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Children, Court, and Practicing Mindfulness

By: Jennifer A. Crissman, Attorney

As an attorney practicing in family law in the Piedmont, and a mother of two young children, my world can feel very hectic. It is easy to give in to the stressors of the moment, to be overwhelmed and to feel like you do not have control. Whether caring for my children, listening to others discuss their parenting struggles or helping clients prepare for court, a useful activity I have found to manage this stress is practicing mindfulness.

Mindfulness can simply be described as being fully aware of your present surroundings, and how it affects your thoughts, feelings, and body. The practice of mindfulness is focusing on the moment you are in, and regaining control. While this is a simple concept, using this technique takes some practice. While in the courtroom or on the witness stand clients will often become agitated, frustrated or emotional over what is transpiring around them. This happens in parenting situations as well. While these emotions are valid, they usually don’t help achieve our goals. While there is a multitude of online resources, below are basic steps for practicing mindfulness.

1) Take a deep breath. While it sounds trivial, a deep breath gets oxygen to your brain, helps to slow an elevated heart rate, and brings your focus to your body. It is a good way to start an inventory of your current physical and emotional state.

2) Notice how your body feels. Are your shoulders tense? Is your throat dry? Do you have your fists clenched? Are your arms crossed? Do you have a furrowed brow? Take a moment to inventory what you are expressing with your body language. This body language is what you are projecting to others around you. Although you may be saying verbally that you are not upset, angry, or sad, your body is telling a completely different story.

3) Relax your body. Try to unclench and relax areas of your body that are holding tension. Uncross your arms and legs and place both of your feet flat on the floor. Put the palms of your hands on top of your legs. Relax your shoulders and take another deep breath.

4) Relax your mind. Let go of whatever negative thoughts are going through your mind. When stressed, negative thoughts seem to start running through your mind on a loop. Break the cycle and think of three positive things that have happened that week. Like said in Peter Pan, “think happy thoughts.” Redirecting your thoughts to a positive experience will break a cycle of negativity.

5) Focus on the minutiae of the moment. Look at the little details in front of you, such as the facial features of the person speaking to you, and the way their body is positioned. Listen to the exact words that are being said. The human brain, while an incredible organ, can be mistaken and “hear” things that were never uttered. Bringing the focus back to the present and what others are doing and saying will give you a fresh perspective of the moment.

Don’t let the circumstances of the moment control you. While we cannot control everything, we can control how we react to what life throws at us.