No matter how much we adore our children, there are times when they drive us absolutely insane. Whether they are incessantly whining in the backseat, relentlessly badgering their siblings, or melting down in the middle of the produce aisle, our kids often exhaust our patience.
In instances like these, it’s not uncommon for us to lose our temper, especially after we have tried all of the usual solutions to no avail. Our blood pressure spikes, anger wells up, and our thoughts and emotions are no longer our own.
So what can we do to ensure that we don’t snap at our kids when they have pushed us to our limit? This simple 5-step mindfulness exercise can help us calm down, gain perspective, and react in a more appropriate and loving way:
1. Notice the anger. Realize it is just your reaction to the situation - not a required reaction. Feel its presence in your body. Recognize it for what it is: a powerful force. Simply becoming aware of it is a good start.
2. Stop and refocus your attention away from the anger. Gently turn your attention to your breath. Recognize that the anger is not "you," but just an emotion that is flowing through you. Retain control over your attention.
3. Pay attention to the breath. Focus on your nostrils to start, follow the breath all the way to your abdomen, and then back out your nostrils. Slowly and gently take great care in following your breath and in focusing your attention on your breath.
4. Release the anger. As you follow your breath, you should become calmer. As you do, try to let go of the anger. Realize that it is “extra”— it is just what you are adding to the situation. It does nothing except harm you and does nothing to improve your situation.
5. Count your breaths up to 10. Each time your mind returns to your anger, notice it, return your attention to your breath, and start counting to 10. Then try it again. Keep going until the anger subsides, which it will if you do not allow it to occupy your attention.
This simple mindfulness exercise is much easier to accomplish if we maintain a regular practice of mindful meditation. If we work on this exercise in controlled conditions, where there is no external force provoking a powerful emotion, then we will increase our awareness that we are in control of our own reactions. As a result, we will begin to release the unproductive thoughts or emotions that negatively impact our relationships with our loved ones. When we do this, we increase our ability to respond calmly and thoughtfully to stressful events, and in turn, increase our family’s happiness and well-being.
John Allcock is the Co-Founder and Director of Mindfulness at Sea Change Preparatory, a trailblazing academy that regularly integrates the practice of mindfulness into its curriculum. His new book, FORTY THINGS I WISH I’D TOLD MY KIDS, shows adults and children alike how to use mindfulness to become more compassionate, resilient, and confident.