social biases, friendship woes, economic pressures. Elementary educator Connie Morris offers an antidote to freewheeling anxiety called PAUSE (Practice Awareness and Understanding Self Exercises). Quick and easy to do, PAUSE can help us find our calm when our minds, bodies, and emotions are overwhelmed.
Calm families begin with calm caregivers. Morris suggests that parents take 1-2 minutes three times a day to practice deep breathing. In the morning, breathe in and out slowly several times. Continuing to breathe slowly, place one hand over your heart and give thanks for its steady beat. Then rest your other hand on your belly and feel it moving in and out. Round out this calming exercise by expressing a positive thought for the day (e.g., “I’ve got this” or “Just gonna stay true to who I am”).
At lunchtime, take a few deep breaths and review your morning. Identify something for which you can be grateful and focus for a minute on feeling thankful. At the end of the day, focus on positive moments from your day as you inhale and imagine negative things being carried away on your breath as you exhale.
Once you have implemented a plan for finding your own calm, try PAUSE with your child. Morris offers several child-friendly ideas from which you can pick what works for your family. One of the simplest is a breath break. When you see your child getting wound up, call a brief timeout so everyone can breathe deeply together several times. You can even encourage children to slowly lift their arms over their heads as they inhale and then lower them as they exhale, which helps them focus.
Another option is the three minute check-in. Invite your child to breathe slowly with you for one minute. Then, in a second minute, encourage your child to relax their body from their head down to their toes. Suggest they focus first on their face and neck, and then move to their arms and hands, belly and back, legs and, lastly, feet and toes. Spend the third minute asking each person to share one word or color that describes how they feel, followed by a few more deep breaths.
When your family has more time, use a mindful walk or stretching to find your calm together. Walk around the block or through a park while paying close attention to the sounds or colors around you. Notice which ones rev you up and which calm you down. Focus on locating the calming ones and let them soak into your heart and mind. Or move through a series of yoga poses together, breathing deeply as you shift from cat to cow and rest in child’s pose.