My home can sometimes be the embodiment of chaos. My oldest child is four years old and working through attempting to control every detail. There is also the fifteen-month-old, who is cutting at least four teeth right now and rivaling Mommy Dearest’s greatest tantrum on almost an hourly basis. Finally, there is our newborn baby, and any parent will automatically know the struggles that come with the beauty of a new addition to the family. At any one time, all three children can be having their own epic meltdowns while my husband and I attempt to run defense à la the Denver Broncos 2015 line up.
All this to say that when I saw the opportunity to read and review Ready, Set, Breathe, by Dr. Carla Naumburg, I jumped at the chance.
Naumburg’s book is the guidebook for parents who are looking for a way to bring some calm to their homes and children’s lives, even if it is just for a moment. The full title says it all; Ready, Set, Breathe: Practicing Mindfulness with Your Children for Fewer Meltdowns and a More Peaceful Family. There is no lecturing, nagging, or impracticality presented in this book. Rather, Naumburg’s approach is straightforward, sympathetic, and realistic.
Most people understand that they cannot change another person’s behavior, but rather, can only change their reactions or their own initial behaviors. Thus, Naumburg’s approach starts with the parent. Her introduction and first few chapters address how mindfulness in the home begins with the parents. She describes mindful parenting as: “Making a choice to focus our attention on the present moment, with kindness and curiosity, so we can make a thoughtful choice about how to proceed rather than react out of frustration or confusion.”
For the potential skeptic, Naumburg provides a list of the benefits of mindfulness, including decreasing anxiety, better sleep, and improved concentration. Even her own personal anecdotes reveal that in order for mindfulness to be effective in children, the parent must initiate it in their own lives. For example, parents who are overwhelmed and frustrated cannot adequately guide a child through deep breathing without first taking a step back to calm themselves. Possibly the best exercise for this is STOP, which stands for Stop, Take a Breath, Observe, and Proceed. Naumburg explains that this exercise allows parents to come back to the present moment before proceeding to their next step.
As the book moves into introducing children to mindfulness, Naumburg explains that mindfulness embodies five main experiences: concentration, creativity, curiosity, compassion and silence. These experiences provide parents a glimpse at when their child is having a mindful moment; these are moments that can be expanded on if addressed appropriately by the parent (which may mean doing absolutely nothing). Naumburg elaborates on these five experiences individually, providing examples of how to expand on the experience for the child. One tip that she provides is to create a “Calm-Down Corner” for children. She provides suggestions for how to decorate the area, toys that would be conducive to calming a child, etc.
The final chapter of Ready, Set, Breathe is titled “Your Mindfulness Toy Box.” The true gold of this book, the final chapter is a list with descriptions of ways to expand and implement mindfulness practices into a family’s life together. A few of the examples from this chapter include:
- Guided meditations and visualizations at bedtime
- Teaching children to put down the fork between bites at meals.
- Using “finger hugs” (entwining fingers with your child) to help children feel more connected and grounded when it is a particularly busy moment
- Have children practice “stealth compassion”: children send “secret happy wishes” to people they know
I quit highlighting and taking notes at this point in my reading because I was certain the pages would be ruined beyond readability if I continued.
With an amazing list of resources and references to support her writing, Dr. Carla Naumburg’s Ready, Set, Breathe is an incredible resource for parents everywhere. Her book is researched without being verbose, practical without being dry and aloof, as well as compassionate and sympathetic without being whiny and self-pitying. I recommend that parents purchase this book before their next breath, or at least before the next epic tantrum.
Ready, Set, Breathe: Practicing Mindfulness with Your Children for Fewer Meltdowns and a More Peaceful Family
New Harbinger Publications, December 2015
Paperback, 224 pages