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Managing Difficult Emotions With Mindfulness

Author: Keisha Allen-Smith 

Have you ever witnessed a child in a store having a tantrum because they were told they cannot get something they want? 

Have you ever seen a child hitting another because they were denied a turn in a game, or because the other child was not sharing? Have you observed a child shouting, or throwing things, because they lost a game they were playing? These are common scenarios and are often met with consequences that are not effective in addressing the behaviours. 

Children experience difficult emotions just like adults. They are sometimes overcome with anger, sadness, or frustration. They get embarrassed, they worry, and have fears. They even encounter jealousy. 

When children do not have the vocabulary to talk about their feelings, they may act out those feelings in inappropriate ways. As parents, it is our job to teach our children to understand and navigate their emotions. One way to do this is use mindfulness techniques. 

In the simplest terms, mindfulness is being aware of what is happening in the present moment. It is about noticing your thoughts, feelings, and emotions, and allowing them to come and go without judgment. 

Mindfulness teaches children to take a moment to pause, collect themselves and make better choices when their emotions are triggered. Behind every behaviour is a feeling. When children engage in a negative action, we should try to figure out the feeling behind it. Mindfulness practitioners discovered that emojis are a great tool to use for this. This is how to use them. Say a child throws a toy across the room and appears angry. Talk to them about this, and when doing so, show them a set of emojis. Ask them to point out the emoji they believe felt most like them when they threw the toy. Once they identify the emoji, tell them what their emotion was. Label it. Then discuss other ways they could have responded to the situation. Doing this allows your child to develop an emotional vocabulary. They learn to talk about their feelings. 

Another way to develop this vocabulary is by discussing the feelings of characters in stories, or by talking about the emotional reactions of other people they come in contact with. 

Mindfulness also helps children identify and understand how their body reacts physically when they are experiencing difficult emotions. They begin to notice that they cry when sad, get butterflies when nervous, or clench their fists when angry. Once they gain this awareness, they can identify emotions as they arise, use mindful breathing techniques to help calm their nervous system, and choose an appropriate response to whatever situation they are in. 

This snake breathing exercise is one of many mindfulness techniques you can practice with your child:  

  • Sit in a comfortable position. 
  • Close your eyes and take a deep breath in through your nose. 
  • Breathe out through your mouth while saying the sound of the letter ā€˜sā€™. 
  • Continue this breathing pattern until you feel calm and grounded. 
  • When you are ready, open your eyes and notice how you feel. 

If you want your child to experience the benefits of mindfulness, it is important for you to model the behaviors you expect from them. It is beneficial for you to adopt a mindfulness practice of your own. Taking a few minutes each day to do a mindful meditation with your child allows you to spend quality time together; teaches them a valuable skill they can use in all areas of their lives; and improves their physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. 

With a consistent mindfulness practice, you will find that pausing and breathing becomes a natural response in challenging situations. This practice will help minimize the tantrum in the store, reduce the possibility of physical conflict with peers, and lessen the chance for emotional outbursts. 

To schedule a mindfulness workshops for parents, students, teachers or corporate clients, contact Keisha Allen-Smith at targetlearning@live.com. BPM