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By Sarah Dennehy, Director of Behavioral and Emotional Learning
For most of us, the first day of school brought with it an oversized backpack full of emotions for both kids and parents. Summer’s gone, big changes are happening, and there’s lots of uncertainty.
Needless to say, once the first day is over, those big emotions don’t just disappear. The pace of life speeds up in the fall, and before we know it, we’re stuck in daily routines that may not be serving us. Beginning the day with a jam-packed rush to get out the door on time can leave both parents and children feeling cranky and stressed out – and definitely not in the best mindset to face the day ahead.
If you’re already in a rut – or feel like you’re heading in that direction – there are simple changes you can make to your morning routine that will help you and your child(ren) shift into a more positive outlook.
Set an intention for the day.
An intention is a positive statement that describes how you would like to “be.” It’s based on what you value, what holds meaning for you, how you live your life.
- Soon after you wake up, sit for a moment and notice what word(s) come up in your mind. If nothing is coming to you, ask yourself: How do I want to feel today? What do I want in my life right now? What matters to me?
- Now put that in a statement using the present tense. For example, if you want to feel more peaceful and more present, then your intention might be: “I am peaceful; I am present for my loved ones.”
- Repeat your intention silently a few times as you sit and breathe.
- Throughout your day, return to your intention and ask yourself: “Is this action supporting my intention or moving away from it? Does this action align with my intention?”
When helping your child set an intention, keep it a bit simpler. It may be overwhelming for them to come up with their word first thing in the morning, so you can create a word bank together ahead of time that includes words like “caring,” “kind,” and “brave.” Each morning, they select their word and announce it: “Today I choose to be ____”. Having choices and feeling a sense of control can be empowering for kids, and setting an intention starts their day on a positive note.
Check in with yourself.
Check-ins help us become aware of what’s happening in our bodies and minds. As we move through the day, we rarely slow down enough to notice our thoughts and emotions. If we’re pushing aside tough feelings, it could catch up with us later and cause us to say or do something we may regret. And if we’re feeling pretty good, why wouldn’t we want to slow down and enjoy that feeling?
When we begin the habit of checking in with ourselves throughout the day, we become more aware of our emotions and any signals our bodies may be sending us. Notice with curiosity: What are the butterflies in my tummy telling me? Why am I holding so much tension in my shoulders? When we’re aware of our thoughts and feelings, we’re better able to deal with them appropriately and before they become too big to handle.
Sit together with your child(ren) and become as still as possible (this can be done as a friendly competition – who can be the most still? – then continue with the following script, either saying the answers out loud as you go or sharing at the end:
- Notice what’s happening in your body: Are you warm? Cold? Does your body feel slow? Or like you need to wiggle?
- Is your body telling you anything?
- What feeling(s) are you experiencing?
- Take a slow breath in to the count of four…let it out to the count of eight.
Encourage your child to check in with him/herself at least three more times during the day. Self-awareness grows stronger with practice.
Scientists have actually studied the effects of having a gratitude practice. According to Psychology Today, some of the scientifically proven benefits include improved physical and mental health, better quality sleep, and increased self-esteem. In a culture that runs on the notion that we never have enough, noticing all the wonderful things we do have in our lives is refreshing.
Starting a gratitude practice is super easy. Get a couple of new notebooks (they don’t need to be fancy!) and each morning, write down three things you have in your life that you’re grateful for (if your child is younger, ask him to draw or tell you three things that make him happy).
There are no rules – we can be grateful for anything, from family and friends to chocolate and brand new crayons. As you write, think about why you’re grateful for your three things, and notice the feelings that come up and where in your body you feel them. Fill in your journals at the same time, and then share what you wrote.
Make it a habit.
The thought of adding more “to dos” to an already hectic morning may seem a bit daunting, but take a look at your current routine. Where can you add in a mindful moment? Check-ins can be done after teeth brushing. Practice gratitude before breakfast. If you walk or drive your child to school, set your intentions on the way.
Less than five minutes can set the tone for the entire day. Even if you still feel a bit rushed, you’ve taken the time to connect with yourself, and best of all, connect with your child(ren). With practice, mindful moments will become second nature, and when you notice how much calmer your mornings feel, they’ll be something you and your family look forward to.
About the Author
Sarah Dennehy, M.Ed, RYT, is a trauma-informed yoga and mindfulness teacher and Licensed Behavior Specialist located in Eastern Pennsylvania. She has worked as a Behavior Specialist Consultant for the past eight and a half years, and in the field of autism support for seven years before that. She has a Master’s Degree in Special Education from Lehigh University.
Photo credit: Christopher Bruno, Flickr