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Reduce Back-to-School Stress by Practicing Mindfulness

drawingThough the warm weather here in Scarsdale might fool you, the long, lazy days of summer are officially over and to some of us, “Back to School Night” already feels like months ago. Hopefully our kids have all easily settled into their school routines but as the excitement of the new year starts to dissipate and the weight of schoolwork, friendships, homework, and extracurricular activities starts to be felt, it’s important for us to remember to take time to care for ourselves.

One way to keep the stress of school at bay is to practice mindfulness. More and more research proves that practicing mindfulness not only helps to calm and focus the mind and to strengthen our executive functioning skills, but the routine practice of mindfulness can also increase test scores, reduce absences and of topic, help children more easily transition back to school.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, defines Mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally,” and fortunately, there are a plethora of simple ways school-aged children and teens can practice mindfulness on a daily basis.

One of the easiest practices is Mindful Breathing. First, get your kiddos into a comfy position and ask them to close their eyes. Next, ask how their breath feels as they draw it into themselves, and then as it leaves. If they put a hand on their belly, they’ll be able to feel the rise and fall of their breath. Do this about five times – five inhales, five exhales. After five breaths, guide them to any thoughts and feelings they might be aware of, then invite them to let go of those thoughts and feelings. Ask them to imagine that the thoughts and feelings are bubbles, floating away, as they return to their breathing. Repeat the five breaths – five in, five out – and do this as many times as feels right.

The great thing about mindful breathing is that it can be practiced just about anywhere...waiting for the bus, idling in the drop-off line, sitting in your desk before a test, the possibilities are endless.

Another effortless way to practice mindfulness with children is through craft activities. Drawing, painting, cutting, and coloring are all easy avenues to invite children to pay attention to what is happening in the present moment. For instance, while coloring you might ask your child to focus on how the crayon feels in their hand, how it feels as they press the crayon down on the paper, does the crayon make any sound as you drag it across the paper, ask your child to notice the hues and shades of the colors the crayon creates, and so on and so forth.

So whether your school-aged child is experiencing a little separation anxiety or your high school senior is stressing about college essays, try helping them with a mindful exercise...you might just help yourself right along with them.

Wendy MacMillan is a former teacher and a proud mom of two children. While her background is in psychology and education, Wendy was recently trained in mindfulness at Mindfulschools.org. She has long been passionate about wellness, and as an active member of the Scarsdale PTA, Wendy helped to bring mindfulness to her children's elementary school. In addition, Wendy helped establish and is an acting member of the school's Wellness Committee. For more information about mindfulness check out this site: mindfulschools.org or Watch the video of Jon Kabat-Zinn explaining what mindfulness is ... or contact Wendy MacMillan at wendymacmillan@gmail.com.

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