Thankfully, there are some really useful tools available to help children and teens manage difficult moments. The “mindful minute” is a perfect example. In a few shorts steps, kids can learn to let go of negative thoughts and to reconnect with a calm, focused, and strong part of themselves. Over time, the practice of mindfulness–purposefully paying attention to experience in a non-judgmental way–can help kids learn to step back from painful or punishing thoughts and feelings, so that they feel less overwhelmed. To help them get them started, share this exercise with your child or teen:
Step 1: Sit comfortably with your feet flat on the floor, ideally somewhere you won’t be disturbed such as your bedroom or the school library.
Step 2: Gently close your eyes or, if you prefer, maintain a soft downwards gaze about one or two feet in front of you.
Step 3: Bring your attention to how you’re breathing. Without trying to control your breath, just notice what it feels like as air moves into your nostrils and down into your lungs. Feel your abdomen gently expanding. Then notice the sensations in your body as the abdomen deflates with each outbreath.
Step 4: Now, purposely try to slow down your breathing to a snail’s pace. Try to make your outbreath just a bit slower than your inbreath, even just a tiny bit. Repeat two more times. It’s completely okay if your mind wanders, that’s normal. When it happens, just bring your mind right back to your breathing, as soon as you notice.
Step 5: Finally, let your breathing return to its regular pace. Notice what your body feels like. It might feel more relaxed, likely because you had a break from the thinking that can rev up your body. When you’re ready, open your eyes and bring your attention back to your surroundings.
After some practice, you can try using this exercise during the school day. For example, try it out in one of the following situations:
1) Before a test or oral presentation. Try using a mindful moment either just before you enter the classroom or while sitting at your desk as test papers are being handed out. This is the moment!
2) Before a challenge that’s a bit scary and a bit exciting. Whether it’s a big game or heading on stage for the school talent show, using a few seconds to bring your attention to the breath will help you anchor yourself in the right direction.
3) Facing a tough situation. Focusing on the breath can help you attain balance in hard situations, like during a disagreement with a friend or not knowing the answer when you’re called on in class.