By Jen Rapanos, LMSW, RCYT
Learning to notice an emotion arising in the body and pausing to take the time to pay attention and care for it allows us to have more choices in how we respond to that emotion. Well-Bean has created a four-step process called planting the S.E.E.D. for emotional wellness that teaches children and families how to mindfully approach and investigate all of our feelings while learning to take care of them.
S Stop: Instead of reacting on autopilot, this step directs your child’s attention to whatever it is they’re experiencing in the present moment. Parents can provide support by offering “I notice” prompts. I notice you’re sad. I notice you’re clenching your fists like this. I notice your voice is getting louder. Sharing non-judgmental observation with your child provides them with a cue; there’s something going on that requires their attention. In this step you’re guiding your child to make a conscious choice to stop and pay attention to their feelings.
E Exhale s-l-o-w-l-y: Take a few big breaths with me. Consider what we know from neuroscience; children’s brains are still under construction and experiences help shape the brain. When you teach your child how to breathe fully and deeply you’re actually familiarizing them with the effects of the parasympathetic nervous system. This branch of the autonomic nervous system induces calm and relaxation; it sends signals through the body that all is well and safe. From this place of calm and ease, they are better able to access and strengthen connections to the area of the brain that helps manage their emotions and solve problems more skillfully. When we learn to pay attention to our breath, it can tell us something about how we are feeling and with this awareness we can discover the capacity of using our breath for self-regulation.
E Explore with curiosity: From a more calm state, we can practice the skill of paying attention to our internal experience with curiosity and kindness versus judgment and reactivity. Learning to tune in and connect with ourselves builds self-awareness and lays the foundation for self-regulation skills. You can support the development of these skills by asking your child these types of questions:
· What do you notice in your body? My heart is racing. It feels like butterflies in my stomach. My chest feels tight. There’s a lump in my throat. My hands are clenched. Learning to pause and pay attention to the felt sense of a feeling can feel quite foreign if you're not familiar with the practice. But when we learn to check-in with how we're feeling we learn that emotions are transient, they have motion, they last in the body for just a short bit of time and then shift and change. We learn that strong and difficult emotions can't actually hurt us, that we can actually learn to be with them without reacting to them.
· What is the quality of your thoughts? My mind went to the worst case scenario. I can’t stop thinking about what happened. I’m not good enough. I’m thinking about doing something that I might later regret. Our thoughts are powerful and can have a big impact on how we feel and behave. If we find that the nature of our thoughts aren’t helpful we can choose to let them go or reframe the way we’re looking at a situation.
· What am I feeling? We can label our feelings without judging them or identifying with them. You might ask your child, If you could put a word to how you’re feeling right now, what would it be? Putting feelings into words can help us integrate what we’re experiencing. This action engages both hemispheres of the brain and can have a calming effect on the emotional center of the brain. Consider having a feelings list or chart nearby to reference!
D Decide how to proceed: You’ve supported your child by providing space to pause and investigate their feelings. Now you can ask your child, What do you need? From a more calm state and with a clearer lens, they can begin to explore coping strategies for self-care. Use Well-Bean’s poster as a visual and talking point to explore all the ways they can Mindfully Taking Care of Me From A to Z!
Bringing mindfulness to our internal experiences is a practice, like most things in life we become more skilled and well-versed in something that we repeat, often. Parents can support the development of their child’s emotional wellness by following Well-Bean’s S.E.E.D. practice alongside their child whenever they’re experiencing a strong emotion.
Mindfully Taking Care of Me From A to Z Poster is a perfect tool for families, therapist and teachers! A beautifully illustrated visual that invites conversation around the many ways we can mindfully take care of our feelings. Printed on durable, matte and museum-quality archival paper. 12 in. x 18 in. Shipping is Free!
Jen Rapanos, LMSW, RCYT is a child and adolescent psychotherapist working in private practice. She is the owner of Well-Bean, LLC which is committed to providing services & programs that foster the emotional & mental well-being of youth. Well-Bean offers child & adolescent psychotherapy, yoga & mindfulness classes, wellness workshops and education & training for parents and educators.
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