Inside: Help kids understand how their minds work and how they can calm down at will with a mindfulness jar. It’s also widely known in some circles as the magic calm-down bottle.
Mindfulness jars are fun, calming, bright, and beautiful. And I have a feeling that once you make it, you’re going to want one for every season of the year (and not just for your kids :))
And that’s fantastic!
We all like to praise the art of self-control and other forms of emotional regulation, yet we spend little time actively cultivating it in our children (except perhaps through punishment, which we all know is not the most effective way).
Study after study shows that kids with greater self-control end up happier and healthier adults. We also know that being able to control our emotions leads to better relationships, finances, and career success down the road.
So what are we waiting for?!
It all starts with the basics. How does the mind work? What is the seat of our emotions? And how can we use these insights to improve self-control and other executive functions?
Explaining how the mind works to little kids can be difficult, especially if you are trying to do it when they are already stressed, upset, or distracted.
But difficult doesn’t mean impossible.
Mindfulness Jar to the rescue!
This is a fantastic tool for making complex ideas easy to digest. What’s more: a mindfulness jar can be used by overwhelmed kids independently whenever they need to calm down.
Let’s make a mindfulness jar and discuss how it can be used in your home or classroom.
How to Make a Mindfulness Jar, aka Calm Down Bottle
What you need (see the next two pics below)
- Clear hair gel, body oil, or clear glue (see note below)
- Warm water
- Bottle or jar with lid (we prefer Foss water)
- Beads, stones, and other cute little bits in fall colors (see pic below)
- Super glue or Gorilla tape (to seal it shut)
What to do
1. Mix hair gel (oil or glue) with water
What’s the best thickener? I couldn’t help but earn to experiment (because I just can’t help myself).
I ended up using Hawaiian body oil for one jar, Baby Magic cleaning gel for the second, and Elmer’s clear glue for the third.
I’m happy to report that it doesn’t make any difference what you use as long as you stick to the 1:6 ratio: one part oil/gel to 6 parts of warm water. When you scroll down to the video below, you will see that all three bottles look fantastic, and our little treasures move through the water gracefully and calmly.
So, step 1 is to mix 1 part clear hair gel (glue or oil) with 6 parts warm water right in the bottle. Shake it to mix well. This thickens the liquid and makes objects flow slowly.
2. Add your treasures to the bottle
We scoured the house and even made a trip to the craft store to complete our collection of cute and colorful treasures: tiny amber stones, yellow beads, rhinestones, colored glitter, anything and everything that caught our eye and looked fall-themed.
While we were admiring our treasures, we ended up dividing them by color – orange, yellow, and red – and that gave us the idea to make three bottles of each separate color. The only thing better than a mindfulness jar is 3 mindfulness jars 🙂
We used soap colorants to color the bottles because we know from experience that they create beautiful, uniform colors.
Put the lid on, shake, and test the speed of motion. (As you probably guessed, it will depend on the consistency of your gel). Making an adjustment to get just the right speed of motion is easy:
- If the pieces are falling too fast, add a bit more gel.
- If too slow, add more water.
If it’s just right, but there is still lots of empty space in the bottle, add a bit more mixture of gel and water, using a 1:6 ratio as your guide.
4. Secure the lid
Once you are happy with the mixture, secure the lid with glue or tape to ensure there will be no spills. This will give kids the freedom to shake their bottles any way they like without worrying about messes.
How to Use Mindfulness Jars, aka Calm Down Bottles
We live in a world where even little kids are often battling stress on a regular basis. When I look at my kids, I see them stressing out about their performance at competitions, about finishing their schoolwork, and even about our escape-artist tabby cat getting hit by a car.
Fortunately, as parents and educators, we can teach our children skills and give them tools to cut stress down and calm their minds. And mindfulness jars are one of the most effective tools I know.
It’s important to point out that all emotions are important and valid, and there is no such thing as bad emotions. We are not using mindfulness jars to get rid of bad emotions but rather to learn to be in the driver’s seat and not let our emotions control us.
Shake the jar and point out how everything inside the jar is in disarray. Our minds can be just like that – a storm of whirling thoughts. The brain sends and receives a staggering number of chemical and electrical signals throughout the day. It’s no wonder that sometimes we just get overwhelmed. Instruct your kids to imagine the glitter and the objects inside as their thoughts, some big, some small – twisting and twirling, coming and going.
Sit quietly and wait for everything in the jar to settle at the bottom. Tell your kids to take deep, slow breaths while they are waiting for the glitter to settle.
Instead of making the need to calm down a negative thing (I lost control), we can turn it into a learning opportunity (Yay! I get to practice emotional control and awareness!).
Share this incredibly fun fact with your kids: when we are in a state of practicing mindfulness (being with our breaths in this moment), our brains vibrate at the same frequency as everything in nature – rocks, trees, flowers…
The coolest thing of all is that the more we practice something, the better we get at it. It might take a while to calm down with a jar when you are just starting out, but with time it will be much quicker. And the day will come when simply thinking about the jar will activate the same calm-down reflex as when we hold it in our hands.
The Science of Mindfulness Jars
When we feel stressed, upset, or anxious, our body releases stress hormones. We go into what’s called fight or flight mode. It means we’re on high alert and ready to do what it takes to keep ourselves safe.
The problem is that being in a fight or flight mode for too long or too often damages our bodies and impairs memory and learning.
Plus, stress just doesn’t feel good. It increases our heart rate, decreases digestion, and makes our minds jump around like scared monkeys.
However, we can choose to jump off the stress wagon at any time just by focusing on something simple and comforting. It tells our brains that everything is ok. We are safe.
Contrary to the culture of multi-tasking so prevalent nowadays, we are only capable of concentrating on one thing at a time. When we feel that we have many different thoughts at once, it’s our mind rapidly switching between different threads of thought.
In other words, when you feel stressed, you can focus on your breathing or (and this might just be more fun) you can zoom in on what’s going on inside the jar. The longer you look, the more you find calm.
According to Harvard Medical School, people who practice mindfulness have measurably more efficient mental processing. I linked lots of amazing research in my post about the basics of mindfulness. Have a look!
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