The past year was crazy. Finances. Family. Working from home. Homeschooling. Navigating a pandemic. Stress. Anxiety. Depression. The present is hard. The future is uncertain. What happened to our family? What will happen next?
Rarely are our minds engaged in what is going on right now.
Our attention is so focused on what happened yesterday or what will happen tomorrow—we miss the right now. Sometimes we get jarred out of the present by our schedules, cellphones, and to-do lists. We often fail to stop and savor what we are doing with the people we are doing it with.
We aren’t “in” the moment if we’re not being mindful in our family. As a family, you might be together, but you don’t connect.
How do you avoid mindlessly running from one thing to the next—both physically and especially mentally? How do you keep the past and the future from creating stress and anxiety in your family’s present? Stay connected to each other? How do you promote the mental skills needed to keep sharp and “in” the moment with your family? How do you help your family avoid these stress and anxiety pitfalls and better appreciate the time you have with each other?
Mindfulness is the ability to be fully present, aware of where you are and what you’re doing. The benefit is a more focused life with less bad stress and an increased ability to enjoy and connect with your family at a given moment.
Sounds simple, right? Well, it is, and it isn’t. It takes practice. If you’re like most people out there, you’ve trained yourself to put your mind in other places besides the present. And that, of course, affects your family.
Fortunately, practicing mindfulness in your family isn’t rocket science. There are several practices a family can do together to improve mindfulness. Here are just a few:
This can be practiced in your neighborhood, on a trail, or anywhere you can walk together. Coach your family to walk just a little slower than you usually walk. Use all of your senses to take in what’s around you. Smell the air. Listen to the sounds and look for sights that you might usually pass up. Feel the ground beneath your feet.
Help your kids to name what they’re experiencing: I see a bird’s nest in the tree! I can smell flowers blooming! I hear the crickets chirping! The ground feels rocky under my feet! You don’t have to do this for your entire walk for it to be good practice; make it a practice once a week as part of where you walk.
This is a great exercise, especially if you or your child is feeling anxious. The idea is to focus on your breathing. There are many mindful breathing techniques out there. I like the 4-7-8 technique. Sit comfortably with a straight spine and neck. As you inhale, count to 4 in your mind. Hold your breath for 7 seconds. Then exhale, counting to 8, making a whoosh sound.
Be aware of your breath, the feeling of air entering and exiting your lungs. If it’s difficult to hold your breath for that long, speed up the counts in your head, but keep the same 4-7-8 ratio of time.
The idea is to be aware of the present by savoring food with all of your senses. For instance, if you’re about to eat a potato chip, notice how it feels in your hands (brittle, crumbly), how it smells (salty, baked), how it looks (the shape, the crumbs, the ridges), how it sounds in your hand and as you eat it (crunchy), and obviously, how it tastes (salty, vinegary, cheesy).
This practice requires you to slow down considerably when eating (which isn’t a bad thing with kids). Practice it using all kinds of foods, such as hard candy, bread, or a spoonful of honey.
Life is too short to have our minds anywhere else other than on what is going on at the moment with the people we’re with. Practicing mindfulness can help your family experience less stress and tension and focus more on the joy of being together. It doesn’t take much to exercise mindfulness in your daily family life. Take one of these exercises and try them out with your family this week. You will enjoy being in the moment with the ones you love the most.
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