By Robert Common, Managing Partner, The Beekeeper
Childhood is a critical stage of life for mental health development. Young children experience frequent types of stressors that come from many different directions. From issues with schoolwork, to conflicts with their friends, or feeling sick – the list can go on and on.
All of these stressors can have an effect on children’s mental health and overall wellbeing. Stress has negative impacts on children’s ability to learn, their ability to regulate their emotions, and other aspects of their behavior. In some cases, stress can cause children to develop mental health issues.
According to the US-based Centers for Disease Control, 1 in 6 children develop a mental, behavioral, or developmental disorder, including Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), anxiety, and depression(1). Ultimately, these disorders can prevent children from thriving in their environments. With this information in mind, it is clear that learning to combat stress early on in life is especially important.
To combat the effects of stress on the mind as well as on behavior, it’s important to teach children techniques that can help them manage stress as it comes. Mindfulness-based approaches are ideal techniques for this purpose.
Teaching mindfulness to your children will give them mechanisms for coping that are both easy to incorporate into their daily lives and effective at promoting good mental health.
Teaching children mindfulness provides them with tools they can use in their daily life to cope with the various situations they face.
Discussed below are recommended techniques that have scientific backing for building resilience in young children. The listed techniques have shown effectiveness for improving emotional regulation and self-awareness(2) as well as reducing symptoms associated with mental health issues in young children(3).
Awareness of their surroundings:
Teaching children self-awareness skills at a young age is an incredibly beneficial technique for improving mental health. One method is to teach them to be aware of their surroundings.
Going for a walk together and taking a minute to take in your surroundings is one example of this method. Use your senses and share what you notice with each other: sounds, visuals, smells. By pausing and paying attention to their surroundings, this technique teaches children to notice their environment, which can be useful for relaxing during times of stress.
Identifying how they feel:
Another useful self-awareness skill is the ability to identify how one feels in any given moment.
When stressed, allowing children to mindfully take a moment and name how they are feeling, either physically or mentally, and to think about and verbalize why they feel the way they do, can bring about personal understanding and aid in stress relief. This method is a great way for children to begin building a healthy relationship with their emotions, and to begin learning to be introspective at an early age.
Breathing exercises are likely one of the easiest mindfulness practices for children to perform.
With the help of a small soft object, such as a pillow or stuffed animal, children pay attention to their breathing patterns while lying down. They can count the rising and falling of the object, or the inhales and exhales of their breathing, either out loud or in their heads. This mindfulness technique helps children focus on the present moment which can promote calmness and relaxation.
Another helpful method is to enlist gratitude practices in their everyday life.
Gratitude is an essential component of mindfulness. Rather than focusing on negative emotions, children can learn to appreciate the abundance of good things that they have in their lives. Have your children take a moment to name a thing they are grateful for, or to talk about a positive thing that happened during their day. This method can teach children to focus on the positive.
Setting an example:
Perhaps the most important and effective method of all is setting an example.
Try taking time every day to practice mindfulness in your own life. Practicing some of these methods holds a lot of value, because in doing so, you’ll be able to better model mindfulness for your child and serve as a guide for them.
Overall, mindfulness has many benefits for young children. Mindfulness has been shown to improve emotional regulation and self-awareness as well as many other behaviors. All of these methods provide children with ways to be resilient toward stressful situations as they come – techniques they can carry with them as they grow, to be present in the moment, and to promote their own wellness and wellbeing.
References: 1. https://www.cdc.gov/childrensmentalhealth/data.html