Today, your toddler acted out because you put her fruits in a different bowl, and she wasn’t ready for that new “change.” Yesterday it was because you couldn’t give her another apple, yet they ran out. Tomorrow, she’ll cry because you won’t let her lick all the grapes and take a bite out of every mango. The toddler tantrum phase can drive any parent mad. What’s worse, you never quite know what to expect next.
Flushed cheeks, clenched fists, and shallow, shaky breaths, and you’re already starting to think about your next move because you can sense an impending meltdown. At this point, you have a few options- you can intervene in the hope that you mitigate the damage, you can whisk the kiddo home (or at least out of the public eye) before the tantrum starts, or you can just hunker down and wait it out. But what if you can avoid the meltdown altogether? Most parents are thinking, “What? Can I do that? Why am I learning this now?” Turns out that it is possible, at least some of the time. Read on to learn more about how mindfulness can help ease baby tantrums.
How Mindful Breathing Works
According to research, mindfulness- the wellness keyword of the moment- can help keep children calm and centered, far from tantrum town. By building a toddler’s awareness of their own physical and emotional state and enhancing the mind-body connection, mindfulness exercises have been proven to lower stress, anxiety, and self-harm in children of all ages. Kids who learn mindfulness meditation skills can invoke phrases, keywords, and images, helping them calm themselves instead of rolling on the floor, slamming doors, and screaming. Simply put, mindful breathing helps a child pay attention to what’s happening at the moment with curiosity and kindness.
Parent Map adds that in the book “The Yes Brain: How to Cultivate Courage, Curiosity, and Resilience In Your Child,” authored by two best-sellers Daniel J. Seigel, M.D., and Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D., they describe children’s emotional zones: the furious about-to-melt down “red zone,” the calm, connected “green zone” and the withdrawn, overstimulated “blue zone.” By practicing simple mindfulness activities, parents can help toddlers stay in the calm “green zone” where they’re highly likely to make better decisions and maintain behavioral and emotional regulation.
Also, Dr. Lee Freedman, a psychiatrist at Toronto’s Centre for Mindfulness Studies, tells Parents Canada that she’s seen kids with particularly poor impulse control, such as those diagnosed with ADHD, learn to control volatile reactions by feeling their breathing. That moment of quiet puts a pause on more volatile thinking and less reactivity. These skills grow over time before they can be practical in specific upsetting moments. So, speaking about mindfulness in a calm environment can set the stage for your toddler to make use of these skills before a tantrum strikes.
How To Get Started On Mindful Breathing
Stable mindfulness practice requires consistent repetition and routine rather than a quick fix. Here’s what you need to know:
- You’ll have to go first- According to Everyday Mindfulness, practicing mindful breathing will keep you calmer, putting you in a better position to react empathetically to your baby’s demands. Remaining mindful also increases your meaningful connections throughout your day. Begin inside your wrist to check your own pulse. Your child’s tantrum will upset your nervous system, so you need to ground yourself mindfully. Toddlers’ and preschoolers’ brains don’t process words when they feel upset. Instead, they read faces, listen to the tone of voice, and interpret body posture. Let your kiddo watch you take a couple of deep breaths, slow down movements, and get back to a calm state. If everything else fails, at least you back some harmony in a hard parenting moment.
- Try mindfulness exercises– For especially heated moments, it wouldn’t hurt to have several mindfulness exercises on deck to help toddlers de-escalate when they’re unable to do it themselves. After all, children don’t want to lose control any more than we do. You can have your toddler do a ‘fidget spinner meditation.’ You can give a fidget spinner toy, let them spin it, and then take deep breaths until it stops spinning.
- You can also try a time-in– When steamed-up toddlers need to cool down, a “time-in” lets them regroup and grow important skills that they might skip in a solitary time-out. You can try mindful toolkits with calming activities to help your child grow emotional recognition and learn techniques for keeping the peace.
- Sit still and practice breathwork– Remove all distractions and set up a place for your child to practice breathing. Show her how to sit still for half a second, 45 seconds, and then a minute, and then teach her mindful breathing and make it simple. She can blow bubbles, which draws attention to slow, long exhales, accessing the nervous system’s calm-down response. You can also pair deep breathing with a physical movement, such as holding a yoga pose.
- You can also try mindfulness apps such as Buddhify or Headspace, which offer quick meditations to help children out of an angry or negative state. However, for toddlers and preschoolers, you’ll have to guide them through these meditations.
BabyGaga spoke to midwife and author Tracy Donegan about the value of practicing mindfulness in pregnancy and postpartum.
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