There are times when life can become pretty chaotic. Your schedule may feel very busy, or perhaps something sad or scary is happening. Maybe things just aren’t unfolding the way you expected. You can imagine your mind is like a snow globe, with a flurry of thoughts and feelings whirling around, creating a virtual blizzard. In the midst of this snow storm, it can be quite difficult to see a solution or to choose an effective course of action. In these times, it’s particularly important to pause and take note of the weather and find within yourself a peaceful and cozy spot to wait out the storm. Notice what thoughts and feelings are blowing in your line of vision. Now see what it would be like, to let go of those thoughts, to let the feelings blow by. Focus your attention on your breath. Notice the cooler air as it enters through your nose and makes your belly gently rise. Now bring your awareness to the brief sense of stillness that exists between the inhale and the exhale. Imagine that you are safe and snug in a cozy spot by a crackling fire. As you breathe in and out, you might notice that you begin to feel more peaceful. You remember that you are not the blizzard. The storm will pass and clearer skies will return.
Creating Your Own Personal Snow Globe
In order to help you imagine the process of breathing through the brain blizzard, you can construct your own snow globe. Using a clear, recycled glass or plastic bottle (think water or juice bottles, olive jar, coffee creamer bottle, mason jar, etc.) and a few simple ingredients, you can begin to construct your own mind. Voss glass water bottles make beautiful snow globes, but if your child tends to exhibit destructive behaviors when agitated, I would suggest opting for a plastic bottle. Depending on what supplies you happen to have available, there are two strategies for making your snow globe solution.
Step #1: Getting the Base Solution Ready
Option #1: Glitter Glue
Heat up some water in a small pan or microwave safe bowl. Precision isn’t terribly important as you add a few ounces (about ¼ of a 6 oz bottle) of glitter glue to the pre-heated water. Stir until the glue has dissolved and the solution is free of clumps. Once cooled, add the solution to your clear container and you’re ready for the next step.
Option #2: Vegetable Glycerin
As an alternative to glitter glue, you could also use vegetable glycerin to create some viscosity in your solution. Select your clear container and pour in warm water until it is 2/3 full. Add vegetable glycerin until you nearly reach the top. Finish the solution prep by adding a few drops of clear dish soap. At this point, you can choose to add a drop or two of food coloring to lightly tint the solution. Adding excessive amounts of food coloring can make it difficult to see the glitter and beads you include in the next step, so I recommend exercising a bit of restraint. Close the lid and mix the solution.
Step 2: Creating the “Brain Blizzard”
To effectively transform your container into a brain blizzard, you will need to add some glitter flakes, sequins, and plastic beads, small shells or pebbles. It can be helpful to have a few vials of loose glitter in different colors. You can invite your child to take a few moments and listen to their body, mind, and heart. Remind them to pay attention mindfully, in a kind and curious way. Do they notice any feelings? Ask them if there is a glitter color that matches their feeling. Invite them to shake some loose glitter into the container. If it’s a big feeling they might shake a lot. If the feeling is smaller, then maybe they include just a little. Once they’ve identified any feelings visitors, you can ask them if there are any thoughts that might be tied to the feelings. They can toss in a bead, sequin, shell or pebble for each thought.
Although helping children to increase their awareness of thoughts and feelings supports their ability to regulate emotions, try to resist the temptation to be too rigid about this step. Kids often enjoy relish the opportunity to decorate their snow globes with tons of glitter and beads. In their excitement, be prepared for them to potentially skimp on the whole emotional awareness piece, and that’s perfectly alright. If a child is enthusiastic about the mindfulness prop, they are more likely to actually use it effectively during periods of stress, so it’s most important that you create space for them to enjoy the process of making their snow globe.
Breathing through the Blizzard
Once your child has added what they believe to be an adequate amount of glittery snowflake feelings and powerful thought beads, you can screw the lid on securely. (*If you think your child might be tempted to pour the entire contents of the snow globe on the floor in a fit of rage, I would recommend permanently closing the lid with some hot glue.) Once you’re certain that the container is closed, invite your child to shake up the snow globe and watch as a brain blizzard magically forms, with thoughts and feelings flying all around, making it impossible to see and make effective choices. You can ask your child if there are certain events or things that happen that might trigger a blizzard in their brain. This is the stuff that really makes them mad, sad, worried or disappointed, the stuff that stirs up thoughts and feelings which are uncomfortable, hard to handle and can lead to problematic behavior. This is a great conversation to have in calm moments, when your child might have some insight or awareness, without being clouded by intense affect.
After your child has given their snow globe a good shake, invite them to rest the container on the floor or a tabletop. Together, you can begin to take some magic calming breaths. Breathe in slowly through your nose, and then allow yourself a longer, reluctant exhale through pursed lips. Imagine that you are blowing out a birthday candle or wishing on a dandelion. Notice what happens when you put the jar down, remove yourself from the blizzard, and focus on your breathing. Soon the visibility in the jar will improve as the glitter settles to the bottom. If you find your mind wandering back into the flurry of thoughts and feelings, just notice that you’ve stumbled into the storm and gently return your attention to your breath. You and your child might like to count how many breaths it takes for brain blizzard to blow past. Because adults and children breathe at different rates, you may arrive at different numbers. Just like real weather events, some brain blizzards last longer than others. If the glitter has settled before the storm in your mind has passed, just shake the container and repeat the breathing practice until you too, can see things clearly. Always remember that just like a storm, thoughts and feelings will eventually pass.