Using Mindfulness to Get the Most Out of Family Holidays

Using Mindfulness to Get the Most Out of Family Holidays

Travel, no matter how near or far, has so many benefits for children.  Families often leave the comfort of home to explore new and different people, cultures, environments, and experiences.

Not only do family trips create opportunities for families to bond through shared experiences, but they also provide situations that require children to take risks, try something new, and act brave, which can result in courage and greater confidence. But travel isn’t always so easy with kids and can sometimes be a tumultuous experience. Incorporating mindfulness into your travel and adventures is a great way to enhance your family’s experience and teach your children how to appreciate not only the destination, but also the journey.  Here are some tips to help you prepare for your trip …

Enjoy the journey, not just the destination.

Family travel should be fun from the start, but can easily get derailed when a child is fearful or anxious about flying or driving in a car for long periods of time. For some children, traveling can be a thrill, and for others, it is intense, uncomfortable, and stressful. It can be helpful to discuss ahead of time the details of what to expect during the journey.  Go through a visualization of the sights, sounds, and experiences that can happen during the journey.  If your child is worried or anxious, validate their feelings and address them by coming up with a plan together.   Help your child to relax either before or during travel with breathing techniques and mindfulness to help keep their body calm and relaxed.  The Sticky Hubbubble mindfulness exercise helps children to notice their thoughts and feelings and practice letting them go.

Make sleep a priority.

Before departing, make sure that children have had plenty of sleep and maintain their routine sleep schedules while traveling.  Children who are well rested tend to do better adapting to new time zones and sleep schedules.

It is best to plan travel around routine sleep times.  Try to travel after naps since travel can excite and stimulate children, and if possible, plan to arrive at your destination right before bedtime.  Getting restful sleep during your trip will also ensure that everyone will be energized and ready for each day’s events. Using mindfulness during bedtime routines that are consistent and predictable will teach kids to relax at the end of each day and will help avoid bedtime battles.  Both Bedtime Gratitude and Goodnight Body can help little ones quickly drift into a peaceful slumber at the end of an action packed day

Can’t we all just get along?

If you plan for the journey and invest in making it a fun experience, it will be easier to avoid backseat bickering and the constant ‘Are we there yet?’ inquiries.  Sometimes the journey is the most memorable part of the entire trip for children.  In planning for travel time, you might consider incorporating: playlists, audiobooks, books, and classic car games, such as the license plate game or I spy.  Planning stops along the way when driving or regular walks or stretches on an airplane can help get the wiggles out and keep the mood positive.   Things may start off fine, but after being confined to small spaces for an extended period of time, children often get restless and agitated, which often leads to whining or bickering.  These are the moments when a mindfulness audio might come in handy, such as Growing Kindness or Cool The Volcano. The key to making your travel time a peaceful experience is to plan, be prepared, and expect the unexpected.

Making memories that last a lifetime.

Once you have made it to your destination, the hope is that your family enjoys the time together and that you make lasting memories.  Many families put a lot of time and energy into the planning of their itinerary and vacation activities.  To create these memorable moments, it requires that everyone, including children, are present and willing participants.  One way to help children enjoy and notice their surroundings is to start the day with a meditation.  Listening to meditations such as Notice the Moment or Check In & Notice can help children become more present in each moment and experience with greater focus. By listening, it can enhance a child’s moment-to-moment awareness of feelings, thoughts, body sensations, and the surrounding environment.

Traveling together should be a fun, memorable bonding experience for families.  Get the most out of your time together by planning not just for the destination, but the travel time that is required to get there.  Incorporating mindfulness during your travels will not only help kids feel calm and relaxed, counteract any potential stress, feel more positively towards others, help maintain healthy sleep schedules, but also be present and focused during your time together.  So, how will you incorporate mindfulness into your family’s adventures this summer?

(This article was originally published on the Mind Yeti blog.)

Want some more great tips from Melissa? Sign up now for her FREE Keep Calm Course (space is limited). This email course is for you if you’re ready to stop yelling & nagging and start connecting using tools and strategies that work! 

 


About the Author: Melissa Benaroya


Melissa Benaroya, LICSW, is a Seattle-based parent coach, speaker and author in the Seattle area (MelissaBenaroya.com). She created the Childproof Parenting online course and is the co-founder of GROW Parenting and Mommy Matters, and the co-author of The Childproof Parent. Melissa provides parents with the tools and support they need to raise healthy children and find more joy in parenting. Melissa offers parent coaching and classes and frequently speaks at area schools and businesses. Check out Melissa’s blog for more great tips on common parenting issues and Facebook for the latest news in parent education.

