Helping children and adults manage their stress.
Anxiety management, stress management

Managing anger.

Helping your child learn to recognise the feeling of “oncoming anger” and teaching them to deal with their anger healthily will have many benefits not only for the child but for the whole family.

When children learn how to manage their angry outbursts they will learn to solve problems and cope with their emotions in a balanced and safe way.   It is a good idea to explain to children that anger is the problem, and it is not them that is the problem.  You could give the anger a character, or name and ask your child to draw what they think this angry character looks like.  Ask them what colour he/she would be, what kind of face would they have, what specific features will the “angry character” have and what have they decided to call him/her?   Anger need not be a character; it could be a volcano or a raging sea, it could even resemble a weather pattern such as a tornado or wild storm.  With your child, think of some creative ways to describe and depict anger and if you can aim to make this amusing, it takes the edge off.

The way you respond to your child’s anger will influence how they continue to respond and feel about their angry outburst.   Talking to your child and identifying early warning signs that an outburst might be near will be very helpful and help your  child to recognise what triggers them and how to manage there reactions, or if they can, avoid the trigger altogether.  Encourage your child to walk away from their triggers or get them to do simple things like counting to ten or taking three or four belly breaths.  It is worth remembering that children model our behaviour, so this is good advice for us too.

Positive feedback is important, so it would be helpful to praise your child’s efforts to manage their anger even if they really struggle to manage how they feel and still end up erupting like a volcano. This will build your child’s confidence in the battle against anger. It will also help them feel that you’re both learning together.

Anger can rise quickly and can be a frightening and unsettling experience even for the angry person.  As frustrating as it can be to have to deal with adults and children who regularly display angry behaviour, patience and perseverance and a big dose of loving kindness can go along way to helping them get to grips with this unruly emotion.

Follow this link to contact us about the Chilled Out Child programme.

Anxiety management, stress management

Parenting an anxious child.

It can be very disconcerting for parents when they are faced with an angry and distressed child, especially if you cannot see what could be causing so much distress.

Most children have occasional tantrums or meltdowns and may sometimes lash out if they’re frustrated, but when children continue to have regular emotional outbursts, it is usually a symptom of distress and children who seem angry and defiant on a regular basis may be suffering from anxiety. The first step to helping your child manage their anger is for you to understand what could be triggering their outbursts.

If your child is suffering from anxiety,  they may have a hard time coping with situations that cause them distress which may result in them lashing out when demands at school or at home put pressure on them that they feel they can’t handle.  In an anxiety-inducing situation, your child’s “fight or flight” instinct may take hold and they may have a tantrum or refuse to do something to avoid the source of acute fear.

Activity:   It might be helpful to keep a journal of the times when your child has an outburst or expresses that they are feeling angry or anxious.  Also note down what they were doing before the outburst or what they were planning to do prior to their unhappiness.   By jotting all this down, it should help you put together an emotional map of what might be triggering their outbursts, which will eventually help you to help your child recognise when a problem might be about to occur and they can be better prepared to manage their emotions before they are triggered.

Here are a couple of useful links relating to parenting an anxious child:

What to do and not do when children are anxious.
https://childmind.org/article/what-to-do-and-not-do-when-children-are-anxious/

Nine things every parent with an anxious child should try.
https://www.huffingtonpost.com/renee-jain/9-things-every-parent-with-an-anxious-child-should-try_b_5651006.html

If you would like to learn how to develop your own meditation practice and teach these skills to children and teenagers, find our more information here. 

Anxiety management, mindfulness, stress management

Meditation and ADHD.

The brain is the most complex organ in the body and has approximately 100 billion neurons, which are nerve cells.  These neurons gather and transmit electrochemical signals.  Between the neurons are chemical messengers called neurotransmitters that trigger responses in the transmitting and receiving neurons.  It is the neurotransmitters which are at the root of ADHD, as these messengers do not go where they are supposed to go and they often react erratically.  When acting erratically, they either cannot bridge the gap between the neurons, take too long to convey the signal or they connect the wrong two neurons. This is what leads to ADHD behaviour.

