In talking with parents lately, I’ve noticed that the reference of “here comes the summer” can either bring a calming sensation with the relief of non-strict school bell and drop off schedules, or it can bring an overwhelming stress of how to keep their children safe, cool, healthy and active without those strict school bells and routines.
To prevent a “restful summer” turning into a stressful or boring summer break for the whole family, try transforming everyday activities (or trying new ones!) into a mindfulness practice. Mindfulness is a practice that has been used in therapy to help clients become more aware of each of their unique senses (sight, smells, sounds, taste and touch) without the judgment of opinions or negative thoughts.
We can all practice mindfulness at any time of the day, for example when we are having a meal, taking a shower, or playing outside. So, how can we make our summer more delightful through the practice of mindfulness?
Check out these quick, easy, and economical tips to help reduce stress and other symptoms of depression, anxiety, and/or mood disorders. These tips are just as fun for children as they are for adults, and it has been found that the more parents can help children practice these mindful exercises, the more enjoyable for both parties and long-lasting the effects will be because the skills were developed within a loving relationship.
Try a few of the following examples with your children and make each day a new adventure to discover your senses through the summer:
1. Summery Sight Seeing
- Take a walk: observe all the colors, point out any trees/flowers/plants/house/objects you normally take for granted during your normally busy day.
- Go to the beach: observe the waves, the visuals in the sand, the clouds, people, dogs/animals in sight.
- Go to the park: take a look at all the different areas to explore at the park. Is there a place for smaller children, older children, skate park, any monuments, murals? If you’re in Long Beach, be sure to check out the schedule for the Free Family Fun series offered by Councilwoman Lena Gonzalez at parks throughout the First District.
2. Summery Smells
- Gardening: plant a flower/plant with your child and pay attention to the smells of the ground/dirt. Is there a difference in smell when the dirt is dry and wet? Do different plants and flowers have different smells?
- Go on a walk: observe all the scents you smell as you are on a walk to your local grocery store. Any smells you have never noticed before? And once at the store, what section of the grocery store is your favorite (i.e. produce section, frozen section, bakery)?
- Cook a favorite meal with your child: describe and smell all the ingredients and take the time to smell the herbs, spices, and aromas used to whip up the favorite meal.
3. Sound-Full Summers
- Go to the beach/park: observe all the sounds around you. Ask your child: are people talking, laughing, or yelling? Are there any animals making noises? Can you hear the wind in the trees if you are at the park? What about the waves, what sound do they make?
- Attend “music at the park” night. Check the activity schedules of nearby parks and see if one offers free musical entertainment. (Here’s a few in Long Beach that might be fun!) Attend and listen to the instruments – the different sound made by the drums, horns, voices, guitars and much more. Ask your child to identify which is their favorite sound and which is their least favorite.
- Have a dancing night in your own home: Turn on the radio or put on the household favorite song and listen to all the sounds being made (dance if your body tells you to move). Make it a game for every family member to call out the different sounds.
4. Tasty Summer Delights
- Cook a meal together: Just like you would enjoy the smells and aromas of your favorite meal the same can be done with your taste buds. Try and see if you can taste every ingredient added when you prepared it. Ask your child to describe all the different tastes they’re experiencing.
- Go out for a family favorite meal and take extra time to notice all the sensations of taste you may have not tasted before.
- Enjoy something cold like ice cream, slushies or frozen drinks and pay attention to the sensations of the coldness on your taste buds. Check out a few of these recipes to make your own ice cream or frozen desserts at home and get the kids involved in the creation of each. Then as you’re eating that treat talk about what all the different ingredients you used feels and tastes like.
- Stay cool in water! Play in the water at the pool, beach, or even take a run through the sprinklers. Pay attention to how the water feels on your skin, head and face. Ask your child: What does the sand feel like as you get closer to the water? How does the water feel differently in the ocean than in a pool or from a water hose? What other sensations can you feel at these places?
- Build something together: such as a puzzle, a bookshelf, a chair, table or a family frame. Ask your child: How do these objects feel differently? Do you have to sand down wood? Are you painting? (Other senses can be used here too… what does each material smell like?)
- Make a stress ball with your children: fill balloons with flour, beads or rice. Ask your child: How does the stress ball feel? Which sensation is most favorable to your tactile preference? Can you practice using it during a stressful situation? How did it make you feel? Or, you can fill your balloons with water and have a fun-filled water balloon fight! Make sure to discuss the sensations they’re feeling while staying cool, safe and having fun!
Priscilla Gomez, MSW is a Clinical Therapist in The Guidance Center’s School-Based Program, where she helps guide children and families struggling with mental health conditions or abuse toward positive and productive futures. Before joining The Guidance Center team in 2016, Gomez worked closely with children, teens and parents, providing individual and family therapy in a variety of settings. She has also been a family advocate, and run parent educational classes on the importance of age appropriate behaviors, how to develop healthy communication and how to create safe spaces to foster healthy and hopeful family well-being. Gomez earned a Masters of Social Work degree in Community Mental Health at California State University, Fullerton and a Bachelors of Art in Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Berkeley.