Compared to when most of us parents were kids, life is much more complicated for our little ones. These stressful times make parenting difficult. However, when armed with the right tools, we can help our children build coping skills that last a lifetime. Though we are often told otherwise, stress is not just “in our heads." Stress takes a real toll on adults and children alike. How we respond to stressors determines our mental health, and in turn, affects physical health. Let's discuss some simple options to help us all regain control and peace when we need it most.
It sounds obvious, but day-to-day life can be extremely distracting. Pausing everything to listen to your children conveys love and acceptance and encourages them to feel comfortable sharing their thoughts/feelings. Children don’t understand much about the world, but understanding their thought process enables us to explain things in a way that makes sense to them. Encourage your child to talk about how they feel. If that is difficult for them, you can offer alternatives such as drawing a picture, role play with toys, etc. Show empathy for their feelings, and never belittle them. If they aren’t ready to talk yet, that’s OK too! We shouldn’t force conversation. Tell them that you’re open and listening when they are ready, and then create as much normalcy as they need. And remember, it’s okay if you don’t have all the answers. You can say you don’t know why something happened or how to fix it, but you are ready to help your child figure it out and move forward.
Meditation offers children a way to take a break from fatigue or overwhelming feelings. There are many different types of breathing exercises, and meditation and each person will respond differently. Mindfulness is the most common and involves quietly sitting or laying while focusing on breathing. The time spent will vary with age and personality, from just a few minutes daily in young children to 45 or more minutes daily in teens or adults. You can start by incorporating a few minutes of breathing into your morning and nightly routines. Use imagery to help kids understand, like the concept of a balloon getting bigger (inhalation) and smaller (exhalation). Tell them when they breathe out, they let out all of their worries from their bodies and into the air. When your young children have big emotions, encourage deep breathing to help calm during those feelings. In preschoolers and older children, you can remind them to use deep breaths before tests, performances, or any time they feel upset or uncontrolled. Also, help them cultivate a special “happy space” to visualize at the start of meditation, which is called guided imagery. In the beginning, while learning how to apply mindfulness, you can use audio or visual tools. Both the Calm and Headspace apps (among others) have guided meditations for children that are a great way to start out.
This is a wonderful tool to incorporate exercise with breathing and mindfulness. In fact, studies have shown numerous health (both physical and mental) benefits from regular yoga, including improved mood and self-confidence, decrease in anxiety and hyperactivity, improved sleep, and regulation of insulin, blood sugar, and hormone levels, just to name a few. Plus, it’s something you can do together and share the benefits!
There’s a reason music is so popular - the positive effects on mental health have been recognized since ancient times. Learning is easier (think ABCs and multiplication tables), and setting things to song captures our attention. You can use music -listening or playing- as a reward, mental relief from tedious tasks, and background noise to improve focus. It’s also a powerful tool for managing stress and anxiety, which is why music is used in medical settings like dentist offices or during surgery. Studies prove that music can help improve depression and help you fall asleep, especially when mothers sing to their children (don’t worry, your musical talent or lack thereof doesn’t matter!). Although there are songs designed specifically for their effect, in general, music tastes are very individualized. Be mindful of the music you choose for your kids, and use them at an age-appropriate volume to achieve your goals.
Scents are another influential tool to influence feelings. Familiar smells are comforting and can be used to evoke happy memories, leaving kids feeling relaxed and loved. The opposite can also be true- chemical smells in sensitive children can stimulate anxiety or fear and sometimes headaches. Some plant-based products or essential oils can cause skin irritation or other side effects. So for children, it’s best to cultivate these smells in their environment rather than apply them directly to the skin.
If you read my blog post about the importance of sleep, you probably already understand where I’m going with this (if you haven’t, you can find it here). Lack of sleep leads to emotional lability, increased anxiety and stress, and makes it harder to regulate emotions. Many of the tips above will work to help sleep come easier. Furthermore, making sleep a priority will go a long way to help your child’s emotional health in the future. Make sure your little one’s sleeping space feels safe and cozy to increase their feelings of security!
Lastly, if your child is struggling with anxiety or depression, don’t feel bad asking for outside help. Many children need more assistance than we as parents know how to give, and that’s okay! Child psychologists and psychiatrists dedicate their lives to help children develop coping mechanisms and manage stress. At Blueberry, we are always happy to help you find someone your child can talk to. Happy deep breathing!