The start of a new academic year can be stressful for many children, but this September has been challenging in so many additional ways.
When we tell our children to ‘calm down’ or ‘don’t worry’ this often exacerbates the situation. What they need is an emotional toolbox full of practical strategies to help them regulate their big, uncomfortable feelings.
Mindfulness has been proven to ease symptoms of anxiety and fortunately, many of the techniques are simple and effective.
Nadia McSheffrey from The Tranquil Treehouse, shows us five different ways for children to pause, reset and find their inner calm…
BE STRONG LIKE A TREE >>
For this exercise, invite your child to stand up tall and ask them to push their feet into the ground, imagining that they are a tree and have roots planted into the ground.
Ask them to focus on each individual toe and root it into the floor. Ask your child if they can feel any sensations in their feet, legs or knees. Ask them to take a deep breath in and raise the arms above the head, looking up to the sky.
Slowly breathe out and release the arms gently down.
USE YOUR SENSES >>
Mindfulness means paying attention, in the present moment and without judgement. This simple exercise helps children to consciously use their senses to be more mindful of their surroundings.
Invite your child to be still and name five things they can see, without walking around or moving vigorously. Then ask them to name four things they can hear. You can take it in turns if you want to do this as part of a shared exercise. Then ask your child to name three things they can feel and two things they can smell. Finally, ask them to name one thing they can taste in their mouth.
A full body scan using the senses can really help them switch off and just be in the moment.
HIGH FIVE BREATH >>
Conscious breathing is one of the quickest ways to calm the mind and body. This particular breathing technique is effective because your child will be focusing on their breath, but also the movement of their finger.
Ask them to put their dominant hand out in a ‘high-five’ motion. Then, with the index finger of the non-dominant hand, ask them to trace around the hand, starting with the thumb.
As they trace up the finger, breathe in and as they trace down, breathe out. The slower the better for this exercise, but children breathe faster than adults, so let them go at their own pace.
They can even add a little breath hold at the tip of each finger. After tracing the whole hand, your child should be feeling calmer and more relaxed.
TENSE & RELAX >>
Progressive muscle relaxation is a powerful way to release physical and mental tension.
In this exercise, invite your child to tense a muscle group on the inhalation and relax them as they breathe out. Begin with tensing the muscles around the face and move all the way down the body to the feet.
This is a great activity before bed, especially if your child has lots of nervous energy and needs a physical outlet.
HEAD IN THE CLOUDS >>
Using mindfulness in nature can have an incredibly calming effect on the mind.
Go outside with your child and either sit or lie on the grass together. Spend some time in silence, watching the cloud formations – and after a while, begin to share your reflections.
Invite your child to tell you how they feel watching the clouds and if the shapes remind them of anything. Explain that thoughts in our mind are just like clouds passing over the sky.
Just as they observe the clouds without judgement, they can observe their thoughts in a similar, gentle way.
My advice is to practice these techniques with your child frequently, so they are embedded into their daily lives. Children learn better and retain more when they are relaxed and happy. When repeated often enough, your child will be able to rely on these tools when they are feeling stressed or anxious. Encouraging children to find ways to calm themselves is key to developing their resilience, confidence and happiness.