Recent research has shown that mindfulness training can be adapted for people who are diagnosed with ADHD and in trials mindfulness training has been shown to improve the concentration levels in individuals with ADHD, as well as children without ADD/ADHD.

If you have already worked with children or have your own children/grandchildren then you will know that anything that encourages children to self-regulate their sometimes unsettled emotions is a very helpful skill,  especially so in a formal  classroom environment where one child’s unsettled emotions can set a few of the other children off as well.

If you follow this  link , you can read a study in the Journal of Child and Family Studies which discusses the effectiveness of mindfulness training for children with ADHD and simultaneous training in mindful parenting for the children’s parents.

With a few small modifications to some of the mindfulness exercises, like starting a meditation practice by meditating for shorter periods of time and practicing mindfulness exercises which use visual aids (many individuals with ADD/ADHD are visual learners), mindfulness can be enjoyed by children with ADHD and be of great benefit to them.

Here are some simple mindfulness exercises you might like to try:

To introduce mindfulness to your family or children at school ask them to sit quietly and try to observe the following:

  • Sounds in the environment.
  • Details of their breath.
  • Body sensations, for example a sore foot, uncomfortable shoulder, or aching stomach.
  • Looking closely at their immediate environment. What do they see now, that they may not have seen before.

Introducing mindfulness to your home environment has to be approached in a unique way as unlike adults, not many children will just sit down on a mat, close their eyes and start focusing on their breathing bringing their awareness to the present moment.

Activities which require movement such as yoga or tasks which focus on the five senses are all appropriate means of teaching a child to be more mindful.  Guided meditations such as the body scan are all helpful in teaching individuals to live in the present moment and be more aware of how they feel and how their feelings and reactions to stimuli will impact the word around them.  Remember to keep this shorter for more energetic children.  They will not want to sit or lie down for long.

Other ways of cultivating mindfulness in children are, practicing a musical instrument, reading a book and doing artwork.

Colouring mandalas or pictures from a colouring book are great ways to be mindful.   These activities are considered mindful as they require the individual to be “focusing in the moment”.  If your child prefers building things then building with lego, or building something outside in nature, like a hide, or mandala made out of items found in nature can also add an element of adventure as they run around looking for the correct materials to build with.

Do you remember this game from your childhood?  I do!

Memory game  – noticing the finer details.

Select a number of objects which you can lay out on a tray.  Ask the children to memorise the objects for a minute and then close their eyes, whilst you pack the objects away.   How many objects can they remember? Can they describe the objects in detail – colour, size?

This memory game will encourage children to focus and pay attention to things in detail as opposed to just casually noticing something and not really noticing the finer details around them.

It is worth remembering that mindfulness is an enjoyable and natural skill and we need to provide the right environment and encouragement to the children in our lives to enable this skill to develop. 

Children are very distracted by how busy our lives are with televisions and radios blaring, traffic noise, constant talking, phones ringing, text messages, Facebook and various other app notifications going off and noise in general.  If you live in a city and you sit quietly for a moment, notice just how many different noises you can hear.  Our lives are filled with noise.   All this noise makes it more difficult to stay focused and comes between our natural ability to be focused on real life.

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.

Mandalas

Learning to focus.

For the past few years, colouring pre-designed mandalas either using templates from colouring-in books or downloaded from the internet, has been hugely popular and has inspired many people to colour-in as a way of enjoying some mindful quiet time. Colouring-in is another way of promoting focus and concentration, encouraging the “here and now” and colouring mandalas is a great meditative experience for people of any age. Colouring mandalas helps you to slow down and reconnect to the cyclical nature of time, the rhythms of nature and the reality of change.

The world “mandala” is Sanskrit for circle, completion or sacred centre and for centuries Hindus and Buddhists have used mandalas as an aid for meditation.   Even in Western cultures, colouring mandalas has been used as a stress management and meditation tool. Carl Jung (1875 – 1961) a Swiss psychoanalyst was fascinated by mandalas as he found out that by colouring and drawing mandalas he could access the images and energy of his own unconscious mind.  He then decided to use this art form in his practice with his patients, to facilitate their process of inner reflection.

