A child that experiences anxiety can be one of the most difficult things you have to face as a parent. You may worry that your parenting skills are lacking if your child experiences outbursts of anger, reactive behaviour choices, nervousness or panic attacks.
Anxiety has become increasingly common among children as young as four. Statistics show that one in every ten will experience intense anxiety at some point during their childhood. Stress, fear and anxiety is a fact of life for both children and adults – and the way your child’s brain processes the fight or flight response has a great deal to do with how he or she reacts to a perceived threat.
That’s why teaching your child to manage anxiety and stressful situations effectively are some of the most important life skills you can give them. By teaching your child how to breathe, meditate and perform other stress reduction techniques, they are able to deal effectively with the stressors that are a natural part of modern life.
Mindfulness and meditation are particularly effective stress management tools and are widely known to increase calmness and a sense of wellbeing, promote better health and clear cluttered and cloudy thinking – even for very young children. By guiding your child through meditation or bringing your child back into the present moment where they can take back control and calm down, you are giving them a very special and long-lasting gift.
When children are taught regular meditation and mindfulness techniques amazing results have been documented, including –
- An increase in attention span
- Having better concentration
- Are less likely to experience regular illness – have a stronger immune system
- A marked improvement in studies/academic results
- More imaginative and creative – which leads to a resourceful and more resilient adult
- Have a sense of peace, calm and safety
- Show more problem solving abilities
- Less disruptive behaviour and angry outbursts
After a period of time, and with your guidance, they will learn how to still their busy minds and be more present and calm. From there, they will develop a more confident outlook and disposition. Over time your child will be able to create a solitary space within themselves that is safe – a space to think, breathe, calm down, and remember or imagine.
I have taught all three of my children to meditate, relax their muscles one by one, and take a couple of deep breaths when needed. From a very early age I encouraged them all to just check in to ‘right now’. To take a long slow deep breathe and feel the breath go in through their nose, travel down their throat, fill their lungs, and expand in their belly like filling a balloon. Then, let it sit there for just a couple of moments, and then exhale, blowing all the air out. As they did this, they could imagine feeling a sense of release and calm. I would get them to do it a few times – slow and controlled, and with an awareness of how they were becoming more relaxed.
My youngest son, who is now nine, has me smiling in many stressful situations. As he notices my posture changing, my body becoming tense, and he can possibly see steam coming out of my ears. He calmly walks over, puts his hand on my arm and says, “Mummy, just take a deep breath in – and hold – and let it go. And again, breathe in, and out.” Can’t get more stress relief than that!
The next thing I made a priority to teach my kids was to S.T.O.P – an acronym for mindfulness. I have shown many of my clients and students this skill over the years, but I found children took to it easily and quickly.
S.T.O.P stands for –
S = Stop right now
T = Take a breath
O = Observe what is going on around you and within you – just observe it, then
P = Proceed with your next action or non-action – whatever you feel most appropriate, beneficial, and right for you.
Most parents find it a challenge to get their child interested in meditation and seeing the benefits of pausing to be mindful. Our little people are full of energy and easily distracted, and the thought of having to be still and quiet can seem very boring, even impossible to them. You can grow their interest and love of meditating and being mindful when you begin by making it fun. You can make time regularly to guide them through the process until it becomes a habit they can easily follow through with on their own. Most kids will hold still for meditation if it’s something that Mum or Dad takes time out to do especially with them.
Keep your meditation periods short as you begin.
A child that is under five years old, for example, may only stay still for two minutes – and that’s okay. Slowly increase the length of time you spend on sessions as your child begins to take an interest. At first, you may have them start by laying down, but in time they can meditate while sitting cross-legged on the floor, by standing, or even during a walk. The most important thing to do is to make these times fun and relaxed.
You can encourage your child to practice deep breathing techniques by blowing up a balloon or blowing feathers as far as they can, then transition to imagining blowing up a balloon and blowing a feather.
Take a deep breath in ‘filling the belly’ for three seconds, hold, and then exhale for three seconds.
Do this three times to begin and once done for a while they will automatically know that when something is causing them anxiety they can take 3 deep breathes to calm down.
Here’s a simple guided meditation that I have used many times to get you started.
- Remember to make this fun and relaxing for both you and your child. You can play soft music and lay on the floor or on the bed with pillows if that helps.
- Begin by telling your child you are going on an adventure, using their imagination. Have them stretch out their arms and legs and allow them to go limp. They can close their eyes (usually the will peak occasionally!) Then count down from ten – as you do tell them that they are getting more comfortable, having a wriggle if they have to, and feeling more relaxed.
- Then talk them through relaxing each part of their body, taking their awareness to each part as you say it, from the tips of their toes to top of the head. Name each part and ask them to imagine the muscles in that part relaxing and going soft as marshmallows.
- When your child is relaxed, ask them to visualise a beach on a warm, sunny day. They can imagine standing on that beach in their mind, seeing the waves as they crash against the shore, hearing the wind blow and birds fly overhead.
- Have them visualise the patterns of the waves as they wash over the shore, over and over again. (You can use any scene – a forest, a castle, a river, the backyard – anywhere you know they will feel happy to be there.)
- Have them breathe in and breathe out softly, gently and regularly. Allow them to rest, feeling comfortable and safe. You can then use your imagination and trust your own intuition to guide them, with plenty of pauses, to where you want to go. You could walk along the beach feeling the sand in your toes, see a rock pool with lots of sea creatures in it, have people on the beach, sit under a tree, or even have a magic carpet ride! My children loved having a worry tree at the beginning of the meditation appear so they could hang all their worries, one by one, on it. When it was time to finish the meditation I would bring them back past the worry tree and they would find all their worries had disappeared.
- When they are ready to come back out of the meditative process, ask them to take a deep breath, feel the floor beneath them, notice how calm they are and stretch their arms and legs – and smile.
You can also try a recorded guided meditation with your child. There are many options out there from beautiful music to someone talking and guiding your thoughts and imagination. I have found that children respond very well to background music and their parent’s voice – whether they are present or it is pre-recorded. In my personal experience, children are highly responsive to inner smile meditation, which promotes a healthy immune system. I believe this is because kids naturally and instinctively know the benefits of a big smile and happy thoughts. You only need 10 – 20 minutes ‘time out’ with a child a couple of times a week to see great results.
How could you introduce more meditative and mindful moments into your family’s life? What would be the benefits if everyone could S.T.O.P more often and be calmer?