by Dannette Kallay, MD
Disappointments in life are inevitable. Even when trying their hardest to be their best self, children experience setbacks. As parents and caregivers, we would do anything in our power to make a child’s pain go away. But, is that the best approach?
Mindfulness techniques can be so useful when a child experiences disappointment, loss or rejection. This means helping them acknowledge their feelings which demonstrates acceptance of sadness, anger, frustration and any other emotions that result from disappointment.
Mindfulness meditation is paying attention to what is going on in the present moment. In the context of disappointment and loss, mindfulness just means being aware of how you’re feeling. It allows one to take an honest look at what they are experiencing without themselves or another rationalizing away their true feelings. Children are never too young to learn how to use mindfulness to approach any situation with self-compassion and presence. With practice, mindfulness can help a child cope with situations that are stressful or bring up negative emotions. As children mature, looking at challenging situations through the lens of mindfulness helps them cultivate resilience.
Mindfulness activities for children can include focusing on the breath. For young children, just have them place their hand or a stuffed animal on their belly and notice the rise and fall of the belly with the breath, and, if age appropriate, count the breath. Older children may enjoy the four square breath in which you breathe in for a count of four. Hold the breath for a count of four. Breathe out for a count of four. Hold the breath for a count of four, all while drawing a square in their minds or even literally on a piece of paper. Do several rounds and return to normal breathing. As children learn to use the breath to calm themselves, encourage them to notice how they feel about a certain situation and to notice if negative emotions begin to subside as relaxation ensues.
Mindfulness techniques don’t require a certain place or posture and can be practiced at any time of the day. For technology assisted mindfulness, there are mobile apps that provide guided meditations. My favorites are Calm, Insight Timer and Headspace. Helping children learn these techniques and practice them often gives them tools to self regulate when you aren’t there to soothe things over.