In talking with parents lately, I’ve noticed that the reference of “summer’s coming” can either bring a calming sensation with the relief from strict school schedules, or overwhelming concern over how to keep their children safe, healthy and active without those strict school bells and routines.
To prevent a well-intentioned restful summer turning into a stressful break for the whole family, try transforming everyday activities (or trying new ones!) into a mindfulness practice.
Mindfulness is a practice that has been used in therapy to help clients become more aware of each of their senses (sight, smells, sounds, taste and touch) without judgment. It’s been found that the more parents can help children practice these mindful exercises, the more enjoyable for both parties and long-lasting the effects will be because the skills were developed within a loving relationship.
But how can we make our summer more delightful through the practice of mindfulness? Check out these easy and economical tips to help reduce stress and other symptoms of depression, anxiety, and/or mood disorders.
• Take a walk. Observe all the colors, point out any trees/flowers/plants/houses you normally take for granted during your busy day.
• Go to the beach. Observe the waves, the visuals in the sand, the clouds, people, animals in sight.
• Go to the park. Take a look at all the different areas to explore at the park. Is there a place for smaller children, older children, skate park, any monuments, murals?
• Plant a flower together. Pay attention to the smells of the dirt. Is there a difference in smell when the dirt is dry and wet? Do different plants have different smells?
• Go on a walk. Observe all the scents you smell as you are on a walk to your grocery store. Any smells you have never noticed before? Once at the store, what section is your favorite?
• Cook a meal together. Describe and smell all the ingredients. Take time to smell the herbs and spices used.
• Go to the beach or park. Observe all the sounds around you. Are people talking, laughing, or yelling? Are their animals making noises? Can you hear the wind in the trees? What sounds do waves make?
• Attend music at the park night. Listen to the instruments. What different sound do the drums, horns, voices or guitars make? Which is your child’s favorite sound? Which is their least favorite?
• Dance at home Turn on the radio or put on the household favorite song. Listen to all the sounds. Make it a game for every family member to call out the different sounds.
• Cook a meal together. Just like you would enjoy the smells of your meal, the same can be done with your taste buds. Try to taste every ingredient added when you prepared it, then describe them.
• Enjoy something cold like ice cream or frozen drinks and pay attention to the sensations of the coldness on your taste buds. Make your own ice cream or frozen desserts with your kids at home. Then as you’re eating talk about what all the different ingredients feel and taste like.
• Play in the water. At the pool, beach, or even take a run through the sprinklers. How does water feel on your skin, head and face? What does the sand feel like as you get closer to the water? How does the water feel in the ocean compared to a pool or from a water hose?
• Build something together. A puzzle, a bookshelf or a picture frame. How do these objects feel differently? Do you have to sand down wood? Are you painting? (Other senses can be used too… what does each material smell like?)
• Make a stress ball. Fill balloons with flour, beads or rice. Ask your child how the stress ball feels. Which sensation is most favorable to your tactile preference? Can you practice using it during a stressful situation? How did it make you feel? Or, you can fill your balloons with water and have a fun-filled water balloon fight! Make sure to discuss the sensations they’re feeling while staying cool, safe and having fun!
Priscilla Gomez, MSW, is a clinical therapist in The Guidance Center’s school-based program.