As a child we were told to, keep calm, stop crying, don't tease, don't push, don't yell, keep quite, listen to me, pay attention and so on. So as an adult have we learnt any of these things? I know a few adults who throw temper tantrums, for example when they don't get their own way, when someone is picking on them, or even when we can't help the way they react to certain stressful situations. How are we supposed to teach kids better solutions when most of us don't know how to deal with our own emotions? What if you had the tools to help your child 'keep calm' and teach them to find ways in dealing with their emotions.
Over the years I have learnt that whatever we do, kids sometimes will watch and mimic adult behavior, especially the way we cope with stress. I believe that we can provide children with learning tools to cope with stress, keeping calm and that it should be taught from a young age. I really can't remember a time when I was a child if an adult taught me how to find the tools to keep calm, especially when I was feeling stressed or overwhelmed about something.
My research in this topic intrigued me because I was not taught any of these tools and I know if I did, I would have been able to cope with stress a little better as an adult. I started to research and study mindfulness and the positive effects it had on my life. I learnt to not react to emotions but to be in a state of a neutral emotional response. Neuroscientists around the world have researched the effects that mindfulness practice has on our brains. Some suggest that it can change our patterns of thoughts not to react to certain emotional responses. There is still much study to be researched on the effects on children and youth as its relatively new. However practicing mindfulness basically puts a gap between the emotion and the reaction, or how we respond.
So what is mindfulness? Mindfulness is a state of being in the present moment without judgement. When I explain mindfulness to children, I explain to them that it's about being aware of everything around them right now, like what they are sitting on, what they are listening to, how they are feeling, how their body feels and their feelings towards other . It's a state of becoming aware.
Here are 4 mindfulness techniques that I use when helping kids become aware of their emotions, which can help them keep calm:
The breath is what we can do to help our kids keep calm. I suggest to the children to close their eyes and just breath normally, but slower to find their breath. I then ask; where do you feel the breath entering and where is it exiting? For example as you close your eyes you may feel the breath coming in and out your nose, or you may feel the breath at your chest as it moves up and down, or you may feel your breath as your stomach rises and falls. Where do you feel your breath the most? If the child is distressed I ask them to count their breath, 1 breathing in, 2 breathing out, 3 breathing in, 4 breathing out as so on until they feel calmer.
2. Exploring the sense of hearing
One activity I like to do with the children is the sense of hearing. Allow the children to just stop and listen, I ask them to listen to their surroundings, outside sounds, inside sounds, the sounds their body is making, like it's breathing, this will allow them to stop and pay attention to something else and maybe find some new sounds that they were not aware of before.
3. Body Scan
Allow the child to just lay down and mentally ask them to scan their body using their mind. Starting from the toes, move up to the top of the head, mentioning nearly every body part. For younger children I like to mention a bright star entering their feet and moving up to the top of their head, which makes it more fun. I sometimes will ask if they felt any tension at any part of their body and try to help them understand that its OK to feel that part as they are becoming aware of the feelings in their body.
4. Emotional awareness
Allow the child to just become aware of their breathing again and ask them how it feels to be angry, sad, happy, or excited. By pointing out different emotions it allows them to become aware of where that emotion is stored in their body, for example; if the child is angry ask them where they are feeling that emotion, more than likely they may say that they are tense in the shoulders or their stomach hurts, allow them to just feel it and ask them to start thinking of a happier emotion. I'm not trying to differ the emotion, but because they are still young, finding an emotion that makes them happier gives them the distance to not react and play out the emotion of anger.
I hope these methods are helpful tips for you and your child or even if your teaching a group of children in a classroom. I know with patients and regular mindfulness practice you will see a difference. At first the child or children might find it a bit strange, but trust me they soon adapt to their new found methods.