Have you ever been on the way to the pediatrician’s office when you happened to mention to your kids that it’s time for their annual flu shot? Then all chaos breaks out—they start shaking, screaming, crying, and begging that you turn around and take them home right away.
Our children may face situations on-the-go that cause them great anxiety. It may be a trip to the doctor, the first day of school, a challenging test, traveling on an airplane, or going to an unfamiliar place like a friend’s party or relative’s house. How can we help our kids get through these stressful times so they can learn to calm themselves down?
One helpful technique in addressing anxiety is distraction. If we can interrupt the ruminations and overwhelming fear, then our children can get back to a calmer, more balanced state of mind. We can teach our kids how to do this by using mindfulness to be fully present in the moment. Mindfulness allows our children to better understand their mind-body connection, and to stop being so reactive to thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations no matter what is happening in their environment.
A commonly used mindfulness tactic is to have tools that trigger all of our 5 senses. To make it easy for you to arm your kids with tools to calm down when they get panicky, consider putting together a “5 Senses” Stress Busting Kit based on these ideas:
Feeling different textures can be an effective distraction tool. One trick is to have your child touch and feel one texture at a time. Have them tell themselves what it feels like. This way their full attention is on what they are touching. It is helpful to have several different types of textures to rotate through, such a smooth, rough, slimy, squishy, fuzzy, and hard items.
- Touch and feel books like Pat the Bunny
- Touch and feel cards
- Stress balls with happy faces or motivational messages
- Buy a sensory toy kit or put together your own a bag of items with multiple textures like a tissue, sandpaper, a cotton ball, a squishy ball, and a piece of felt.
The sense of sight offers many possibilities for relaxation. Here are a few ideas for your stress busting kit that are easily accessible on the go:
- Mindful coloring books: Creative activities like coloring have been scientifically proven to reduce stress levels because we become so focused on what we are doing when we reach a state of “flow” that we forget what is going on around us. Your children can use any type of coloring book, but mandalas are very popular in the mindfulness world. You can easily bring along a coloring book and pack of crayons or markers.
- Nature imagery: Amazingly, just looking at pictures of nature scenes can reduce stress because our parasympathetic nervous system (which helps us to calm down) is activated. Bring along a packet of national park postcards or nature-themed photicular books that use a special technology so each image is like a 3-D movie on the page.
- Kaleidoscope: Looking at colorful, mesmerizing patterns can grab anyone’s attention for minutes on end, and is another wonderful way for our children to get lost in the moment.
Mindful eating is another popular relaxation technique. It is a good idea to be prepared with a couple of items that your kids can use to focus on taste. Teach them how to use mindful eating to direct their attention to the flavors in their mouth. Try a mindful eating exercise such as Mindfulness and the Art of Chocolate Eating.
- Trail mix: A must-have for your kit since it is a non-perishable snack that has multiple items to taste like granola, nuts, seeds, raisins, dried cranberries, yogurt drops, and chocolate pieces.
- Sugar free chewing gum multi flavor pack: Chewy gum can relieve stress and anxiety, according to a 2008 study.
- Flavored oral sensory chew toys: These are great for children 6 months and up. Not only do these have flavors to focus on, but they also have multiple textures.
Music helps take our attention from fear to something pleasurable. It is a healthy distraction, allows us to be mindful, and forces our brain to shift the thinking process. Consider putting together a special playlist for your kids to listen to when they are stressed. Although slow, quiet classical music is known to have calming effects like lowering pulse and heart rate, reducing blood pressure, and decreasing the levels of stress hormones in our body, it is really a personal choice to discover which music you find most soothing. Upbeat songs about happiness may work for some while soothing nature sounds may work for others.
As the old adage “stop and smell the roses” reminds us, fragrances can help us to relax and be in the moment. There is no scent more relaxing than lavender. The antioxidant components of lavender can lower the level of stress hormones in our body. There are a number of methods to use lavender to soothe stress and anxiety. Here a few that you can throw in your stress busting kit:
What will you put in your stress busting kit?