Whether you have younger or older children, helping them process their experiences can give them a sense of understanding of both the world around them and their responses to that world. The deeper that children and parents understand their feelings and reactions to what is happening in any given moment, the better they can be present to their own and others’ experiences, leading to less mindless reactivity, which reduces reactive conflict and challenging interactions between family members.
Here are three suggestions to help parents and children process their experiences together.
Dreams can be an excellent place for parents and children to explore and understand their emotions, fears, worries, joys, and inner healing abilities.
Here are essential elements to think about when you engage your children’s dreams.
Creating Space: While mornings can be busy, as the family rushes to get to work, school, and other activities, it is vital to carve out time and space to explore dreams. It is best to do this before the rush of the morning. If this is not possible during the week, the weekend could be an excellent place to begin the inquiry into dreaming.
Show Respect and Care: We reveal what we are processing when we share dreams. Dream sharing is a delicate art that requires a heavy dose of respect and care.
Do Not Interpret: It is imperative not to interpret a child’s dreams. You want to be present and curious about their sharing, but not make interpretations about what things mean. Even though we may have our ideas, we don’t know what it may mean for the child. Be curious about their feeling states in the dreams and how they might connect dream images to stories and experiences.
Find the Healing: When children have upsetting dreams, help them find the moments and places of healing or potential healing in their dream. You might have them imagine or talk out how they could summon a helper figure to get them out of a scary or challenging dream experience or develop an alternative storyline where they are the helper or hero. Talk through the dream with them until they can work through their complicated feelings.
Be Judicious in Sharing: Parents need to be thoughtful about what dreams they are sharing. If a parent has upsetting, disturbing, or explicit dreams, these are not to share with a child. Take more solemn adult dreams to another trusted adult.
ROSE, BUD, THORN
In the evening, at the dinner table or before bed, parents and children can share the Roses and Thorns of that day and Buds for the next day. The Roses are all the big and small things that create a sense of harmony, balance, beauty, wellness. The Thorns are those moments in the day that felt challenging, difficult, unwanted but maybe had a purpose and a lesson. The Buds are those things to look forward to, big or small, that will happen the next day. By going through this exercise together, children have a chance to process their day, and everyone gets to hear about each other’s experiences. It may explain why someone was upset or moody, and it may open a chance for a “sorry” if needed.
Parents can model by sharing first or just sharing for some days or months if children are hesitant to share. Eventually, children will want to join in with their contributions. The important thing is not to force this exercise and let children engage if they are ready. When the parents do it in earnest each day, it models how to share their emotional lives. (www.mindfulschools.org)
Being outside in the natural world helps families engage the world beyond the home and societal stressors and expectations. It often creates new experiences for the family to engage in together. There is ample opportunity for learning and having adventures together when outside, especially in nature. It is healthy for families to get into the woods or parks each week. Even as it gets cold, bundling up (taking all appropriate Covid precautions) and getting into the woods is a powerful way to expand out as a family and engage new and different environments.
The same forest path is new each time as the seasons change. There is a lot of space for physical movement, slowing down to take in the details of the natural world, activating the scientific mind, sparking curiosity, and creating new experiences together as a family. If a family member is not physically able to walk a forest path, even finding a spot in nature to be together and have an outdoor experience can engage the family in new experiences. New experiences can bring joy, curiosity, and a sense of connection to family members and the world beyond screens and human stressors.
These shared activities engage curiosity, deep listening, respect, sharing of inner worlds, and experiencing new environments, deepening the connection, attachment, empathy, and understanding between parents and children.