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Part I: Five Mindful Habits for Families and Schools to Increase Happiness and Connection

By Dana Asby, CEI Director of Innovation & Research Support

This is Part I of a two-part series. Part II is available here.

Stress can be toxic to the body and mind. When parents or teachers are stressed, they’re less likely to be well attuned to the youth in their care. Research shows that mindfulness can reduce stress, increase happiness, and help people better understand each other’s needs, leading to a family or school that feels more connected through a bond of love. By weaving mindfulness into the fabric of your family’s life or the school day, you will see improvements in positive attitudes and behaviors.

Mindfulness can sometimes feel like a nebulous concept with so many options to practice that those new to the idea may not know where to start. Doing nearly any mindfulness exercise can bring a little bit of peace in the moment, but making these activities routines amplifies the benefits, bringing peace into every corner of life. We’ll focus on five mindful habits.

By including some of the following practices into your family’s or school’s daily routines, you’re sure to see happier, less stressed and anxious children, teens, and adults. A habit takes on average 66 days, or a little over two months, to become automatic (Lally et. al., 2009), so the transformation may not occur after three morning meditations. Most families and schools have success choosing one habit to focus on for a couple of months before adding on a second. After a year of building mindful habits, look back and see how far your family or school community has come.

Be Present

What does “being present” mean? It is being conscious of the here and now, using your senses to take in as much as you can about your surroundings and the beings in them. It is being aware of your emotions, thoughts, and body. It is resisting the urge to dwell on the past or worry about the future, but rather stay in the present moment.

Families and educators can help younger people learn how to be more present by looking at the messages they send. Are you constantly switching between phone, computer screen, and a conversation with them or are you giving them your full attention when you speak to them? Children look to adults as models, so it’s important that we’re minimizing “technoference”—when technology interferes with a caregiver-child interaction. According to a study published in Child Development, technoference is associated with increased child behavior problems (McDaniel & Radesky, 2018). Putting down the smartphone may result in fewer tantrums and allow for more quality time.

Quality time—time spent having a shared experience that creates joy—is more easily achieved when it’s intentional. Neither families nor schools need to plan out every moment of the next year on January 1. But doing some purposeful planning of exactly when, where, and how your family or community will get some quality time and then marking it down on the calendar makes it more likely you’ll actually play that board game or go on that hike rather than plopping down onto the sofa for another movie marathon.

Examples of Purposeful Quality Time:

  1. Creating art together

  2. Playing a board game

  3. Building something (a fort, a house of cards, a birdhouse, etc.)

  4. Reading

  5. Solving a puzzle, word problem, or brain teaser

  6. Having a talent show

  7. Going on a hike, to the beach, or to a nature center

Another way to be more present with your family or students is to practice active listening. According to group dynamics expert Craig Freshley, who has been facilitating healing conversations between liberals, conservatives, and independents since 2003, “Misunderstanding is the cause of 90% of all conflicts” (Freshley, n.d.). To reduce miscommunication, try practicing active listening:

  1. Make eye contact.

  2. Resist the urge to make judgements about what the other person is saying or fill in information they aren’t explicitly saying.

  3. Instead of thinking about how you’re going to respond, pay attention to the words coming out of the other person’s mouth.

Children and teens can benefit by learning the steps of active listening and practicing it themselves.

Be Calm

Being calm means being free of extreme emotions, having no conflicts on your mind, and feeling at peace. Being calm is a state of mind. Even if you’re surrounded by chaos, if your mind is calm, your body will follow and vice versa. Breathwork, meditation, and yoga have all been shown to reduce anxiety, depression, and stress (Shaver et. al., 2007). Practicing one or all of these for around 20 minutes or more each day can lead to a more consistent sense of calm and the ability to regulate big emotions in the moment. Breathwork is a great tool to reset in moments of stress. Even taking a pause to count up to five while breathing in, holding the breath for a count of five, and counting down from five while breathing out can reset the fight or flight response system and bring us back to a neutral state of balance. Here’s a fun breathwork activity that fans of superheroes or princesses might enjoy:

Spiderman Breaths

  1. First, stretch out your arms and put your hands palm up in front of you.

  2. We’re going to charge up our wrist webs by breathing in through our noses as we clench our fists in. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

  3. Hold that breath as I count up to five to keep charging your webs. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

  4. In just a second, we’re going to shoot the webs as far as we can while we let all of our breath out through our mouths. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. (Release the fists so palms are face up.)

  5. Let’s keep doing that until we run out of webs.

(For fans of Frozen, parents can have children charge up Elsa’s icicles and let them go instead. It may lead to a decision about the emotions Elsa is “Letting Go” and how much better she feels after she’s done that.)

For a longer lasting sense of calm, try incorporating meditation or yoga into your daily routines. Maybe the family meditates or does yoga together every evening after bath or before jumping in the shower in the morning. Piggybacking off of existing routines can help automate new ones. Schools can have a morning meditation together over the intercom after announcements or come back from lunch with a bit of yoga before returning to schoolwork. Apps, like Headspace or Calm for meditation, and YouTube videos can be great tools for adults new to mindfulness to introduce meditation and yoga to children. There are many fun, kid-friendly versions of these practices to keep the whole family engaged.

Be Compassionate, Be Grateful, and Reflect

Families and schools can help youth become more mindful by modeling compassion, gratitude, and reflection throughout their day. Each of these concepts can become a part of daily routines by taking time to pause, express what we’re thankful for, and think about how our actions affect others. For more information about specific steps your family or school can take to help instill these traits in youth, read Part Two of this article.

Incorporating these habits into your daily routines will lead to a calmer, happier, and more connected family or school. Which one will you focus on weaving into your community for the next few months?

References Freshley, C. (n.d.). Tips, videos, handouts. Good Group Decisions.

Lally, P., van Jaarsveld, C.H.M., Potts, H.W.W., & Wardle, J. (2009). How are habits formed: Modeling habit formation in the real world. European Journal of Social Psychology, 40(6), 998-1009.

McDaniel, B.T. & Radesky, J.S. (2018). Technoference: Parent distraction with technology and associations with child behavior problems. Child Development, 89(1), 100-109.

Shaver, P.R., Lavy, S., Saron, C.D., and Milkulincer, M. (2007). Social foundations of the capacity for mindfulness: An attachment perspective. Psychological Inquiry, 18 (4), 264-271.


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