A few weeks ago, my son came home from school pretty stressed out about his math and Spanish homework and the pressure to study for the upcoming spelling and geography bees. I could see it in his eyes that starting his homework immediately after walking in the front door was not the best idea.
“Let’s play some Jenga before you start your homework,” I suggested.
“What?! Play games when I have so much work to do? Isn’t that a waste of time?” he quickly responded.
“You’ll see. I promise that after you focus on some Jenga, you will be ready to tackle your homework with a much clearer head.”
What does Jenga have to do with stress reduction? Well, it is a mindfulness activity in disguise. Mindfulness, the act of focusing on the moment in a non-judgmental way, helps our kids become aware of the present moment rather than dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. Thousands of studies show that mindfulness improves both physical and mental health by relaxing us.
Being a tween or teen can be stressful when dealing with school pressures, puberty, bullying, social media, and conflicts with parents. According to TeenHelp.com, most teens feel some sort of stress, and many are quite stressed out. It’s imperative that they learn how to manage their stress in a healthy way, and mindfulness is a simple and enjoyable tool to use.
However, we have to be careful not to make it too serious and complicated. Instead of forcing them to attend a meditation class or sit cross-legged on a pillow in the corner of their room, we can introduce some playful ways for them to practice mindfulness. It will be such a blast for them that they may not even realize they are doing something positive for themselves — and I bet you will want to join them.
When you first suggest to your teen that they do some coloring, they will probably look at you like you are crazy. Some teens might think coloring is for younger kids, but it can be an enjoyable therapeutic activity at any age. Adult coloring books are a huge hit these days, with some doctors even “prescribing” coloring to their patients to help calm their nerves.
Coloring can help our teens feel calmer, happier and more focused. There are actual physiological changes that occur when we color. It slows down our breathing and calms the amygdala, the part of the brain that controls the fear and stress response. Coloring also gives us a sense of flow. When we do something artistic that requires intense focus, we can become so absorbed in our work to the point of being in a near meditative state. Finally, coloring provides a healthy distraction from our worries, allowing us to replace negative thoughts and images with pleasant ones.
“Studies show that coloring reduces stress and can have a positive impact on PTSD and depression,” explains Jaime Pfeffer, mindfulness expert, author and success coach. “By logging off technology and getting engaged with an art project like coloring, teens can benefit from slowing down, getting disconnected from the hustle and bustle of daily life, and letting all of their cares and worries float away.”
Being playful with food can also help our teens practice mindfulness during their day. Mindful eating involves slowing down to savor and truly enjoy what we are putting in our mouths.
You can encourage your tweens to try some mindful eating exercises, such as asking them to use their five senses to describe the food on their plates. Through eatch bite they take, they will explore the sensation and flavor of the food that allows them to be fully present. (This might be the most enjoyable type of mindfulness activity, especially if they are eating something sweet like chocolate!)
I recently took my son out to get a special ice cream treat after a busy school day. When he started shoveling it into his mouth as fast as he could, I told him to hold on a minute and try to enjoy it. We sat down on a bench and I told him to close his eyes. (He asked me if I was nuts, but I promised him that it would make the ice cream taste way better—and so much more.) I first asked him to take a big whiff of the ice cream. He smiled and then described its smell as chocolatey with a hint of peanut butter. Then I asked him to put a spoonful into his mouth and to describe how it felt on his tongue and the inside of his cheeks. He also talked about the flavors bursting in his mouth. I then asked him about the sounds he heard as he ate the ice cream. Finally, I asked him to open his eyes and to describe the color and other visual aspects of the ice cream.
After this fun mindful eating game, my son said he felt relaxed and more appreciative for the amazing ice cream. It was exactly what he needed after a stressful day.
Old-school games and toys
Remember all of those fun toys when you were a kid? You know, the ones that don’t require a battery or outlet? One way to help our teens be more mindful is to take them on a trip down memory lane. Check out how these old-school toys can bring some mindfulness to your teen.
- Building a House of Cards. This is no easy task, and one that takes intense concentration, patience and a steady hand. One expert site recommends that the builder take deep breaths and add the next card in that brief space between exhalation and inhalation. By incorporating deep breathing with focus, we can see how mindfulness is essential when building a house of cards.
- Dominoes. This game also requires tremendous attention and steadiness. Playing dominoes is the perfect mindful activity, and your teen will surely enjoy the challenge of lining them up in a variety of patterns like circles, horseshoes, arches and even spelling out words.
- Kaleidoscope. Looking at colorful, mesmerizing patterns can grab anyone’s attention for minutes on end and is another wonderful way for our tweens to get lost in the moment.
- Flying a kite. Every summer my son loves flying a kite on the beach. Gazing up into the sky tracking the dancing kite with the crystal blue sky in the backdrop is very relaxing and another wonderful mindfulness activity to try with your tween. They will be sure to get lost in the moment, which is the whole point of being mindful.
- Handheld Ball Maze. Sure, your teen will probably mock this game because it has nothing on their video games, but with a little creativity they can be used as a wonderful mindfulness tool. These mazes require concentration to maneuver that tiny metal ball either around the maze or to secure it into one of the holes to win the game. I bet it’s not as easy as they think!
Kids are living hectic lives, running around from one activity to the next trying to balance school, friends and family. We can help them stay calm throughout their day by showing them simple mindfulness tricks that they can tap into whenever and wherever they feel stressed. Whether it be mindfully eating a snack or coloring in their school planner, these strategies can help them manage stress for years to come.