In its simplest form a mandala is a geometric pattern that is said to represent the universe.   The mandala represents a circle, the primal form of the universe and if you look carefully you can see mandala patterns everywhere.  Take a look in your garden, notice the patterns in the plants growing there.  Glance at the night sky, notice the moon (and the sun) are circular.  Our earth is round and looking microscopically at atoms and cells you will notice they also take on a rounded form.  Have you ever seen the cross section of tree trunks, really looked at flowers and even snowflakes if you are lucky enough to see enjoy an annual snow fall (we love the snow in this house).   All these things I have mentioned, have geometric patterns.  Next time you are out walking and there is water around, drop a pebble in the water and see how the circular water patterns naturally move from the centre outwards. When looking around us in nature, everything starts from a “growth point” and grows or moves outwards. Modern physics and mathematicians believe that everything has a “centre” or point from which everything emanates.  The Hindus call this point a “bindu”, which is a sacred point.

Today, find some time to be outside and see how many mandala patterns you can see in nature.

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

Connecting to nature

Mindful walking.

How often do you enjoy a country amble or a saunter along the beach?   Have you ever tried walking mindfully and really noticing how you feel when you walk, or noticed the environment around you?   When I think of mindful walking, I think of walking very slowly and paying attention to my breath and how my muscles feel in my body as I move through the movement of putting one step in front of the other, completely immersed in the art of “how I feel when I walk”.  You can extend this awareness to feeling the ground beneath your feet, you might also notice the breeze on your skin and some sounds in the local vicinity.

If you wish to practice a more formal form of mindful walking which involves walking slowly with awareness.  Then follow these steps below. After these steps, we shall look at simple ways to introduce mindful walking to younger family members.

  1. Start by becoming aware of how you are standing and aim to stand up straight with your back upright but not stiff.
  2. Ideally take your shoes off and feel your feet touching the ground and let your body weight distribute through your feet evenly.
  3. Before you start walking and to prevent your swinging arms from becoming a distraction, you can curl the thumb of your left hand into your palm and wrap your other fingers around it. Then place this “fist” on your abdomen just above your tummy button.   Place your right hand over and around the left hand.  You can place your right hand thumb in the space created by your left hand thumb and your index finger.  You should feel well balanced.   Try it and see if it works for you.
  4. To help you focus, drop your eyes slightly towards the ground just in front of you.
  5. Start  walking.  Feel your foot swing forward and feel your heel touch the ground, followed quickly the by the ball of your foot and finally your toes.  Keep moving forward in this way, one foot at a time.
  6. Walk at a steady pace and ensure it is slightly slower than your normal walking pace.  If you become distracted bring your awareness to each foot individually touching the ground and how that feels for you.

However, if you are going to introduce your children to mindful walking, you need to view your walk as an opportunity to walk a bit slower than normal and the chance to take note of everything going on around them – including how they feel.  Children, especially young ones will not embrace a slow more formal form of mindful walking.

As parents I am sure you can identify with the overwhelm of spending quite a bit of your time dashing from one place to another dragging your kids along with you.  Think about how often you collect the kids from school, race home quickly to fetch something, dash off to one of your children’s activities, dash home to quickly make dinner, race back to the venue to collect your child and possibly a second venue to collect your other child.   Most of this might be done with a  car, but you could also be walking or running!

This weekend, slow down and encourage your children to notice life around them.  Take a child friendly mindful walk, ideally somewhere in or near nature like a park, forest, field or if you are lucky enough to live near the sea, walk on the beach.

If you can, take off your shoes and feel the ground beneath your feet. If you can walk along the beach notice the grains of sand.  If you are walking on the grass, feel the grass between your toes. Notice the temperatures and textures of the ground beneath you. Extend your awareness and look at the texture of the ground, hear the sound of your footsteps as you walk and notice any smells in the air.  Feel the temperature of the air around you on your skin.  What do you see?  Cats, dogs, leaves, trees, flowers…litter? In colder countries if you are walking with your shoes on, notice how your feet are feeling inside you shoes. Reflect on how your body feels as you walk.  Do your muscles feel stiff, or is your body feeling fluid? Is your breathing deep or shallow?

