Mindfulness Jar: Help your child calm the mind and big emotions
Updated: May 2, 2020
I am so excited to share about the Mindfulness Jar! Not only could this tool be useful to talk about hard emotions during this time of Shelter in Place, but for years and years to come. The Mindfulness Jar is such a wonderful tool to have in your home and at school as it is gives children a physical representation of their thoughts, feelings/emotions, and actions. When talking about thoughts, feelings, and emotions these ideas are often abstract and confusing. With the Mindfulness Jar, children can learn visually about these complex ideas. If you are introducing this tool to your child at a young age, as they get older, this practice will bring awareness to what is happening in their body. With this awareness we can begin to introduce various breathing techniques and mindfulness practices. This continued practice will lay a wonderful foundation in empathy awareness and confidence to navigate through difficult and stressful times.
Let's talk about the brain!
To children, the brain is such a mystery (even to some of us adults)! Ever wonder what our thought and feelings look like in our brains when we are upset or angry? When we are upset, just like when we are stressed, cortisol fills our brain, decreasing access to our prefrontal cortex. Below is an image of the brain with the prefrontal cortex highlighted. This image was taken from Emily Fletcher, the founder of the Ziva Meditation technique. She stresses the importance of mindfulness to rid ourselves of stress in the present moment. Exactly what we are trying to help our children do with the help of the Mindfulness Jar.
Daniel Siegel, the author of "The Whole Brained Child," (Highly recommend this book! See below.) gives us a recap of what the prefrontal cortex is in charge of:
"The prefrontal cortex is responsible for producing many characteristics we hope to see in our children: sound decision making and planning, control over emotions and body, self-understanding, empathy, and morality."
So what happens when we loose access to this part of the brain (upon stress and through the release of cortisol)? What might it look like if your brain was filled with a fog of cortisol? I think a digestible way to explain this idea to our children would look something like this; giving the mindfulness jar a big shake!
The glitter is a visual representation of cortisol, while the jar is the prefrontal cortex. With all of the "glitter" or cortisol in the way, we now have decreased access to our prefrontal cortex and are no longer able to make sound decisions, control our impulses, and understand oneself and others. We have all of a sudden become irrational and can no longer make rash decisions. Now, incorporating the mindfulness jar does not take away or erase these difficult and stressful emotions rather, brings them to awareness. By bringing awareness to emotions as they arise, we can apply different strategies, such as the mindfulness jar and deep breathing, to help children self-regulate their emotions.
How to use the mindfulness jar:
First, make the Mindfulness Jar together! You can find the easy 5 minute activity below. While making your mindfulness jar, you will choose to either have three different colors of glitter in it, or just one. If you have a jar with three different colors of glitter in it, one color will represent thoughts, the other color will represent feelings/emotions, and the other behaviors. If you choose one color (or only have one color available) the glitter can change and represent all three ideas depending on the scenario.
When your child is feeling sad, frustrated, too excited (during a calm time like bed time), etc., bring in the Mindfulness Jar as a tool to help your child self-regulate and calm down. You can use the follow dialogue and of course, change it to fit your style and scenario!
"How are you feeling? (Once the emotion is labeled, acknowledge that emotion. For example, "I hear that you are feeling furstrated because XYZ. Then give the jar a big shake to stir up the glitter.) Do you notice how the glitter is swirling around inside the jar? That is also what is happening inside of your brain right now. Your ideas/feelings/actions are flustered. This is what happens when we feel fill in emotion here . BUT notice, as we find stillness and do a few deep yoga breaths (or alternate strategy), your mind and body start to slow down; just like the glitter in the mindfulness jar."
::::Allow some time for some deep breathing or alternative mindfulness strategy::::
"Now that your mind and body is settled, just like the glitter in the jar, do you notice how clear the water is? This is how deep breathing can help clear your mind. Now that your mind is settled, we can talk about your feelings and come up with a solution to the problem/emotion."
