Exams, Life at School

Conquering exam stress.

At many times during the school year, Children feel a bit anxious about sitting exams.  Children and teenagers feel anxious because, lets face it, how many of us really enjoy sitting an exam?

As parents, we become anxious and start worrying about whether our children and teens are preparing enough for their exams, as at the end of the day, we want them to do well and not feel stressed about learning.  Without realising it, we the parents, project our levels of anxiety onto our children and start making verbal statements or ask too many questions which create more anxiety.  It all becomes a bit of a vicious cycle, with everyone in the family feeling as if someone, or themselves are fit to burst with all the stress that floats around leading up to an during exam time.

Exam stress can affect all children of all ages and will influence how they approach an exam situation.  Depending on their approach and their anxiety levels, these unsettled moments will more than likely impact their exam performance.  There are some individuals who thrive on challenges and are less affected by the prospect of exams, whilst others struggle with their attention and memory, resulting in diminished problem solving and heightened levels of anxiety during exam time.

But, all is not lost, we as adults need to take a deep breath and share with our children how to feel relaxed by teaching them relaxation and correct breathing techniques, plus introduce some simple mindfulness techniques to help calm their nerves.   If we as parents can display calm, grounded and positive behaviours towards challenges, then by example, we are showing our children how to cope in potentially anxiety provoking exam situations.

Research has shown that children who participate in regular meditation sessions, cope better during exam time as they are able to call upon their inner calm and improved resilience to see them through.

In fact, teaching children to focus on the current moment or the “here and now” is essential to their long term mental health.  Consider how often as adults we worry about tomorrow and harbour regrets about yesterday.  If we had been taught mindfulness meditation when we were young, I am sure many of us would look back and feel grateful that we could reduce our anxiety by learning how to focus on the here and now and approach life in a more grounded way.

Unfortunately not all schools have the space in their curriculum to offer mindfulness as part of a child’s education and with a busy after curricular timetable, it can be difficult to persuade schools to add yet another activity to their schedule.

There is growing recognition worldwide that a well-rounded education must involve more than academics and a competitive sports programme.  It should include learning experiences and skills related to social and emotional literacy, including the practice of mindfulness and stress reduction breathing techniques.

Luckily, planting the seeds of mindful awareness in all spheres of your child’s life is easier than you think. Children have a natural tendency to notice the smaller details of life that we as adults tend not to notice anymore as we rush about our day.   You do not need to be an expert to start a mindful practice at home, just an open mind and a willingness to become more aware f how you and your family are interacting, or not, with the world around them.   Keep it simple, but commit to starting, even if for a mere minute a day.

Try this quick exercise with you children and teens (and any other members of the family too)

The one-minute pause
All you need to do is pause for one minute.  Literally stop what you are doing and just pause.    Individuals need to be encouraged to observe the beauty around them ie. A lovely tree, a moment in nature and natural open spaces, also notice how they are feeling, their breath, their bodies, emotions…. just pause and see what is happening with you and your relationship to the world around you in that short space of time.

You can time this minute and ring a bell when the minute is up.

When you teach children and teenagers stillness and introduce them to the concept of the one-minute pause, you are encouraging them to discard the “minds chatter’ and observe the world around them from a deeper place inside, even if for only a minute…

Try and do this yourself and with your children and teens a few times a day.

One of the best gifts you can give your children is the gift of calm and clarity during stressful moments in life.

As a busy parent, you owe it to yourself to develop and strengthen your own mindfulness practice so that you can share mindfulness with your children and help them manage the ebb and flow of life as you manage the intricacies of work/life balance.

Contact me here to find out about developing your own meditation practice and learning how to facilitate mindfulness in children and teenagers.

Anxiety management, mindfulness, stress management

Reducing anxiety.

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.

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 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.

Anxiety management

Is my child stressed?

It has been reported that more than 70% of children 10yrs and under have sleeping difficulties attributed to feeling stressed. That is a lot of children who are not getting enough good quality sleep. Research also suggests that higher divorce rates, concern about the environment and less face to face social connectivity is contributing to the stress children (and adults) are experiencing.

Children are developing physically and emotionally and although some stress is part of their learning experience there is a point at which prolonged stress can become harmful to children emotionally and can lead to serious health problems.

