Here’s a news flash: Life can be stressful. For parents. And for kids.
Technology, of course, is part of the problem. And it can also be part of the solution. The apps described below were designed to promote well-being. Some are intended specifically for family members at different ages and stages; others are more generic. All offer respite from the demands and pressures of family life.
Apps like these have been developed in response to a growing body of research indicating that stress is at the root of many social, mental and physical problems. The antidote is often mindfulness, which can be cultivated in a variety of ways. Research suggests that becoming more aware of bodily sensations, thoughts, and feelings can help people cope with anxiety, sleep more deeply, focus on tasks, and enjoy family time more.
Don’t add any of these apps to your Must Do list. That would, of course, defeat the purpose. Instead, play with them to find out whether one of them helps the people in your family relax and connect with what’s important.
Mindfulness for Pregnancy helps expectant parents become deeply aware of the physical and emotional changes of pregnancy. The program includes guides to gentle yoga stretches, walking meditation, loving kindness meditation and being with baby meditation. $2.99. Apple
Sleepy Sounds is one of many apps that promise to help children (and adults) fall asleep. This app offers choices—you can tune in to white noise, nature sounds, a lullaby or music of your own choosing. The app also provides a soothing animation that can function as a nightlight for children, and you can set a timer so the sound doesn’t play all night. Free. Apple, Android
Settle Your Glitter is a deceptively simple app that can be used by children as young as five. The app asks children to become aware of what they are feeling. Then they see a virtual snow globe filled with swirling glitter. Coached by a friendly puffer fish, kids can settle the glitter by breathing deeply. The app is produce by the Momentous Institute, which also created Breathing Bubbles, another app which encourages children (or, for that matter, adults) to breath deeply as they “release a worry” or “receive a joy.” Free. Apple
Smiling Mind was created by a non-profit in Australia and has content customized for different age levels. Children answer a few questions and then are encouraged to practice easy-to-follow meditations designed to calm the mind and relieve stress. The app keeps track of progress and includes connections to Facebook and Twitter. Free. Apple, Android
Take a Chill is specifically for tweens and teens. Developed in response to research suggesting that mindfulness increases self esteem and decreases anxiety, the app introduces teens to simple tools for self assessment as well as quick meditations. Users can set up the program to send them reminders and motivational quotes. $1.99. Apple
Take a Break is perfect when parents feel they are the ones who need a time out. Created by Meditation Oasis, the free app includes two guided meditations—one 7 minutes and one 13 minutes. If you feel like you don’t have that much time to spare, consider the Simply Being app, which costs $1.99 but includes a 5 minute option. These apps also provide an opportunity to reset between work and family time. Free. Android, Apple, Windows
Calm will appeal to family members of all ages. Inspired by the idea that contact nature helps people regain a sense of balance, the app includes video of beautiful settings, matched with natural sounds or soothing music. When a walk in the woods or a visit to the beach is out of the question, this app can provide an oasis. Free. Apple, Android, Windows
Headspace was one of the first apps to promote mindfulness. Developed by a former Buddhist monk, the app encourages daily meditations, which promise to increase focus and creativity while reducing stress and anxiety. The first ten days are free, and then there’s a monthly fee that varies depending upon the length of your subscription. The app is supported by a website and a blog, which include some useful articles for parents. Free. Apple, Android, Windows
Stop, Breathe, and Think asks you to close your eyes for ten seconds. Then you take a quick inventory of your mental, physical, and emotional health. Based on the results, the app recommends a 5-10 minute meditation. Developed by Tools for Peace, the app also includes meditations that improve sleep and reduce stress. Free. iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad
Omvana is an easy way to explore different approaches to mindfulness and meditation. The app includes free, as well as paid, recordings featuring vocals and calming sounds. A mixer allows you to combine the two so you get a customized track. The app is also supported by a website, omvana.com. Type “parenting” into the search engine and you’ll find lots of intriguing ways to build family harmony including a Two Minute Laughter Meditation. Basic app is free. Apple, Android
Gratitude Journal is an updated way to “count your blessings.” Parents can use the journal as a personal reminder of what’s been good about every day. Or you may want to involve kids in creating a daily record of what they are thankful for. $2.99. Apple (Attitudes of Gratitude is a similar app, available free on Android)
Apps like these are one of many ways to help children become resilient so they can put life’s problems in perspective. As a parent, you may not be able to protect your kids from stress, but you can equip them with skills that will help them cope, and mindfulness is a good place to start.
Carolyn Jabs, M.A., raised three computer savvy kids including one with special needs. She has been writing Growing Up Online for ten years. In 2016, she will publish Cooperative Wisdom: Bringing People Together When Things Fall Apart. Visit www.growing-up-online.com to read other columns.
@ Copyright, 2016, Carolyn Jabs. All rights reserved.