Now, your child might want to instantly feel calm or not have the patience to sit, be still, and breathe. That's okay! It takes time and the mindfulness jar paints an awesome picture of that. No matter how much we try to force feelings away or rush our breaths, we need time. Time to heal, time to process our emotions, time to reflect.
In my opinion, to build empathy awareness, talking about and acknowledging your child's feelings is one of the most important things we can do as adults. If we begin talking about emotions beginning at a young age, rather than assuming how one is feeling or burring them away, they will be able to better identify not only their own emotions but those of their peers as well. Continuously talking about and addressing feelings will build normalcy around emotions rather than it being tabooed and uncool. (This often happens in the teen years.) Once a child understands ones emotions and has the resources to self-soothe in a time of anger or stress, they will always have faster and clearer access to their prefrontal cortex; the area of the brain that helps us make calm, safe, and sound decisions.
Make the mindfulness jar accessible!
Keep the jar in an area that is accessible for your child to grab whenever they need it! It can be part of your quiet time routine, used right before bed, and in times of high stress and big energy. You can also make a cozy corner in your child's room, playroom, living room, or classroom! This area can be dressed with lots of pillows, a cozy rug, and a basket with different mindfulness and calm down tools (you can find a list below). By making the mindfulness jar accessible (and creating a mindfulness area), you are empowering your child to honor and acknowledge their emotions as well as calm themselves down with a few deep breaths and mindfulness strategies.
How to make the mindfulness jar:
1. Recycled Jar/Plastic Bottle w/ Lid
2. Glitter: 1-3 colors (rice, confetti, small beads)
3. Clear Liquid Glue
4. Warm Water (straight from the tap is perfect)
Optional: Spoon and/or funnel to transfer glitter to jar
*See the how to video below!
Step 1: Scoop about 2-3 spoonfuls of glitter into the empty bottle or jar.
Step 2: Add in glue. The more glue you add, the slower the glitter will fall (more time to mindfully breathe and practice). For slow falling glitter, fill jar about 1/3 of the way.
Step 3: Pour in your warm water leaving 1" of space at the top. (This way you can test out the speed, step 4, adding more water or glue as needed.
Step 4: Secure top onto jar/bottle. Give the jar a shake to mix everything together in the jar. Notice the rate the glitter falls at. If too slow, add more warm water. If too fast, add more glue. Adjust as needed.
Optional: Secure the top onto the bottle/jar with tape or super glue.
Step 5: Enjoy putting mindfulness into practice with your child! Remember, it is a process! Be consistent and make the jar accessible.
Other Mindfulness/Calm Down Tools:
Mindful Kids: Mindfulness Cards by Whitney Stewart
Mindful Kids: Mindfulness Cards by Little Renegades
Smiling Mind: Mindfulness App for Kids!
This is a wonderful app with short recordings (about 3 minutes) to introduce breathing and mindfulness. Many of the breaths and techniques are ones we have used here at HWY!
What does the research say?
According to the CDC, 7.1% of children age 3-7 (4.4 million) have diagnosed anxiety. 3.2% (1.9 million) are diagnosed with depression. That is a lot of children that lack accessible strategies that are right under their noses... (Literally!) The mindfulness jar can be one of the tools and strategies that help get your child to this calm and confident state of mind. With time, the practice to pause and respond in a calm and confident demeanor in a stressful situation builds resiliency in children. A characteristic many aim to raise their child to be. Michelle Borba suggests to make a “Calm-Down Jar,” just like the one I am describing here, in her book, Unselfie. Here she highlights the importance of empathy awareness, it’s benefits as well many as mindfulness strategies and practices that are easily applied to our everyday lives. (I would 100% reccomend this book to anyone who wants to learn about and gain strategies to raise an empathetic, resilient, and confident child.)
Daniel Siegel, MD, whom I quoted above has a wonderful book called The Whole Brained Child. In this book he provides the science to "survive everyday parenting challenges to help your family thrive." This book is super digestible, relatable, applicable and I highly, highly recommend this book! It informs a lot of my practices and beliefs on empowering and supporting young children through life!