“The power of the present” was a concept I explored in my twenties and one that I embraced as I moved through certain ups and downs in life. I participated in daily yoga classes, enjoyed candlelit baths, and took walks in nature, all giving me the opportunity to breathe, relax, and rejuvenate.
Now that I’m a working mom with young kids, these opportunities for quiet mindfulness are few and far between for me. Yet I have also come to realize every little bit counts.
In other words, one tiny little habit can lead to big changes.
So I’ve started looking for ways to add tiny habits of mindfulness into my day. These short mindful moments allow me to connect with my family, and to my sense of self, in ways I haven’t experienced in a long time.
Here are some of the small daily habits that bring powerful moments of mindfulness into my family’s life:
1. Wake up and smile
A new research study from the University of South Australia, published in Experimental Psychology, has reported that even faking a smile generates positive emotions. Try starting your day this way, whether you’re feeling it or not. Smile before opening your eyes and trick your mind into happiness!
2. Touch the sky, touch your toes, kiss on the nose
A few simple stretches in the morning help wake your body up and improve your mood by boosting blood flow to your brain.
In between getting dressed for school, breakfast, teeth-brushing, and the lunch-making rush, my kids and I all take 30 seconds to stretch up high to the sky, bend down, and touch our toes—holding each stretch for a count of ten—and finish up with a kiss from Mom on the nose. This practice takes less than a minute and can be done in the bathroom, in the kitchen, or wherever works best. The kiss puts everyone in a good mood and allows us to connect from the start of the day.
If you’re a real morning warrior and have 10 minutes to spare for yourself, try these yoga poses with your kids for an extra boost.
3. Make mealtimes screen-free
The best way to instill good habits of mindfulness in a household is to practice them yourself. Nowadays, being screen-free can be hard, but even a few hours where screens are forbidden can make space for meaningful interactions that boost everyone’s moods and fill their cups. Maybe mealtimes can be screen-free or the hours between 5 and 8 p.m., for example.
4. Create mindful moments while driving
Always in a rush? Here in Vancouver, rush-hour traffic is all day, and there’s always a chance of getting stuck in a jam. These are some of the times where my patience runs thin… but it can also be an opportunity to exercise those mindfulness muscles.
Take a look at the people in the cars around you, and talk with your kids about what you think they’re doing, where they’re going, or what’s going on in their lives. These moments of attention will bring you back into the present, connect with others around you, give some perspective, and maybe even invite some giggle-worthy hypothetical stories.
Another idea is to practice traffic-light affirmations. Assign each person in the car a traffic light colour. When you see that colour as you drive, call it out. Everyone then says something kind about the person who’s assigned that colour.
5. Say goodbye with kind wishes
Before separating and going your own ways, look at each other, breathe in slowly and deeply, breathe out and think about a sincere wish you can send to each person. “I’m sending you… a day full of laughs and learning.” Can you think of something new to “send” to everyone every day?
Everyone needs the emotional reassurance of loving words. And more than our words, our body language and expressions help convey our feelings. Saying something kind in a calm voice will convey a loving tone. Also, one of the best ways to teach generosity is through giving and receiving—if you don’t give, you have a hard time receiving, and if you don’t know how to receive a compliment or kindness, you won’t have much to give. These meaningful exchanges can set the tone for a positive start to the day.
6. Take breathing breaks
Teaching children to stop, focus, and breathe in and out could be one of the greatest gifts you can give them—and yourself. Breathing exercises have been proven stress-fighters, and most medical practitioners suggest making these a part of your day.
If a long meditation or yoga practice isn’t in the schedule, a “breathing break” may be much more feasible, kind of like on-the-spot therapy.
With your children, you can model this when you’re in a stressful or difficult situation by using the simple invitation, “Breathe with me.” Count your breaths by breathing in and out a certain amount of times; this can work while in a seated position or on the move.
If you have a few spare moments, you can all close your eyes and “breathe into” different parts of your body, scanning your body from your head to your toes. You can imagine that each inhale lights up each little part of your body like a lightbulb, and each exhale pushes out any stale or dark air hanging around.
Here are some breathing techniques for kids that you may want to try.
7. Snack consciously
Enjoy a snack together, describing in detail the shape, the smell, the texture, and the taste of the food you’re eating. This can also be an opportunity to explore new foods with your child.
You can take turns describing it, integrating opportunities to expand vocabulary around food. This simple activity allows us to slow down and appreciate all the flavours and textures we may not otherwise notice.
8. Do a daily “feelings report”
After your work or school day, take a few deep breaths, sit still, “look” inside of yourselves, and share with each other how you’re feeling. Think of it like a weather report: are you feeling dark and rainy, or sunny and bright?
Often, seeing our feelings as something so fleeting and temporary can take away the power of a scary emotion, allowing children to separate the feeling from themselves.
The simple act of slowing down to turn our attention inwards allows us to go beyond the simple “I’m OK,” or “I’m good.” It helps to articulate the emotions we feel as a result of various things that happened during the day.
For older kids, you might want to try some of these conversation-starting questions, instead of the routine “How was your day?”:
- What made you happiest today?
- Did anyone do anything that made you laugh today?
- What was hard to do today?
- Did anyone do anything kind for you today?
9. Try musical movements and meditations
Music is good for the soul. While you’re moving around the house getting things done, turn on some music, dance around, and sing—a surefire way to boost everyone’s mood and connect with each other, all while appreciating rhythms and beats.
Need music ideas? Check out our list of 57 awesome family dance party jams that will make you want to move.
You can also try this mindfulness game with music. Every so often, slow down, pause, breathe, and try to identify all the instruments you hear, the emotions you feel, as well as what the song makes you think of. These activities help us listen mindfully, focusing on specific details and sounds. It’s easy to adapt to match your family’s musical preferences.
10. Be thankful at dinnertime
Dinnertime can be a great time to connect after a long day. When everyone is seated, take turns going around the table to share one highlight or one thing that you’re thankful for today.
The simple act of acknowledging the abundance in our lives helps to look at situations from a point of appreciation rather than deficit.
Bonus tip: Meditate at bedtime
Regular meditation practice can increase the sleep hormone melatonin, increasing how quickly you fall asleep and the quality of your sleep. You can do it with your child before they go to bed for a nice wind-down after a long day. If your child likes to move around, you can do a movement-based meditation such as yoga. Not sure where to start? These tips will guide you.
If you’re short on time, a simple mantra that you can adapt to your child or your family might work best. Try having your child repeat: “I am loved. I am safe.”
Children tucked in and time for you to call it a day? Here are my recommendations for guided meditations to soothe a busy mama’s mind after a day of “doing it all”:
- Tara Brach has a PhD in clinical psychology and blends guided meditations with therapeutic elements. Choose from Basic, Heart, Open Awareness, and Special Meditations/Reflections.
- Jason Stephenson’s Meditation Sleep Music YouTube channel will help you fall asleep in a wink.
- You can try Calm for free. Here you’ll find meditations that will help soothe your anxiety and melt your stress away.
- Headspace is another app that offers a free trial. It’s easy to navigate and easy to use, with lots of options for any kind of practice you may be looking for.
Big changes are hard to make and trying to make them happen overnight, or even over a few days, can feel too difficult to tackle. Big changes can induce stress too, since we’re creatures of habit and turning our lives upside down can seem too much.
Small, intentional changes are easier to apply. These small actions can grow and become habits, and over time, bring about big, meaningful changes.
What are some daily practices that help your family feel centred?