6 Simple Tips to Start the School Year Mindfully
Cereal on the floor. Bad news on the TV. Stains on your son’s favorite shirt, so naturally, a screaming match ensues. Any parent knows it’s all too easy to start a new school year on the wrong foot.
The good news? It’s equally as easy to create a sense of calm amid the chaos. It all starts with mindfulness, says Dina Kaplan, founder of The Path, a meditation workshop in New York City. “It’s really important for parents to be mindful, especially during the beginning of the school season,” she says. “It can seem overwhelming to get everything done, and it’s easy to take stress out on the people closest to you. If you’re mindful, you can feel aware of stress.”
We know it sounds New Age-y, but at its basic level, mindfulness simply means being aware of yourself and your impact on others, according to Kaplan. Below are some easy, practical ways to bring mindfulness into your home and create a calmer, more peaceful environment—as school begins and all year long.
Create a calm morning routine.
A more mindful a.m. can have a positive impact on the rest of the day. It can also help you respond better to all the curveballs in life you can’t control, like traffic or a dirty diaper, says Dr. Laura Markham, Ph.D. , a clinical psychologist and author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids.
Rushing around like crazy can make kids more anxious and less likely to cooperate, Markham says. In contrast, starting the day in a calmer, more mindful way can motivate them to please you. She suggests snuggling with your kids in bed for a few minutes, saying, “I love you,” and giving them a hug in the morning to create a mindful connection. Try to speak softly instead of yelling (we know—easier said than done!), and keep distracting screens, like smartphones and TV, out of the picture, Markham recommends. Instead, set a peaceful tone by playing light classical music or even birdsong as everyone gets ready for school.
Catch enough zzz’s.
Self-care is a huge part of mindfulness, Markham says. “You can’t be emotionally generous to others if your own well-being is out of whack,” she explains. Method number one: Get enough sleep. If you’re exhausted, go to sleep right after your kids do, Markham says. And put down the phone—the blue light it emits has been shown to inhibit the production of melatonin, a sleep hormone. We promise Facebook will still be there the next day.
As for your children, try to get them to bed early enough that they get up on their own—without an alarm, Markham says. “If you have to drag them out of bed in the morning, it means they’re not getting enough sleep.”
Eat a healthy breakfast.
Fueling your body right plays a major role in self-care and ensuring a stable mood, Markham says. “Be more mindful about how you’re feeding your children as well as yourself in the busy early days of fall.” It’s also important to be flexible: If your kids refuse to eat scrambled eggs, for example, make smoothies with some almond butter or healthy protein powder for staying power, Markham suggests. Finally, don’t be so hard on yourself: It’s not the worst thing to give your kids a healthy granola bar for breakfast if you’re really in a rush, she says.
Most of all, make sure you eat breakfast, too. This will help you stay calmer and not get crabby, Markham says. If it’s too tough to eat while the kids are up, have a smoothie before you wake them in the mornings.
Minutes of meditation, that is. It’s so important to have a mindfulness practice that you can come back to in times of stress. And meditation is a lot simpler than it sounds: “Go somewhere that’s quiet—even the bathroom if need be (!)—and sit down with your feet on the ground and your back straight,” Kaplan suggests. “For a minute or five or 20, focus your attention on the breath coming in and out of your nostrils. When your mind wanders, just smile to yourself and bring your attention back to the breath. This will help reset your energy for the day.”
You can also check out guided meditations on apps such as Headspace, Calm, or Buddhify. “Put it on while nursing the baby, or after dropping off the kids at school or daycare,” Markham suggests. “It can really relax you and return you to a state of calm.” And when you know how achieve that state of calm, you can get your mind to go there—even in the 50-person line at Walgreens or Walmart.
Remember: “Stop, drop, and breathe.”
Markham swears by this mantra. Say you’re about to yell at your kid, freak out about traffic, or burst into tears when you realize you missed a doctor’s appointment. “The minute you notice you’re starting to get anxious, stop what you’re doing; drop the feeling; and take a deep breath,” she suggests. “This should allow you to shift into a calm place, and research shows that deep breathing keeps you from being flooded by flight or fight neurotransmitters.” You’ll start to notice your feelings, but not act on them—which is what mindfulness is all about, Markham says.
Make time for fun.
We think this is the best tip of all. “Fun is underrated,” Kaplan says. “After all, there’s no prize at the end of life for being miserable.” Mindfulness means being mindful of you, so when you feel stressed, take care of yourself, she explains. If you love to dance, sign up for a class, or just rock out at home to Beyoncé for a few minutes if that’s all you have time for, Kaplan suggests. Or go for a walk in the park, check out an art gallery, or take a workout class. A quick midday break from it all will make you better at everything you do, Kaplan says—and more fun to be around too!
– By Locke Hughes