One of the most useful skills in life, for children and adults, is an ability to quiet the mind.
Quieting the mind can be particularly helpful for children and parents living with severe food allergy. When thoughts are stilled, the worry that fuels our anxiety is disrupted; the body relaxes, and the mind clears.
An effective way to still our thoughts is observing without judgment what is occurring in the present moment. This is the practice of mindfulness. Even a few minutes of mindful awareness can reset our system to calm, much the way shutting down and restarting a computer can smooth-out its performance.
S.T.O.P. and Be Mindful
The S.T.O.P exercise is an effective way families can learn and practice mindfulness together. This activity may be especially helpful for children since the acronym S.T.O.P. is familiar and easy to remember:
- S: Stop. Drop (or stop) whatever you are doing.
- T: Take 3 Slow Breaths. Take three slow belly-filling breaths (long inhales and exhales).
- O: Observe. Notice what you hear, what you see, what you smell, feel, or taste; and/or notice any physical sensations (e.g., cold, warmth, tension, butterflies in the stomach); and/or notice feelings or emotions—name or describe the feelings without labeling them “good” or “bad.”
- P: Proceed. Go about your day.
This can also be turned into a craft project by having the kids create a few S.T.O.P. signs to put up around the house as practice reminders. Move the signs around every few days to keep it fresh.
The results of using S.T.O.P. might amaze you. Besides relieving anxiety, research shows that mindful awareness practices benefit children in other significant ways by increasing:
- Their ability to regulate or modify behavior.
- Their awareness of how they think about things.
- Their brain’s executive functions, which are the processes we use to get things done (e.g., attention control, volition, planning, decision making).
These mindfulness advantages help kids focus on tasks, and enhance self-awareness, impulse control, and interpersonal skills. Mindfulness has the same positive effects on grownups.
“Mindfulness is simply being aware of what is happening right now without wishing it were different; enjoying the pleasant without holding on when it changes (which it will); being with the unpleasant without fearing it will always be this way (which it won’t).” ~ James Baraz