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 few weeks I have been asked to help children to learn about mindfulness as a way to overcome stress. Having recently held a workshop with 30 15 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 there may be bullying, pressures to be family young carers, the demands of school work, 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 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 disorder tend to experience fear, nervousness, shyness, avoidance, sleeplessness,’ clinginess’ and emotional numbing.
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 letting 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.
As the child grows and develops he/ she can lose the sense of focused calm and their mind may lack the attention to ‘stay with it’. This is where mindfulness exercises can give the child relief from an over active mind. Happiness means different things to each one of us. I rarely meet any client who is ‘over’ happy! One of the things I ask new clients to complete when they come to see me for coaching is to complete a ‘life focus chart‘. This is useful to measure where the client is at the moment and recognise what they wish to change. Coaching explores these feelings and works with the client to set goals and take action to achieve their desired outcomes.
So, would winning £50 million on the lottery make you happy? Research by the New York Times indicated that we each have a baseline level of happiness. People easily adapt to living with less or more, without suffering many negative or positive consequences, but that when we are constantly pursuing more, we have to get even more to stay happy. This is called, “hedonic adaptation.” No matter what happens, good or bad, the effect on our happiness is temporary. Our happiness level can be influenced by how we think.
So you can’t buy happiness. So there!