One Comment

Erin McCarthy, MSW, ACSW

Wonderful tips! I’m a huge fan of sharing mindfulness with the family ?My 6 and 8 year old daughters are always taught about mindfulness, much to their chagrin, at times?. I’m starting a mental health center in Costa Mesa, CA and will definitely be sharing mindfulness. ????❤

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Big feelings, and the big behaviour that comes from big feelings, are a sign of a distressed nervous system. Think of this like a burning building. The behaviour is the smoke. The fire is a distressed nervous system. It’s so tempting to respond directly to the behaviour (the smoke), but by doing this, we ignore the fire. Their behaviour and feelings in that moment are a call for support - for us to help that distressed brain and body find the way home. 

The most powerful language for any nervous system is another nervous system. They will catch our distress (as we will catch theirs) but they will also catch our calm. It can be tempting to move them to independence on this too quickly, but it just doesn’t work this way. Children can only learn to self-regulate with lots (and lots and lots) of experience co-regulating. 

This isn’t something that can be taught. It’s something that has to be experienced over and over. It’s like so many things - driving a car, playing the piano - we can talk all we want about ‘how’ but it’s not until we ‘do’ over and over that we get better at it. 

Self-regulation works the same way. It’s not until children have repeated experiences with an adult bringing them back to calm, that they develop the neural pathways to come back to calm on their own. 

An important part of this is making sure we are guiding that nervous system with tender, gentle hands and a steady heart. This is where our own self-regulation becomes important. Our nervous systems speak to each other every moment of every day. When our children or teens are distressed, we will start to feel that distress. It becomes a loop. We feel what they feel, they feel what we feel. Our own capacity to self-regulate is the circuit breaker. 

This can be so tough, but it can happen in microbreaks. A few strong steady breaths can calm our own nervous system, which we can then use to calm theirs. Breathe, and be with. It’s that simple, but so tough to do some days. When they come back to calm, then have those transformational chats - What happened? What can make it easier next time?

Who you are in the moment will always be more important than what you do.
How we are with them, when they are their everyday selves and when they aren’t so adorable, will build their view of three things: the world, its people, and themselves. This will then inform how they respond to the world and how they build their very important space in it. 

Will it be a loving, warm, open-hearted space with lots of doors for them to throw open to the people and experiences that are right for them? Or will it be a space with solid, too high walls that close out too many of the people and experiences that would nourish them.

They will learn from what we do with them and to them, for better or worse. We don’t teach them that the world is safe for them to reach into - we show them. We don’t teach them to be kind, respectful, and compassionate. We show them. We don’t teach them that they matter, and that other people matter, and that their voices and their opinions matter. We show them. We don’t teach them that they are little joy mongers who light up the world. We show them. 

But we have to be radically kind with ourselves too. None of this is about perfection. Parenting is hard, and days will be hard, and on too many of those days we’ll be hard too. That’s okay. We’ll say things we shouldn’t say and do things we shouldn’t do. We’re human too. Let’s not put pressure on our kiddos to be perfect by pretending that we are. As long as we repair the ruptures as soon as we can, and bathe them in love and the warmth of us as much as we can, they will be okay.

This also isn’t about not having boundaries. We need to be the guardians of their world and show them where the edges are. But in the guarding of those boundaries we can be strong and loving, strong and gentle. We can love them, and redirect their behaviour.

It’s when we own our stuff(ups) and when we let them see us fall and rise with strength, integrity, and compassion, and when we hold them gently through the mess of it all, that they learn about humility, and vulnerability, and the importance of holding bruised hearts with tender hands. It’s not about perfection, it’s about consistency, and honesty, and the way we respond to them the most.♥️

