After coming in from outside, the 4-year-old girl continued to act like a whirling dervish.
Even though it was time to settle down and get ready to eat, she could not seem to do it. Her mother had noticed that her daughter had difficulty transitioning between settings.
Her daughter's teacher at preschool had also mentioned that she was struggling to calm down after free play periods.
The mother could see that this could become a problem if it continued. She decided that her daughter needed some help in figuring out how to calm down and decided to start teaching her some meditation and coping techniques.
Many young children can struggle with transitions or in learning how to deal with frustration. Meditation can provide one tool for them to be able to self-regulate more effectively.
A technique that can be used at home is finger-counting breaths.
This technique has a child create gentle fists. As the child takes a breath, she unfurls a finger from her palm.
For example, the first breath can unfurl the right thumb with the next unfurling the right index finger. The child progresses until all fingers on both hands are open or 10 breaths are taken in total. As the child unfurls each finger, they can utter a mantra. The classic is "om", but it helps if children can make up their own mantra that helps them feel calm and relaxed.
Another avenue for teaching children better coping skills is to use child-oriented apps.
A well-regarded app is the Breathe, Think, Do with Sesame app from Sesame Street. It is a free interactive app for children who are two to seven years old. The app teaches children to use three steps when confronted with frustrating situations. They first take a deep breath, think about what to do next, and give the solution a try.
In addition, the app allows children to help a friendly monster take deep breaths, think of plans, and try them out to get through a challenging situation.
In many ways it mimics pretend play that children use when they are mastering social skills.
Often children's play resembles situations they have encountered as they work out better ways to respond. The Sesame app provides tips and strategies for parents on patience and overcoming mistakes among others. It also has a curriculum guide, songs and videos.
Parents who download the app will want to use it with their children for a few minutes every day so they can begin teaching and learning the strategy. After using the app for a little while, parents should encourage using the approach in real time with their children when they encounter difficulties in order to generalize the skills to a variety of situations.
If children are a bit older, another mindfulness and meditation app that can be used is Smiling Mind. The app is free and can be used by all age groups but there are age-appropriate modules for children seven years and older. The app has evidence-based content and helps children develop their meditative skills.
Many children need help in dealing with frustrations and transitions between settings. Parents can help by providing direct instruction in meditation or utilize child-friendly apps. Practicing a little bit every day and trying to use these skills in real life settings will give children additional tools to more effectively deal with life's ups and downs.
Dan Florell, Ph.D., is a professor at Eastern Kentucky University and has a private practice, MindPsi (www.mindpsi.net). Praveena Salins, M.D., is a pediatrician at Madison Pediatric Associates (www.madisonpeds.com).