How stress affects the mind and body

When the mind perceives itself to be in a stressful situation, the sympathetic nervous system is triggered.    The body responds with fast shallow breathing, muscles tighten and the heart pumps faster as adrenaline circulates throughout the body affecting every organ. These feelings are also referred to as “fight or flight” and are more appropriate when faced with a tiger in the wild, than a bad day at school or in the office.  Unfortunately, in our modern society, individuals have become so accustomed to feeling stressed, that their reaction to “less physically dangerous stressors such as a boring or busy day in the office or at school” is perceived as strongly as the fear they would feel if really faced with the tiger.  The problem with this, is that the body becomes so accustomed to operating in this heightened “state”, that it settles at a new “set point” and this level of stress is then the new norm.

To reverse these effects, the parasympathetic nervous system is triggered,  creating a restful and calming response as the body reacts with slow deep breaths and the slowing of the heart rate.  Digestion once again becomes active and the immune system is less strained.

So how do I know if anyone in my family is stressed?  

If an individual suffers from stress real or perceived, it can result in the following:

  • anxiety disorders
  • depression
  • lack of sleep
  • nightmares
  • loss of appetite
  • insomnia
  • emotional detachment from friends and family
  • irritability
  • memory loss
    …and any number of other mind-body disorders.  Stress can also result in individuals becoming addicted to substances.

Emotions are triggered by the central nervous system.  Often when children are faced with a stressful situation they react by either feeling fearful, angry or experience bouts of crying.

Below is a simple five minute relaxation technique.

Here is something simple you can easily practice at home to help you and your children relax and help reduce that overwhelming feeling of being stressed.  It might help if you record the script below onto your phone to play it back, so you can relax and join in as well. If you choose to do this, remember to record yourself speaking lowly.

  • Find a comfortable place in which to lie down.
  • Close your eyes and take a couple of moments to see how your body feels. Check your breathing – are you holding your breath or breathing normally? Can you feel any tension in any part of your body?
  • Allow yourself to let go of any worries. Breathe naturally.
  • Starting with your feet, focus your attention on your feet only and notice how they feel. Taking a deep breath, tense the muscles in your feet – hold it – and then release as you breathe out.  Breathe naturally.
  • Now focus your attention on your legs and nothing else. How do they feel?  Breathe in as you squeeze your legs and release the tension in your legs as you breathe out.
  • Continue in this way, tensing and relaxing the buttocks, stomach, hands, arms and shoulders, back and face. Take your time.  Try not to rush through it. Once you have practiced this a few times you may not even need to listen to the script.
  • As you work your way through this exercise you are learning how to focus your attention and by focusing on the different body parts  you are encouraging the muscles in the body to relax. Once you get the hang of what you are doing, you may replace your verbal script with  some relaxing music.

Try this relaxation technique for a few days or a week and then let me know how you get on by commenting below.

Contact me here to find out about developing your own meditation practice and learning how to facilitate mindfulness in children and teenagers.

stress management

Beating stress.

Stressed, anxious?   Or just needing a bit of inspiration to bring some calm into your life and the lives of those around you?  You could help yourself and the children in your life to manage and counteract the effects of stress by learning correct breathing, relaxation, meditation and mindfulness techniques which are fun and easy to fit in and around your daily responsibilities.   After many requests, I have put together a coaching programme which will inspire you to develop your own meditation practice and enjoy a deeper connection with yourself and others.

Why should I participate in the Chilled Out Child life coaching programme?
As a parent, you may wish to learn how to “bring mindfulness and meditation home”.   The Chilled Out Child life coaching programme  offers busy parents the opportunity to learn essential meditation and mindfulness techniques which can be incorporated effortlessly into family life.

This introductory coaching programme is suitable for:
Parents who wish to develop their own mindfulness practice and share these techniques with their children.

  • Children with AD/HD, on the autistic spectrum or highly sensitive children.
  • Families where parents and/or children are experiencing anxiety.

A brief overview of what we will cover
You will be introduced to useful mindfulness techniques and the art of proper relaxation and breathing, an understanding of how stress affects the mind, body and emotions and explore the concept of mindful parenting and compassionate communication. The coaching will help you with your own personal meditation practice and teach you fun ways to introduce meditation and mindfulness to your children whilst incorporating these essential life skills into everyday family life.

