The power of the pause: Helping your child learn about mindfulness in this stressful time

By Frank Sileo, Magination Press Family

Families all over the world are experiencing increased stress and anxiety. As we all practice social distancing, our daily routines have been disrupted. While this is stressful, it also provides an opportunity to slow down, to pause, and learn new coping strategies. The post below explores the power of the “pause” and provides tips for helping your child learn about mindfulness. Now is a great time to practice mindfulness together.
For children and teenagers, learning how to take a pause requires practice and support from adults, just like learning to play an instrument or ride a bicycle. We want to encourage them to pause so they can catch their breath; be in the moment; experience what they are thinking, feeling, and doing; and regulate their emotions and behavior. Read on for some helpful tips for teaching mindfulness to children and teens.

Be Patient
Children—especially young children—may initially become frustrated when learning to take a pause. Your patience with them will help them feel more confident about relying on taking a pause when things get difficult. Be aware that children may give up easily or make negative statements like “This is boring!” “Why do I have to do this?” or “I feel silly!” If your child says such things, don’t dismiss her. Acknowledge her feelings and tell her that taking pauses might seem strange in the beginning. Focus on the effort made by your child and the positive results that come from engaging in mindful pausing. The more your child practices taking pauses, the more comfort and success she will experience. Have her choose a pause that she enjoys or one that has worked for her before. Your attitude about taking a pause is key to her success, as well. Encourage her to practice, and practice together. After all, pauses are good for everyone!

Acknowledge Differences
Some children and teens may have an easier time pausing than others. The pauses you use should be based on your child’s age and developmental level. Children with certain clinical issues such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or problems with impulse control, emotional regulation, executive functioning, depression, or anxiety may have more difficulty slowing down to pause, even while they have a greater need for taking pauses in their daily lives. Learning to successfully pause and be mindful may greatly impact a child or teen’s overall emotional and behavioral functioning.

Know When to Pause
Anytime is a good time to take a pause! Initially, however, it’s a good idea to introduce pauses when your child is calm. He will be much more focused and compliant, and more likely to be successful. If you try to teach a pause when your child is already upset, he may not be able to properly process what you are trying to teach him. Be aware of the emotional and behavioral triggers in your child. For example, if your child struggles with homework, remind him ahead of time about taking a pause or two. If he starts to get upset, help him acknowledge what he’s feeling and thinking without judging himself, and then implement a pause. You could say, “I know math frustrates you. Math can be a frustrating subject. Let’s take a moment, realize you are frustrated, and then we can take a pause by washing our face.” Once your child knows how to pause, it will be easier for him to apply it to more emotional situations.
But pauses are not just to be taken when things are not going well for your child—a pause when he’s feeling good helps him to appreciate the moment and even remember it better in the future. If you are at a carnival, encourage your child to pause and take in the smell of the cotton candy, the sounds, and the sensations of the rides.

Children Learn from You
Children and teens alike notice how adults around them deal with frustration, anger, disappointment, and difficulties in their lives, as well as how they express positive emotions like joy, love, contentment, and peace. The manner in which you handle difficult emotions and situations will greatly influence how children will react when met with challenges of their own. Share with your child something that is difficult for you. Let her know that you are taking a pause to get in control and to handle the situation better. You might say, “I am feeling stressed about the traffic today. I am going to take a pause and go for a walk before I make dinner.” When you are experiencing a positive emotion or situation, also model taking a pause. One example might be to say, “I had such a great day, I am going to put on my comfy pajamas and snuggle with the dog to really enjoy this feeling.”

Endless Possibilities
These ideas are only a few that can help your child or teen as he learns to become more mindful. After reading and trying these, foster discussion with your child about other pauses he can try. Encourage him to use his imagination and creativity. Make it fun and playful—try to make your child curious about pauses. Start slowly and gradually build on the concept of regularly taking pauses in life. Being mindful and engaging in mindfulness is a way of being, not just an activity!

Note that taking a pause should never replace other treatment modalities, such as psychotherapy or medication if needed. If your child or teen continues to struggle emotionally or behaviorally at home, in school, or in other settings, it may be appropriate to seek a consultation from a licensed psychologist or other licensed mental health professional.

As you begin to practice mindfulness with your child or teen, you might want to try yoga or breathing exercises. You can also explore mindfulness books for children available from Magination Press.

For online kids’ activities about A World of Pausabilities, created by APA and Reading Is Fundamental click here.


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