It is neurologically impossible to be both stressed out, and really loving and kind at the same time. When members of our family feel stressed—even young children—their ability to be empathetic and compassionate towards others dwindles away. This results in short tempers, selfish behaviors and hurt feelings all around.
While it is just not possible to be perfectly loving beings at all times, there are tools that we can use to spend more of our time in that space. A “kindness practice” is one of the tools that requires only a few minutes and can be used by children and adults of all ages and with different abilities.
Here is an informal mindfulness practice that you can begin to do with your family on a regular basis. This simple technique actually forms the basis for many types of compassion and empathy training. You can use this practice to help children (and yourself) calm down after a difficult day, cope with an unpleasant interaction or just to wind down before bed so that you can enter sleep in a more peaceful way.
- Find a comfortable position either seated or laying down. If you want, you can place a hand on your heart. Allow your eyes to close.
- Think about someone that you really respect and look up to, and who really cares about you in return. Notice how you feel as you bring this person to mind. Make a kind wish and send it their way. Think about what would make them happy and make them smile. It could be a very personal wish or something more general like, “I wish you happiness” or, “I wish you good health.”
- Now think about someone you see as a more “neutral” person - someone you don’t know well enough to really like or dislike. This person could be the parent of one of your child’s friends or the person who delivers your mail or someone you know through work. Bring this person to mind and then send them a kind wish.
- Lastly, bring to mind someone who has frustrated you lately, someone who you see as a little difficult or someone that has hurt your feelings. Bring this person to mind and send them a kind wish.
- Once you’ve sent all three wishes, check in with your mind and body. Notice any shift in your breathing or your mood. When you’re ready, allow your eyes to open gently.
This practice helps us to recognize our shared humanity: we all want to be happy, we all want to be well and we all want to be viewed as kind and loving. When we send kind wishes to all people—the ones we care about, the ones that frustrate us and everyone in between—we create more ease in ourselves and more peace in our families and communities. We could all use a little more of that right now.