To inspire children, you could introduce the game “I spy”.  For example, I spy something orange and crispy to the touch….. autumn leaves. Doing this makes a mindful walk a bit more fun and interactive for younger children and teaches them to pay attention to the world around them… without them even realising that you are cultivating within them an interest in slowing down to become more mindful.

The benefits of mindful walking are many.   By bringing more calm, clarity and connection into daily life, you will enjoy heightened awareness of yourself and life around you, better concentration (good for school and work) and enjoy an overall feeling of calm and peace, which is often missing in our lives.    If you are keen to develop your own meditation practice, mindful walking can enhance your practice, increase your mindfulness reducing your anxiety and stress levels and  lead to increased feelings of contentment and joy.

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

stress management

Stress and today’s children.

Don’t you wish that as a child you were taught practical ways of managing every day stress like dealing with frenetic classroom environments, bullying at school, overwrought teachers, busy and agitated parents, exams at school and potentially an abundance of extra-mural activities?  If we had been taught these skills would our own children be less stressed now?

For most children today, stress is a big part of everyday life as they need to cope with our fast paced, media orientated world and pressure from schools to participate in a long list of extra mural activities.  Along with parental and peer pressure, some children burn out.

Society places more value on “doing” as opposed to just “being”. Modern society judges all individuals on the quality of their wealth and status, with very little regard for a person’s physical, emotional or psychological health.  Our fast-paced life dominated by racing from one commitment to another, makes it very difficult for us to be fully present at any one time.  Instead of being mindful of what is happening in our lives we rush around and live life “mindlessly”.

There never seems to be any time for quiet reflection or “taking a breath” and I often hear children complain about having to rush from one activity to another, never having enough time to relax, play, or just “be”.

According to several new studies, the average child today is more stressed and anxious than their peers who were treated for a variety of psychiatric issues in previous generations.  The findings 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 becomes harmful to children (and adults) and can lead to serious health problems.

Stress becomes a problem when it is perceived as a normal way of “being” and the child or adult finds themselves constantly living in emotional distress.  They have become so conditioned to feeling constantly stressed that this becomes their new “norm”.

Your child could be suffering from stress if they experience the following:

  • Constantly thinking they feel hungry (although do bear in mind growth spurts which cause hunger).
  • Experiencing or say they are experiencing explainable pain, especially if they have seen a doctor but aches and pains continue on a long term basis preventing your child from attending school or mixing with their peers.
  • Sudden development of shyness and loss of confidence in a child, especially if they are usually quite outgoing, sociable and confident.
  • Excessive emotional reactions like sudden temper tantrums and unexplained bouts of crying for no apparent reason, especially if they haven not reacted much like this before.
  • Noticeable intellectual impairment such as lack of concentration and the ability to retain information, especially if this has not been a problem previously.
  • Development of sleeping disorders.  For example; all of a sudden your child refuses to go to sleep (almost as if they know as soon as they go to sleep they are heading towards the next day which they feel they cannot face), or they toss and turn all night and then cannot get up the next morning.

You know your child and as the parent are the best person to detect if something does not feel quite right with your child.   You will have that little inner voice or gut feeling  that will hopefully alert you to your child’s stress levels.   Throughout our lives, both children and adults will have periods of un-ease, where we do not sleep well, we lose our appetite, we eat too much, we don’t feel like going to sleep or we want to sleep all day due to fatigue.   But the important thing is to learn how to be aware of how we are feeling.  So if you are not feeling that great, that is fine if you are aware of it, take notice and take care of yourself.  In other words you are mindful of how you are feeling now and through that knowledge will hopefully make some changes so that you feel better.

Our world is busy, loud, frenetic  and at times feels awfully frantic, but it is also beautiful and full of wonderful places to escape to for some peace and quiet. As the adult in your home, you need to step back and be aware that children get very overwhelmed very quickly (as do we) but they have not yet got the experience and have not yet developed the skills necessary to cope with all this “busyness” and therefore stress can take a hold.  It is up to us to look out for them in this regard and teach them the skills they need to cope.  Skills which are simple and easy for the whole family to learn.  You can follow this link to learn a simple breathing exercise. Just Breathe…

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