Mindfulness begins with acknowledging and appreciating all the blessings of Allah (SWT). We can teach our kids that dua can be made anytime, anywhere. We can also make a list of blessings to focus on each week. You can write or type them up. I find visuals very helpful because it is so easy to forget when we are trying to catch up with other tasks during the day. So, if it's written and posted, it will be easier for everyone in the family to remember to take a few extra minutes to reflect and say Alhamdulilah for those blessings. Teach them small prayers they can say when they feel down or uncertain. Alhamdullilah, I remember learning Ayat-al-Kursi with my mom when I was young and throughout my school years I would always recite it before starting an exam. It would take the pressure off and my mind would tell me "you are just going to do your best and leave the rest to Allah".
Let's take our kids out on a mindful walk and ask them what they see, think and wonder. We can take a magnifying glass, notebook, pencil/crayons, bag/bucket to collect interesting (safe) findings. Focus on using all senses to make observations. What does the air smell like? What do you notice on the trees? How does the grass feel? Asking them open-ended questions will spark their curiosity and help redirect their focus from any stressors. You can share how Allah (SWT) has created things in nature to help us. The trees give us fresh, clean air to breathe in. The clouds give us rain to grow food. Take in the vast beauty and openness of the sky. Together, wonder and reflect on Allah (SWT) creations beyond Earth.
The Root Cause:
Working with children for almost ten years has taught me that there is ALWAYS a reason why worries and anxieties become too strong. Just like adults, if we feel down, there is always an underlying issue that leads to it. I have seen this situation so many times where the impact of domestic issues on children's emotional health and social behavior is taken too lightly. Mamas, I will mention again that children absorb EVERYTHING. I remember when Zee was around 10 months old, my husband and I were talking when he playfully pushed me and Zee (this tiny sweet little infant) had such a worried look on his face. He crawled over to me and started making angry sounds at his dad (I was good at decoding by ten months 🤭). I have seen situations when children are going through a transition at home (parent returning to work etc), or parental separation, can make social adjustment very tough for their young developing minds.
Our bodies really need to shake up to come out of certain feelings. Sometimes, situations and emotions make us so vulnerable and weak that just talking yourself out does not work. We really need to move our bodies to get rid of that feeling of being "stuck". Mental freedom is tied to physical freedom. So, let's get our kids off the couch and out of the house. Whether it's through walking, running, dancing or jumping, their bodies and minds will feel lighter.
*Let Them Talk it out
One of my six-year-old student's grandfather passed away a few months ago and he was having a very difficult time processing it. He would tell my colleague and I that "I still feel mad that my nonno passed away". He became irritable at home as well as at school. He started getting into arguments and fights with other children. Eventually, our ongoing communication with the family allowed them to have a conversation with him about his feelings for a few weeks until he began to feel calmer and more accepting of the death.
Adults have also started using painting and coloring as a way to feel calm. This is an easy and healthy way for them to connect with themselves. Coloring is my go-to activity for kids in September when they all come in worrying and sad because they miss their families. We draw together (self-portraits or their families), make cards, create stories to get to know each other, and to build a calm and trusting atmosphere in the room. Whenever they are having a meltdown, you can try redirecting them to drawing and coloring. Ask them to tell you what their drawing is about, who is in it and what is happening?
Practicing Deep Belly Breathing:
I regularly practice deep breathing with the children. It takes time for them to understand how to do it properly, but it's never too early to get them familiar with this practice. We use our fingers to count and breathe ten times. Anxiety causes our breathing to become shallow. Due to improper breathing and lack of oxygen, children may also feel chest tightness, but may not be able to communicate it. Deep breathing clears up the fogginess in the brain, relaxes our tensed up muscles and mind.
Positive Affirmations and Reassurance:
As the school year progresses, I discuss with my students the importance of positive self-talk. I post affirmations like "I am amazing", "I can do my best" around the classroom and we say them to ourselves each morning. You can put positive affirmations on your children's desks or side tables. You can send positive and encouraging notes in their lunch boxes. It will brighten up their day! Reassuring them that feelings are temporary can lift off a heavy burden and help them feel safe and secure. They need to know that we are not being critical or judgmental. Instead, we will be there whenever they need us.
Share your stories:
Who doesn't love to be reminded that they are not alone? Children love to hear that we feel worried, sad, angry and anxious at times too. At the beginning of the year, I tell my students how I had to leave my baby at home with his grandparents to come to work, so I am feeling sad too because I miss him. It's amazing how they begin to open up so much more after hearing this. Share stories of times when you may have felt worried and how you overcame it. Our children look up to us and are always waiting for us to connect with them on a deeper and personal level.
The warmth of love:
Human touch has a lot of power. A hug, a handheld, eye contact, and a calm voice is sometimes all it needs to bring calmness in the hearts and minds of children (or any human being!) The more hugs children continue to get, the more calm voices they hear throughout their day, the easier it will become for them to deal with challenging situations.
They watch and learn ALL the time. They may be in the next room, but their ears are still paying attention to what you are saying. I always bring up how my colleague and I treat each other, share, and solve our problems together and that seems to really get the children's attention. You can mention how you resolve matters with your spouse and other people in the family. Deep Breathe in front of them from time to time and tell them you are calming down or that you are going for a walk to relax your mind. If you are an active person (or InshAllah are going to be), share the positive impact it has on our mental and emotional well-being.
Playing is children's way to learn. Puppets, toys, and games can all be a big support when it comes to processing big emotions and situations. Children are a lot more receptive when a dinosaur is teaching them about kindness or a doll is apologizing. Playing to learn is a lot more fun and interactive.