Childhood is supposed to be a carefree time when life is free from worries, with fun and laughter. All too often the reality is different. In the last year I have worked with children who are stressed, anxious and unhappy. In my work as a holistic practioner I use a wide variety of approaches and techniques. I have found that a mindfulness approach extremely helpful. Having recently held a workshop with 35 15 and 16 year old children, I found out that there was not one child that did not have stress in their lives. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to remove that anxiety and reduce that stress? In the short time I shared with these young people, I realised how the day to day expectations put so many pressures on them. Sometimes a stressor may have been bullying, the pressures of being a family carers, the demands of school work, examinations, body image, not having friends and even from having friends! The list is endless. So much for having a carefree life!
As adults we have days when we are anxious and having it tough. Many of us have developed the resources and the resilience to pull us through. So what can we do as parents when our children start to show the same symptoms of unhappiness and anxiety? There have been many recent newspaper articles about bullying and cyber-bullying. Anxiety problems are becoming increasingly common in children, with over 1/3rd of 5 to 14 year old children showing symptoms. A recent report indicated that children, whose parents had training in mindfulness were twice as likely to show reduced levels of anxiety, when compared with traditional pill/ counselling treatment. A Millennium Cohort Study involving 6,500, 7 year old children who had a very sedentary lifestyle concluded that they experienced higher levels of emotional stress, anxiety and depression than those children who were more active. There appears to be a correlation between well- being and physical activity. Anxiety is a normal part of childhood and we have all gone through tough times, which tend to be temporary and harmless. However children who suffer anxiety tend to experience fear, nervousness, shyness, avoidance, sleeplessness, ‘clinginess’ and emotional numbing.
Some key strategies
Basic mindfulness techniques help by keeping you ‘focused using your senses, going with the flow, being attentive in the present’. You can learn to be non-judgemental and ‘let go’. The wonderful thing is that children and young people can be brilliant in mindfulness. As we learn to connect with ourselves then we can connect with others, and you can do it anywhere and anytime. Mindfulness life skills are an antidote for both parents and children.
So what can you do? Pay attention to their feelings. Stay calm when the child becomes anxious. Practise breathing and relaxation techniques. Never punish mistakes or lack of progress. Avoid belittling the child when he/ she fails to take part in an event or holds back. Modify your expectations and plan for difficult times. (E.g. take more time to get your child to school). Be aware of some of the stresses that your child may experience, e.g. at school or on social media sites.
There is no doubt that mindfulness practice can help children to become calmer and more focussed. It is a natural process that can be practised by children from a young age. Even before a child learns language, they can
see things as they are. All actions are spontaneous. They laugh, cry and sleep. They can instantly let go of the immediate past and move on.
A recent development has been an increasing number of schools introducing Mindfulness classes into the curriculum. I have recently completed a course run by the Mindfulness Association which provides a high quality resources to deliver a series of lessons to ‘young adults’. I also have a range of mp3 downloads designed for young people as well as accompanying mp3s for the parents