Back to School?

Back to School: Yippee – Oh No
Simple Ways That Mindfulness Can Help,
by Maura FoxMauraFox2016

The air is changing and the days are getting shorter. We all know what that means. It’s time to go back to school. Maybe your child is going to pre-school, kindergarten, college or anywhere in between, and your emotions can shift all over the map. On one hand, you may be excited that you can get back to a routine–the big calendar showing where everyone is to be and when. On the other hand, it can be overwhelming and exhausting. The first few days are often filled with endless forms that need to be completed with the same information from the last 5 years, signing permissions for internet and photo releases and then the endless list of supplies, “No, it has to be a RED NOTEBOOK, the teacher said so.” How about the not so obvious emotions: fear, helplessness, loneliness, worry? We send our children off with the hope that they will be cared for and nurtured throughout their day.

I remember putting my daughter on the bus on the first day of 5th grade, the last year of elementary school. No big deal, I went to work. On the way the song Runaway Train, by Soul Asylum was playing and I started to cry. The only thing I heard was “runaway train never going back…” There she was, my little 5th grader, her last year in elementary school, next year its off to middle school then high school, college, marriage, children. We laugh about it now, but at the time I did not know about mindfulness and living in the present moment non-judgmentally. I had her all grown up and leaving me for good. Notice that– leaving “me.” It was all about me back then, but that’s a story for another time.

Jon-Kabat Zinn, Professor of Medicine and creator of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, defines mindfulness as “the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment and nonjudgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment by moment”. Mindfulness is a practice that allows us to let go of worry and release ourselves from judgment. It is an in-the-moment awareness and acceptance of thoughts and feelings.

Mindfulness is good for us. It allows us to be present in our parenting, choosing our response instead of having a knee-jerk reaction. We all want the same thing for our children, to be happy, healthy and successful in everything they do. As another school year begins here are some things you can try to create calmness in your life and help you connect to your children.

-Self-Compassion: Identify and acknowledge any feelings/emotions that arise without judgment.
-Recognize that things are temporary.
-Focus on your breath. Stop, take a breath, observe and then proceed. Taking this short pause, even for 10 seconds, is the best tool for calming the body and allowing us space to choose how we respond in any given situation.
-Breathing Buddy: Have your child use their favorite stuffed toy. Have your child lie down on their back and place the breathing buddy on their belly.  The breathing buddy will rise and fall with with each breath. You can count to three on the inhale and back down on the exhale to encourage slow breathing.
-Be present. The most important thing our children want from us is our attention. Put down the cell phone, turn off the TV, stop what you are doing, and just be with your child. Listen to what your child has to say with your undivided attention.

Above all, remember that we do the best we can each day with the knowledge that we have. The focus of mindfulness is to bring awareness to aspects of our daily lives so we can make decisions that minimize stress and create greater balance in our lives and the lives of our children. It takes courage, effort and patience but by developing a mindfulness practice we can continue to grow along with our children.

Maura Fox has been in the field of education for over 30 years. She has experience with students on the autism spectrum, emotional/behavioral, ADHD and executive function disorders as well as language/learning/ reading disabilities. As a Certified Mindfulness Educator, she has taught mindfulness to school students K-12, and educators, parents and adults wanting to learn a different way of being. See her November 17th One big roof workshop on our cAlendar.

How can we keep kids calm & resilient?

By Rachel Alderman, LCSW.

Most of us have been there: a young child is laughing gleefully, having the time of their life, and then a moment later, is sobbing after the utterance of a simple word (homework, bedtime, or the dreaded, no). Yes, there may be some dramatics involved, however, this is greatly a function of brain maturity.

cryingMost of us come equipped with parts of the brain that are necessary for survival. Of particular note is a small part called the amygdala, which is in charge of sensing and reacting to threats of danger. In contrast, the prefrontal cortex (PFC), the part of the brain that acts to regulate mood, emotions and motivation does not fully develop until our early twenties. Throughout the day, the amygdala and PFC communicate with one another. The amygdala senses something is up (an unexpected noise, an unfriendly look, a difficult problem) and checks in with the PFC to inform it of a potential threat, and then lets the PFC decide how to interpret and react to this information.

There are some occasions in which the threat is interpreted by the amygdala as too great to waste time on logic and planning and the amygdala reacts on its own (fight, flight or freeze reaction). There are occasions when this survival reaction is highly important. However, in young brains, the communication between these two structures can be very tentative, and the ability for the brain to use logic and perspective under stress is minimal. Events that the adult brain sees as no big deal cause a reaction of monumental proportions in the younger crowd. Many parents attribute meltdowns to defiance, being uncooperative, tired or “out of sorts”. However, to children, the dreaded words listed above can conjure up fear of failure, fear of the dark, or feeling overwhelmed. These are interpreted as real threats and are experienced at a visceral level.

In practicing mindfulness, we focus on not letting our thoughts interfere with what we want to pay attention to. The process of recognizing thoughts without reacting to them and then returning our attention back to what we want to be experiencing, actually exercises our brain’s ability to be more aware of what sets us off and allows time to avoid immediately engaging in illogical reactions. As mindfulness is practiced, neurons are actually added to the communication pathway between the amygdala and the PFC, leading to observable changes in these structures.

With this physical growth, conscious effort in practice leads to lasting changes in the brain’s ability to react to worries or adversity without becoming overwhelmed and engaging in behavior that usually makes the situation more difficult for everyone. Mindfulness is not only a great way to teach children self-calming skills and increase feelings of joy and compassion, it also gives kids a real boost in emotional maturity that will have benefits of resiliency for years to come.

Rachel Alderman is an LCSW who will be joining the staff at One Roof on July 1st. Welcome Rachel!