September is now well underway and the new school year has begun. Even though the leaves are dropping, for me Autumn also has a feeling of starting afresh. It may be because this is the time for planting new crops after the harvest. Or perhaps it’s to do with memories of going back to school myself.
Without the school run to worry about, summer holidays can be wonderfully relaxed, but they can also leave us feeling that we need to inject a sense of order into the chaos. The new term promises structure. It’s a time when lots of us take on new projects or try to make changes. We may not be making New Year’s Resolutions just yet, but still, there is the sense of wanting to start the academic year on the right foot.
Practising mindfulness is a way that we can do that. It can help us to stay calm no matter how busy the schedule is, and keep us connected to our families even though we are spending more time apart. If you’ve been thinking about practising mindfulness, then this could be a perfect time to start to incorporate it into your routine.
Here are some ways that you can bring more mindfulness into your life:
Pay attention on the school run
Getting everyone ready for school and out the door each morning can feel like a major military operation, so it’s no wonder that we find it stressful at times. So, once you are on your way to school, take care to use the time carefully.
Being present with your children as you walk (or drive, or scoot, or cycle) can be a wonderful opportunity to connect before you part ways at the classroom door. Remember that you child might be feeling nervous about something in the day ahead – a spelling test, or a PE lesson with a new coach for example.
Don’t block them out by being pre-occupied with your own plans. You don’t have to spend the journey giving them a pep talk, but simply making an effort to be together can bring huge rewards. It can help both of you transition into the day ahead.
Be ready to connect at the end of the day
There’s normally a lot going on at the school gate.
It’s a great time for parents to catch up with each other. Kids are streaming out clutching artwork and musical instruments, and teachers are calling out to pass on bits of information.
Amidst all that noise it can be easy to miss out on the moment of connection when you child comes out the classroom. If you are having a chat with a friend, make sure you pause for a moment so that you can catch your child’s eye, smile, touch their hand – whatever feels right.
Ask an open-ended question such as “How are you?” rather than “Did you have a good day?” Or just show them with your expression that you are open and receptive to whatever they might have to say. They probably won’t want to give you a low-down on the day yet anyway.
Earmark an activity for mindfulness practice
Think of an activity that you do regularly with you child during the evening or at the weekend, and make a commitment to practicing mindfulness at that time. For example, this might be during bath time, as you read them a bedtime story, or while kicking a football around in the park.
Whatever it is, try to keep your mind on the task at hand. If you find your mind wandering onto what you should have said in yesterday’s meeting, or the glass of wine you are looking forward to – then gently but firmly bring it back on the activity in front of you.
Try to experience the story, or bath, or playtime, just as your child is experiencing it. It might feel irksome at times, but the more you practice the better you will become at staying in the moment.
Prioritise quiet time
Now the children are back on a schedule, seize the opportunity to establish a regular time for yourself to meditate. Even if it’s only for five or ten minutes, make a habit of sitting quietly by yourself each day. You could listen to a guided meditation or simply sit observing your breath. Or better still…
Go back to school yourself
There are lots of meditation courses available and the best way to learn is from a real life teacher. Sign up for a class this term and stay motivated with the support of a group.
Amber Hatch is author of Mindfulness for Parents: Finding your Way to a Calmer, Happier Family (Watkins, 2017)