I went to the mall today and I was surrounded by parents and their children who were doing their Back-to-school shopping. I could hear parents tell their children to pay attention and to choose which pair of shoes they liked. As I listened to the conversation, I had a memory of a time when I was a young teen and shopping with my mother. I remember being easily distracted and it was easy to get lost in the busyness of this time. Back-to-school shopping can be chaotic and for any child that struggles with sensory overload, this could be the catalyst towards an explosion.
When I was little, my mother would help me to re-center myself by reminding me to “be mindful.” I can still recall the sensation my body had when she said that. It was like my body and brain shifted into slow motion, and what was around me became colorful, and sounds became clear and I was able to be present with my senses and to be able to focus on shopping. Today, I would love to present some thoughts and ideas to help you cope with back to school shopping and for you to arrive home in a peaceful state.
Today, mindfulness is a topic discussed in schools, in therapy sessions and even on Oprah.
So, what is mindfulness? The dictionary states mindfulness as:
- The quality or state of being conscious or aware of something
- A mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.
For the purpose of this blog, I would like to use the second meaning. Mindfulness is really slowing down our thoughts, feelings, body movements and being present to what is around us. Mindfulness can help bring our senses alive and give us the ability to focus.
Do we exude a mindfulness attitude? Our society has become accustomed to having search engines that offer us ideas, images, articles, travel locations, movies, restaurants at our finger tips no matter where we are in the world. We have the ability to have answers in minutes, through social media, internet and phone. I wonder how we can we incorporate a lifestyle of mindfulness in our fast-paced society? What might that look like?
The following is an image of a milkweed. Being mindful to this image can help us to imagine the heat of the sun or feeling the slight breeze or seeing the deep blue of the sky or the soft feathery petals. Focusing on this image helps us to be present.
How can we slow down our thoughts that are often racing in many directions? How can we begin to enjoy what is around us and really see, smell, hear, think and taste? Even as you read this blog, how are you being present to what you are reading?
Complex Trauma Resources has 7 domains that we look at in regard to trauma and the impact to the developing brain. Over-reactive Stress Response is the second domain of seven. In this domain we often see children and youth being highly distractible or struggle with anxiety and are easily triggered. Using mindfulness, can be used to help children and youth to slow down and help them to be able to be present to what is around them thereby helping to decrease stress. By incorporating mindfulness and calm breathing this can be a tool to help them when they are feeling upset or triggered. Mindfulness helps to regulate emotions and be able to focus or think. Not only is mindfulness a tool for children and youth but it can also be utilized by ourselves. We too, need to role model mindfulness and be a calming presence for the children and youth we may work with.
Here is great exercise on how to think or teach about mindfulness. Imagine taking a snow globe and shaking it up and then watch it settle and be calm. This image is a great example of how our minds and bodies can be when we are stressed; but when we begin to be calm, and in the present and do deep breathing the inner storm will settle just like the snow globe.
So, as you encounter Back-to-school shopping, remember to “be mindful” and here a few tips from Angelsense to keep the process as smooth as possible:
- Always carry a pair of noise-cancelling headphones – for children who struggle with auditory stimuli, a pair of noise-cancelling headphones are a life-saver. They help reduce sensory overwhelm and can prevent the meltdown from getting out of hand.
- Put together an emergency meltdown kit – having an emergency kit can come in handy especially if your child tends to have meltdowns in public places. A well-stocked kit can help you defuse the situation and can make it easier to calm your child. Be sure to take this kit with you wherever you go so you’ll never be caught off guard. Ideally you should tailor the kit to suit your child’s preferences. You can include things like your child’s favorite toy or blanket, a body sock, a handheld massage ball and some aromatherapy oils.
- Watch what your child eats – food can be a potent trigger for children with sensory processing issues. Try limiting how much sugar you allow your child to consume especially on the Back-to-school shopping day. Carbohydrates, synthetic food dyes, especially red 40, and sugars tend to increase anxiety and anxiousness in children
- Identify and remove sensory triggers – the important thing is to be aware of your child’s sensory sensitivities so you’ll be prepared to act should a meltdown occur. In addition, you’ll want to keep record of stimuli which make a meltdown worse. This could include loud noises or flashing lights. This is not altogether impossible to avoid however, taking note of where the stores are located, entrances and exits and limiting the amount of time in a shop might help.
- Lastly, stay calm and breath deep – it’s essential that you try to remain as calm as possible when your child has a meltdown. Any sudden movements or aggressive actions could be perceived as a threat by your child, triggering violent behavior. It’s best to talk in a soft, calm voice and to move as slowly as possible. Explain to your child what you are going to do before you do anything. This is difficult to do when emotions are peaking. This is also a perfect time to practice your breathing exercises and can happen in any changing room.
I encourage you to think on these things and how mindfulness can help decrease stress and be a tool for those who have experienced complex trauma. Have fun going Back-to-school shopping!
Lila Weber MSW RSW
Trainer/Mentor for Complex Trauma Resources
Angelsense. 10 Tips for De-Escalating a Child with Special Needs’ Sensory Meltdowns. Retrieved from: https://www.angelsense.com/blog/10-tips-de-escalating-child-special-needs-sensory-meltdown/
Beach, S. R. (2014, July 23). 8 Ways to Teach Mindfulness. Retrieved August 24, 2016, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com
Being Mindful. Retrieved August 29, 2016, from http://youth.anxietybc.com/mindfulness-exercises
Gregoire, C. (2013, July 10). This simple mental trick can slow down time. Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/20/slow-down-time_n_3567218.html