For many families, life is anything but calm right now. The pandemic has upended so many aspects of our lives it's easy to feel stressed, frustrated and out of control.
Sarah Rudell Beach understands that. But the Minneapolis mom and mindfulness educator offers help in her latest book, "Mindfulness for Children: Simple Activities for Parents and Children to Create Greater Focus, Resilience, and Joy."
Rudell Beach, who was introduced to mindfulness as a new parent, started practicing it in the classroom as a high school teacher. She later became a certified mindfulness instructor, founding the education company Brilliant Mindfulness.
We talked to Rudell Beach about the power of glitter jars, dealing with distance learning and why mindfulness is as important for parents as it is for kids.
The interview has been edited for space and clarity.
Q: How did mindfulness become such a big part of your life?
A: I was introduced to mindfulness through prenatal yoga, when I was pregnant with my daughter, who is now almost 14. I reacted to mindfulness the way maybe a lot of people did back then. I was like, "I just don't have time for this. I'm working full time, I'm too busy."
But after my daughter was born, and then again after my son was born a few years later, I struggled with postpartum depression and sought help from my doctor. Again I was told, "You should try mindfulness."
I was at a point in my life when I knew I needed to figure out how to focus and self-regulate and function. So, I started reading about mindfulness and practicing mindfulness. Slowly but surely, I started to see some changes: I wasn't freaking out about things that I might have freaked out about before.
Q: Can you give us an example?
A: One night, the kids were getting kind of out of control in the bathtub. And before, I would have been feeling really overwhelmed and maybe freaked out. But I just breathed deeply, and then it became kind of a funny moment. I was like, "Oh, my gosh, what just happened? I can handle this chaos." That was really huge for me.
Q: How can parents best help kids deal with the pandemic?
A: I think it is really helpful for parents to practice mindfulness themselves, even just two minutes a day. We have to be able to handle our frustration to help them when they're frustrated.
Q: What other suggestions do you have for dealing with frustrated kids?
A: It's been helpful to use some mindfulness strategies with my children around managing stress. I start by saying, "OK, notice. Notice when you're feeling overwhelmed. Can we just take a few deep breaths?"
Then, I might ask them to notice other things. How their feet feel. If they can look around you and find four things that are blue. These simple little strategies help us orient away from whatever's bothering us in the moment and allow the nervous system to settle a bit.
Q: Do you have any suggestions for children who are struggling with distance learning?
A: It's so discombobulating. Just honor it and let them know, "Wow, this is hard. It's hard to not see your friends, it's hard to do school online and you might feel a little overwhelmed, and that's OK."
It might be useful to know what it is that they're feeling. Ask, "Are you feeling tired? Are you feeling frustrated? Are you not understanding something? Do you just miss your friends? Are you sad?" From there, you can think about what might help them feel better.
Q: And what might help them feel better?
A: Having a list of what makes your kid feel good and then making sure that we're building in time for those activities in our day.
Keep a list. Write it down. "I can go watch a cat video on YouTube, that makes me happy." "I can go run outside with a dog for a few minutes, that makes me happy." "Reading this book makes me happy."
Q: In your book, you offer a lot of mindfulness activities. Are there some that are more essential than others?
A: There are certain practices that are fundamental and that we could certainly do every day. Just doing some belly breathing, putting your hands on your belly and noticing what it feels like to breathe. Or just a little check-in, asking, "How are you feeling today?"
But also you can go through the book and pick ones that sound fun, then see which ones land for your child.
When I teach mindfulness to kids — whether high schoolers, elementary kids or my own children — the invitation is always: Mindfulness is a series of experiments. Let's see how this makes us feel.
Q: When is a good time to introduce a mindfulness activity?
A: The activities are kind of fun and playful. They're intended to be done not when your child is freaking out, but in a moment when your child is more calm and receptive. And then when there is a freak-out moment, you could say, "Remember when we pretended that our emotions were animals? Did that help?"
Q: Do you have a favorite activity in the book?
A: One of my favorite activities to do is emotion charades. Ask your kid to keep quiet but to use their face, their body and their movements to act out an emotion. Everyone else has to guess what the emotion is.
It's fun, but it also teaches kids this idea that your emotion isn't just a thing in your head. It's something that happens all throughout your body.
It helps even young kids, 3-, 4-year-olds, develop an emotional vocabulary and this real awareness of what they're feeling. That's a core part of social emotional learning or emotional intelligence, being able to know what you're feeling when you're feeling it.
Q: My daughters loved making a glitter jar. Why are they so calming to watch?
A: I'm a dance mom, so anything that glitters will make me feel good. But it can be very soothing just on its own as a sensory and visual experience. Then you also can talk about how it feels when our minds get really busy.
We shake up that jar, and ask, "Does your mind ever feel that way? Do you ever feel like you're having so many thoughts you can't keep track of them, or do you ever have times where you just can't stop your mind from worrying?"
Kids — and adults — can relate to that. That's kind of what's happening in our mind. We need to let things settle, and so we take a few deep breaths. And we watch the glitter settle. It's not that the thought or the worry is necessarily going away, or that we have to get rid of it. But if we just bring a bit of stillness, then we can see a little bit more clearly.
Q: What are some ways to introduce mindfulness to older kids and teens?
A: There's some great mindfulness apps out there now that are really helpful. Short, guided practices, like the Calm app, work well with teens. I think teenagers really get excited about the brain science and the idea that we can learn how our brains work.