Children get stressed too!
More than ever we are being taught how to relax and wind down, how to cope with external stressors. Whether it be in seminar or podcast form, regular classes or counselling. We are taught how to listen to our bodies and ‘look within’. Meditation. Mindfulness. Breathing exercises. All useful coping strategies for our everyday, busy modern lives. But this is very much geared towards adults. What about our children?
When I was growing up, mindfulness wasn’t ‘a thing’. Not as a child, nor as a teen, even when I was at university. Perhaps that’s because the stress that came with academic studies, relationship troubles, cash flow issues was just seen as normal for a young person. Maybe it was deemed that children and teens didn’t get stressed. Whatever the reason, it wasn’t on my radar.
And then I became an adult and had to learn how to listen to my body and create coping strategies for myself. But what if we could teach our children this? What if we could help them have that awareness so that mindfulness becomes second nature? We, as adults, may think that because children do not have the same stressors as us, that their stressors are insignificant. However to them, this is far from the case. So what can we do to help?
We take an average of 20,000 breaths in a day, and most of us won’t be conscious of a single one of them. However, bringing an awareness to our breathing, for both adults and children, has a number of benefits as outlined below:
- It can help you relax. When we get stressed, cortisol, our ‘stress hormone’, increases. This is great for when we need to run away from a bear but not so great when we’re in the middle of exam season. By consciously slowing down our breathing, our heart rate slows, we get more oxygen to our blood and eventually we tell our brain to relax. This also helps increase our ‘feel good’ hormones.
- Provide pain relief, as the ‘feel good’ hormones mentioned above also help with pain relief.
- Slow your heart rate, improving overall circulation and lowering your blood pressure.
- It helps to get rid of toxins, such as carbon monoxide. 70% of our body’s detox is done by our respiratory system, so it is important to keep this system functioning.
This is a term that has been thrown around quite a lot recently. But what does it mean? To me, it simply means ‘being aware’. Being present. Mindfulness does not have to be sitting in the ‘lotus pose’ with your eyes closed for hours (unless you find that helpful of course). It can be going for a walk and being aware of the smells and sounds around you. Or reading a good book and being completely immersed in it. Maybe drawing or colouring. It can be listening to a meditation. Teaching our kids to be mindful early on will allow them to have the skills to slow down and look within when they feel overwhelmed.
Exercise itself is a stressor. As a Coach at LiftOff Gym, I often have to tell adults to take it easy or slow down when I am aware that their life outside the gym is extremely stressful. Going ‘all out’ in the gym too is going to be entirely unproductive. However, we often forget to teach children the same lesson. This is not to say that children should not exercise, far from it. Just that we should also encourage children to take more gentle forms of exercise when they need to, such as walking, cycling or swimming.
A healthy body is going to be a lot better at fighting off infection, be less inflamed, and have more energy than one that is not treated with the same love. But we all know the reality when it comes to children and their eating habits. I’m not suggesting your child should start eating brussel sprouts for breakfast…that won’t win you any popular parent contests! Simply start by incorporating the three macronutrients (carbs, protein and healthy fats) into their diets as much as possible. Aim for them to eat the colours of the rainbow in their meals and you’ll be on your way.
Encouraging children to keep a written journal can be very helpful in several ways. It can be a great way of writing down positive affirmations, thoughts and worries. It can also be a great way to vent, and venting can lead to a calmer mind.
Similar to ‘mindfulness’, this is another term that has become popular, particularly since we have been living through a worldwide pandemic. Kindness can almost be viewed as the opposite of stress. As mentioned above, stress comes with an increase in cortisol. Kindness comes with an increase in oxytocin, the kindness or love hormone. Acts of kindness have been shown to have positive physiological effects on our bodies. So let’s teach our children the importance of being kind. For the younger ones, a great game that can be played is ‘tell me what act of kindness you have done today?’ Not only can it help build their confidence and self esteem, but it can help establish acts of kindness as a habit.
There are more ways to help our children relax, but these are a few to get them started.
We should never forget that, just because our children do not have our stressors does not mean they do not have times of struggle. We all want to help our children to live happy and healthy lives. Let’s ensure they also have the tools to slow down and look within.