We take special care to look at how meditation, simple yoga postures and mindfulness can help children with AD/HD, the highly sensitive child, children on the autistic spectrum and those suffering from anxiety.

The information is presented to you in an attractive easy to follow format which caters to different learning styles.  The coaching element of this programme offers a supportive learning experience which helps you to integrate the information and skills easily into family life.

Scientific research and experience clearly show that individuals benefit greatly from integrating meditation and relaxation practice into their daily lives.

  • Better stress management.
  • Improved focus and concentration at school and work.
  • Less sleep problems due to reduced physical and mental tension.
  • A reduction in anxiety specifically during exam time or stressful periods at work or home life.
  • Improved self-esteem and confidence in challenging situations.
  • Increased creativity and mindful self-expression.
  • Development of emotional, social and physical growth.
  • Increased compassion and improved connection with family, friends and colleagues.

The Chilled Out Child holistic life coaching programme has been designed for busy parents just like you, who wish to connect with their children in a calm but fun way, encouraging relaxation, reducing anxiety and enjoying better communication. 

The Chilled Out Child programme can be enjoyed by families with children as young as three years old.

Contact me here to find out about developing your own meditation practice and learning how to facilitate mindfulness in children and teenagers.

Creating a space at home for family meditation
Meditation home practice

Meditation spaces at home.

If you are a busy parent you may not have the luxury of being able to attend a yoga or meditation studio for your daily or weekly fix of calm and tranquility.  But with a bit of thought, you might be able to find a space at home, however small, which you could dedicate to your own meditation practice or a family meditation practice.

In an ideal world it would be wonderful to have a spare room which you could de-clutter and convert into a meditation room.   In a busy household where space is scarce, you might not be able to “lose an entire room” to the purpose of meditation, but you might be able to create a multi-purpose room which can be used by the whole family.

Here are a few ideas for “room-sharing”.

You could turn the room into a reading room by day and meditation room in the evening or morning before school and work.  The room could also be a “non-electronic playroom”.  By this I mean a space where children can do puzzles, colour-in or build Lego.  This is exactly what I did in our previous home.   I encouraged my daughter to use the room but for relaxing and reading, or games which did not require electronic gadgets such as iPads, phones, X-box, Play Station and so forth.   I had a sofa in the room, but otherwise it was pretty much empty which meant there was lots of floor space for Lego building.  When children came over to visit, they tended to congregate in there and spread all the toys out to play with as they enjoyed the simple clutter free space.   Clearing up was quick too.  With some clever storage to reduce clutter and minimal furniture the space can be quickly converted into a meditation room once play time is over.

Designing your meditation room can be great fun and needn’t cost a lot of money.  With a few pictures on the walls, a small table or shelf for a couple of candles and incense and an empty corner to stand a few yoga mats and cushions in until needed, you have your space.   If you do have the luxury of a dedicated room, then you can enhance and deepen your quiet time by creating just the right atmosphere for you by painting walls and accessorizing the room to your taste.  You could choose a minimalist theme, a cosy warm theme using deeper colours, or a room which is open, spacious and full of natural light.   When choosing a room in your home, try and choose a room where noise is at a minimum from TVs, the kitchen, children playing outside and traffic.   Traffic noise can be the most distracting and depending on how busy the road is, completely disrupt your meditation practice as a beginner.  As you become more used to meditating, noises will recede and be far less noticeable.

But what if space at home is really scarce?

If space in your home is at a premium, you might need to find a “quiet corner” where you or you and your family have enough space to sit on a couple of yoga mats or cushions during meditation time.   If you do not have any space at all to dedicate to a meditation practice, then sitting in bed to meditate will do just fine.  Just try not to fall asleep, but do not beat yourself up about it if you do.   Children can practice their breathing and listen to guided imagery meditation whilst lying in bed before they go to sleep.   You can also practice mindfulness as an individual or a family which will not require you to have anywhere special to meditate at all, but instead encourages you and your family to bring awareness to how you feel and pay more attention in any given moment regardless of where you might be at that moment.

If you would like to know more about how to incorporate meditation and mindfulness into family life, join me on the next Chilled Out Child programme or contact me to discuss individual mindfulness coaching.