#parenting #mindfulparenting
Anxiety and courage always exist together. It can be no other way. Anxiety is a call to courage. It means you're about to do something brave, so when there is one the other will be there too. Their courage might feel so small and be whisper quiet, but it will always be there and always ready to show up when they need it to.
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But courage doesn’t always feel like courage, and it won't always show itself as a readiness. Instead, it might show as a rising - from fear, from uncertainty, from anger. None of these mean an absence of courage. They are the making of space, and the opportunity for courage to rise.
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When the noise from anxiety is loud and obtuse, we’ll have to gently add our voices to usher their courage into the light. We can do this speaking of it and to it, and by shifting the focus from their anxiety to their brave. The one we focus on is ultimately what will become powerful. It will be the one we energise. Anxiety will already have their focus, so we’ll need to make sure their courage has ours.
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But we have to speak to their fear as well, in a way that makes space for it to be held and soothed, with strength. Their fear has an important job to do - to recruit the support of someone who can help them feel safe. Only when their fear has been heard will it rest and make way for their brave.
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What does this look like? Tell them their stories of brave, but acknowledge the fear that made it tough. Stories help them process their emotional experiences in a safe way. It brings word to the feelings and helps those big feelings make sense and find containment. ‘You were really worried about that exam weren’t you. You couldn’t get to sleep the night before. It was tough going to school but you got up, you got dressed, you ... and you did it. Then you ...’
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In the moment, speak to their brave by first acknowledging their need to flee (or fight), then tell them what you know to be true - ‘This feels scary for you doesn’t it. I know you want to run. It makes so much sense that you would want to do that. I also know you can do hard things. My darling, I know it with everything in me.’
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#positiveparenting #parenting #childanxiety #anxietyinchildren #mindfulpare
Separation anxiety has an important job to do - it’s designed to keep children safe by driving them to stay close to their important adults. Gosh it can feel brutal sometimes though.

Whenever there is separation from an attachment person there will be anxiety unless there are two things: attachment with another trusted, loving adult; and a felt sense of you holding on, even when you aren't beside them. Putting these in place will help soften anxiety.

As long as children are are in the loving care of a trusted adult, there's no need to avoid separation. We'll need to remind ourselves of this so we can hold on to ourselves when our own anxiety is rising in response to theirs. 

If separation is the problem, connection has to be the solution. The connection can be with any loving adult, but it's more than an adult being present. It needs an adult who, through their strong, warm, loving presence, shows the child their abundant intention to care for that child, and their joy in doing so. This can be helped along by showing that you trust the adult to love that child big in our absence. 'I know [important adult] loves you and is going to take such good care of you.'

To help your young one feel held on to by you, even in absence, let them know you'll be thinking of them and can't wait to see them. Bolster this by giving them something of yours to hold while you're gone - a scarf, a note - anything that will be felt as 'you'.

They know you are the one who makes sure their world is safe, so they’ll be looking to you for signs of safety: 'Do you think we'll be okay if we aren't together?' First, validate: 'You really want to stay with me, don't you. I wish I could stay with you too! It's hard being away from your special people isn't it.' Then, be their brave. Let it be big enough to wrap around them so they can rest in the safety and strength of it: 'I know you can do this, love. We can do hard things can't we.'

Part of growing up brave is learning that the presence of anxiety doesn't always mean something is wrong. Sometimes it means they are on the edge of brave - and being away from you for a while counts as brave.
Even the most loving, emotionally available adult might feel frustration, anger, helplessness or distress in response to a child’s big feelings. This is how it’s meant to work. 

Their distress (fight/flight) will raise distress in us. The purpose is to move us to protect or support or them, but of course it doesn’t always work this way. When their big feelings recruit ours it can drive us more to fight (anger, blame), or to flee (avoid, ignore, separate them from us) which can steal our capacity to support them. It will happen to all of us from time to time. 

Kids and teens can’t learn to manage big feelings on their own until they’ve done it plenty of times with a calm, loving adult. This is where co-regulation comes in. It helps build the vital neural pathways between big feelings and calm. They can’t build those pathways on their own. 

It’s like driving a car. We can tell them how to drive as much as we like, but ‘talking about’ won’t mean they’re ready to hit the road by themselves. Instead we sit with them in the front seat for hours, driving ‘with’ until they can do it on their own. Feelings are the same. We feel ‘with’, over and over, until they can do it on their own. 

What can help is pausing for a moment to see the behaviour for what it is - a call for support. It’s NOT bad behaviour or bad parenting. It’s not that.

Our own feelings can give us a clue to what our children are feeling. It’s a normal, healthy, adaptive way for them to share an emotional load they weren’t meant to carry on their own. Self-regulation makes space for us to hold those feelings with them until those big feelings ease. 

Self-regulation can happen in micro moments. First, see the feelings or behaviour for what it is - a call for support. Then breathe. This will calm your nervous system, so you can calm theirs. In the same way we will catch their distress, they will also catch ours - but they can also catch our calm. Breathe, validate, and be ‘with’. And you don’t need to do more than that.

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