My friends and I like to think of ourselves as smart grown-ups who know their way around a wellness lifestyle, including a clean diet, moderate exercise and healthy relationships. But then we interact with youthful family members—who’d prefer to subsist on fast food, constant video games/YouTube and an emotional palette rich in sass and snark. (Love you, kids!) So when I heard about an app called Stop, Breathe & Think Kids, meant to help children learn how to identify and manage their feelings, my first thought was sign me up. Here’s what happened when my son and I tried it over a week.
I bribed my 11-year-old son to try the app with me by promising him ice cream after dinner. He ate the ice cream and then had a meltdown insisting he’d try the app tomorrow. Which should give you an idea why we need this app in the first place.
Here’s how the app works: Your kid is assigned a “mission” based on how he or she is feeling at that moment. They choose from dozens of emojis representing the artfully distressed tapestry of youthful feelings. My son had just been watching a news report about a school shooting (sad but true), so he chose “anxious,” “nervous” and “curious.” The game “Thank the farmer” came onto the screen: a three-minute animation in which a voice asks you to take a raisin, but before eating it, to thank the vines, the farmer, etc. for bringing you this delicious food. Then you’re to taste the grape’s sweetness while thinking about the people who brought it to you. Finally, you tell a grown-up what you’re grateful for (my son said “Mom and Dad”). Then you pick out your feelings again from the emoji list. He picked “bored.” Still, he seemed happier.
A half hour until bedtime and “hyper” was the chosen emoji. That launched “Cooling Out Breath.” This three-minute clip asks you to sit up straight with your hands on your knees and breathe in through your nose, then out a lot (with a whooshing sound) through your mouth. My son and I did this together, and I felt a little light-headed by the end. I think he did too, since he stopped roughhousing with the dog and wanted to go to bed.
“Irritated” and “angry” today. The app launched “Just Like Me,” an animated story in which a horse and an alligator high-five each other and the narrator asks listeners to think of someone who annoys them. After telling us that all people have something in common, she leads us in a series of deep breaths during which we’re to think of the annoying person, and imagine something we have in common and say, “They’re just like me.” (As in “He wants to have friends, just like me.”) Hearing my son talk compassionately about a kid in school he’s having conflicts with made me tear up.
Missed it. Because we were tired and hungry and late on my son’s volcano project. (Metaphor much?)
Pressures over schoolwork and family illness were mounting, so today my son tapped “caring” and “sad.” The mission called “5-Finger Breathing” is a four-minute exercise in tracing your fingers and breathing along with the up-and-down motion, pausing at the tip of each finger. Trying to coordinate breaths with the timing of the tracing, plus the infusions of fresh air, was a big tension build and release, with my son finally collapsing into a tearful hug.
No idea how today went, because my son took the phone and went in his room, then came back out with it a half hour later and shrugged. My takeaway? The app packs more mindfulness and meditation practice into a few minutes than I could ever imagine with a child, and if I’d started (and continued) earlier in my son’s life (it’s meant for five- to ten-year-olds), he’d have more tools for emotional health. Going forward, I could see us using the app together, especially during high-stress times. Then again, it’s always a battle, since even teeth-brushing isn’t a given. But I’m surprised—and heartened—by how much more accessible Stop, Breathe & Think Kids makes meditation.