Anxiety disorders are the most common psychological problems among children of all ages. Anxiety triggers the psychological and physiological fear response even when a child is in a safe situation and this is where chronic anxiety becomes problematic. Taking time out in nature is one way to help reduce anxiety and encourage children to re-connect with nature.
If a child is constantly feeling anxious, the body is constantly releasing adrenaline and cortisol to counter the effects of heightened adrenaline.
The body eventually becomes used to this heightened feeling of unease and this becomes a new set point – a new normal. Learning to be more mindful helps increase awareness of the thoughts and bodily sensations that are part and parcel of this mental fear. The benefit of this, is that we can learn to recognise when we are feeling fear over an event or situation which does not need to be feared, before the fear really takes a hold and we are totally caught up in our cycle of anxiety.
A direct route into the present moment is through our senses, which is why as parents we should look at different ways of bringing awareness to our senses whilst continuing with everyday life. Remember that when we are being mindful and are in the present moment, at that particular moment…feelings of anxiety are not at the forefront of our thoughts.
Keep it simple; when you next go for a walk, start by noticing sights, sounds and smells.
In the UK we are enjoying Autumn. The leaves are a fantastic display of light to deep oranges and fiery reds. It is a very beautiful season. To connect with nature and inspire some mindfulness you could take a country walk and pay particular attention to sounds you year, the sights you see and the smells you notice.
Sounds in the environment. Ask children if they heard that sound (bird, aeroplane, car, insect etc.) and start a discussion about the noise they heard. If it was a bee buzzing, you could talk about the importance job bees have in nature. If it was a car sound, you could ask them what car they think it might have been? You could turn this into an opportunity to play a game where they close their eyes and try and hear as many sounds around them as possible.
Sights all around. Life tends to flash past us as we rush around. Helping our children become more aware of their environment and “seeing more” not only enhances their life experience, but can also protect them from danger (ie. being more aware when crossing roads). Children (and adults) tend to walk around mindlessly – either rushing or daydreaming. In either “mode” we are not aware of our surroundings. When you next take a walk, ask your child what they see (it could be flowers on the side of the road or in the park, beautiful trees, squirrels, insects – or it could be litter). Either way, start a conversation around what they see around them.
What is that smell? Admittedly some smells are not that great. But if you are smelling pollution in the air, then it does give you an opportunity to talk to children about looking after the environment. On the other hand, you could bring your child’s attention to the smell of any beautiful flowers you are walking past, or the smell of rain in the air.
When encouraging children to be more mindful, make a game of it and approach the mindful activity playfully. Children may not want to be told that they are about to go out on a mindful walk and that the idea is that they pay attention to the world around them. Cultivate their awareness in a gentle way so that they do not feel they are being observed or having to do something which reminds them of a school project. Your child might not appear to be paying that much attention to sights, smells and sounds around them, but on a deeper level they are noticing and will be connecting with nature. The more you walk outside and the more fun you make it, the more likely they are to take notice of life around them and may even point out things you are not seeing, hearing or smelling.
This week, before it gets too chilly out there, enjoy some walking in nature.
Contact me here to find out about developing your own meditation practice and learning how to facilitate mindfulness in children and teenagers.