Childhood has seen a marked change over the past 30 years and so too has our children’s mental and physical wellbeing.
We as parents all want our children to live in emotional balance and to show resilience and stability in the face of life’s challenges. We wish for our children to be happy and well-adjusted and much of what we do is motivated by this desire. Whilst our loving presence, our own example and steadfast support contributes greatly, the levels of stress experienced by children today is estimated to have increased 45% over the past 30 years.
Childhood has changed markedly over this time and so too has our children’s mental and physical wellbeing. There is less opportunity for free, unstructured outdoor play, less time for families to prepare nutritious, home-cooked food, a huge increase in sedentary, electronically-mediated entertainment, and far greater exposure to consumer advertising and adult media.
With these changes come a new range of stressors that children today need to learn to manage in order to experience balance and wellbeing.
Some of these new stressors include:
- Overstimulation by online activity, gaming, etc. sees children exposed to more experiences, sensations, noise and activity.
- Overscheduling means that children have less down-time in which they can relax and unwind.
- Having choice and following their own interests is crucial to a child’s development but with children’s lives increasingly directed by adults they may experience tension around a lack of autonomy.
- A sedentary lifestyle which provides little opportunity to release physical tension.
- An increase in standardised testing in schools provokes considerable anxiety among students that seems to increase with their age and experience.
Teaching children how to manage the mental, emotional and physical stress they face is an important part of their learning.
It is important they know how to effectively and positively manage their stress before it starts to manage them. Teaching children relaxation techniques provides effective coping strategies.
Relaxation techniques are effective in helping to:
- ease physical tension and restlessness and calm the nervous system
- gain power over negative thoughts
- manage anxiety provoking emotions
- boosts the immune system
- helps improve sleep
- supports children’s minds by sharpening concentration
Relaxation techniques to help reduce anxiety:
- Meditation gives children of all ages awareness of and power over their thoughts and feelings without supressing them. It aids in developing self-awareness and self-acceptance and in turn builds self-management strategies. The discovery of an internal sense of calm, even amongst the chaos, leads to greater happiness and wellbeing. Starting with just 30 seconds at a time of ‘watching your thoughts’ and building up from there can be extremely effective.
- Yogic breathing exercises help to slow the breathing rate and calm the nervous system. ‘Watching the breath’ and feeling all the sensations in the nose, throat, belly etc or ‘counting the breath’ up to ten breaths and repeating helps to build concentration and can become a complete meditation in themselves. Placing the hands on the belly can also provide a focal point and helps to ensure deep breathing into the belly is maintained throughout.
- Progressive Muscle Relaxation or Yoga Nidra both help to release physical tension from the muscles, lower blood pressure and slow the heart rate. It is a great technique to use before going to bed to ensure a restful night’s sleep. Invite your child to close their eyes and breathe slowly as you name parts of the body/muscle groups, inviting each part to tense up for a few seconds before releasing and relaxing. Start with the feet, legs, hips, belly and chest, then move on to the hands, arms, shoulders and neck and then finally the back, neck, throat, face and head. You can also use a visualization of healing, loving light that pours into each part of the body as you name it. This exercise also helps to keep the mind focused and away from negative thoughts and feelings that can cause wakefulness.
- Legs Up The Wall pose. Lie down on the floor or on the bed and lift your legs up onto the wall, so your back lays flat on the floor, your buttocks are at the juncture of the floor and the wall, and your legs are up the wall. This yoga pose is known as a ‘cure all’ and is perfect for calming the nervous system, slowing down the heart rate and lowering blood pressure.
- Hot Water Bottle. Taking a hot water bottle to bed can warm the body and allow it to relax more easily. I also encourage my children to lay it on the belly, encouraging better digestion which can be an issue for nervous tummies.
- Visualization. There are some great guided visualizations for kids in the form of books or audio CD’s. Some of our favourite scripts which I love to read to my children before bed have come from the book Nightlights by David Fontana . The CD Indigo Ocean Dreams by Lori Lite also makes lovely listening for younger children.
- Music. Actively listening to or drawing to soothing music helps to focus the attention on the senses and away from negative thinking.