The Four-Letter Word Your Family Needs

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Your toddler is spinning around like a headless chicken caught inside a tornado, and your tween is escalating from 3 to 10 on the NOOOOOO scale.

Do you:

(a) Feel your blood pressure rising and respond to your kids at the same level of frenzied energy they’re putting out?

(b) Calm everyone down—starting with yourself—and then address their needs?

(c) Hide?

For most of us, the answer is (a). Our kids are in a tizzy, we are in a tizzy– there is always so much to get done – and we soldier on convinced that doing will lead to getting done, and getting done will lead to rest. That seems like a reasonable assumption… except, it’s wrong.

Intentional, deep REST—purposely de-stimulating yourself at key times during your busy day—is fundamental to your family’s health, productivity, and well-being. We recognize this with babies. We know that good naps make for happier infants and better nighttime sleep. But, we often forget it with older kids, and with ourselves.

That’s not our fault. The pace and technology of 21st century living causes us to live in elevated sympathetic arousal. That’s the “fight, flight, or freeze” part of the nervous system. Excellent for keeping us alive in moments of crisis, but terrible for daily life. The more our stress response activates, the more it becomes our go-to. Having our sympathetic nervous system switched “on” is detrimental to our physical and mental health. The same is even more true for children.

As parents, we can learn to weave REST into our family’s day. This will activate the parasympathetic “rest-digest-repair” nervous system, which fosters qualities like equanimity, organization, and empathy. Believe it or not, intentional rest actually helps you get more done.

Try these simple practices, with kids and by yourself. Go from fight-flight-freeze to rest-digest-repair in two - five minutes.

  • Centering breaths: Inhale 4 counts, exhale 4 counts. Inhale 5, exhale 5. Inhale 6, exhale 6. Now inhale 6, exhale 8. Repeat six more cycles.
  • Jaw de-clencher: Place tongue tip in between top and bottom teeth. Inhale 4, hold 1, exhale 4, hold 1. Repeat 10 times.
  • Regenerator: Set timer for 5 minutes. Lie down on floor. Close eyes. Put both hands on belly. Inhale feel belly rise, exhale feel belly fall. When timer rings, smile before opening eyes.
  • Buddy breaths: Sit back-to-back with your child or partner. Inhale and exhale deeply through the nose. Lean gently on each other and notice your breaths align.

Try one of these practices in the morning before the get-ready rush, exactly when you feel like you don’t have a moment to spare. In the midst of a toddler tornado; on your commute; before homework and dinner prep; after kid bedtime. Notice how just one or two minutes of deep, intentional REST helps deescalate the highest stress times of day—and reduces your need for other four-letter words!

The Parents’ Place designs individualized mindfulness and movement programs that help families build strength and flexibility in mind, body, and spirit to (re)find their centers and live better, together.