- It’s Tough in 2017: Kids Need Headspace Too
- Mindfulness Can Help
- Easy Mindfulness Techniques to Get Started
- Practicing Regularly
- Further Reading
- Relevant and Related Searches
It’s Tough in 2017: Kids Need Headspace Too
Organising childcare and family activities, budgeting wisely and balancing the need to erform well at work with family life, whilst maintaining longstanding friendships with many, similarly busy, adults - the stressors associated with being a parent are well-recognised, and there are many of them. It can be easy to forget that childhood - and the process of growing up itself - comes with its own compendium of ups and downs.
Although the specific triggers of stress that kids experience are usually different to those of adult life, their potential effects - especially the sensation of being under pressure and the feelings of anxiety and helplessness that this inspire - can affect everybody, no matter how young or old they are. Children as young as six years old report feeling stressed about exams and tests!
Why Are Kids Feeling the Stress to Impress?
Achievements such as acing that chemistry project, completing homework to standard and on time, juggling commitments like sport and music practice and fitting in amongst their peers are all ideals which most school-age children and teens feel expected to meet.
Many pupils are required to know what they want to study in college four or five years in advance and to excel in their chosen study subject accordingly at school. Starting dating at the same time as their peers – or not feeling ready to – and keeping up appearances are also common sources of teen angst; overweight children have been found to be more likely to experience stress than their peers.
According data from the National Institute of Mental Health, about 30 percent of girls and 20 percent of boys – as many as 6.3 million teens – have had an anxiety disorder due to feeling overwhelmed by facing these pressures. Ambitions that could have been a joy to work towards with a worry-free mindset can easily morph into oppressive goals, in a rat-race towards popularity and academic perfection.
Many psychologists have observed that the challenges kids face in 2017 are compounded by their excessive use of social media. As well as experiencing the stress to impress at home and at school, 59 percent of children aged eight to ten are sharing their successes and showcasing their friendships online, according to the Internet safety advisory site Knowthenet.
By the age of thirteen, 98 percent of kids have at least one social media account. Bombarded by updates from other kids on Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, there’s no escape from living in a constant state of comparison to one’s peers: social, academic and personal insecurities are being compounded more than ever before, and at all times of day. For many kids, these regular concerns will be experienced alongside other life events outside their control, like experiencing bereavement, families splitting up, or bullying - which can occur online as well as in real life.
Stressed-Out Kids: Recognising the Signs
Kids do not always verbalise that they are feeling distress and may not recognise that it is brewing, so it is important to watch out for behavioural indicators.
Kids often show that they are stressed using certain behaviours, including:
- Being aggressive
- Losing their temper quickly
- Regressing to earlier behaviours (such as thumb-sucking or bed-wetting)
- Refusing to go to school
- Not wanting to participate in social, school or family activities
- Avoiding activities that they used to enjoy
Rather than waiting until kids enter crisis mode, parents and teachers can expose kids to activities which will help them find positive ways to explore their feelings on a day-to-day basis. Learning about mindfulness can equip a child with tactics that they can use to minimise the impact of any worries they might encounter as they navigate the maze of maturation.
Is It Possible to Prevent Stress From Causing Kids Distress?
It is important to reassure kids that everybody feels stress sometimes. One trigger of stress is exposure to unfamiliar situations, and a typical childhood is full of inevitable changes, such as starting school, moving home and the birth of younger siblings. Feeling a certain amount of stress can be healthy, and can stimulate a child to develop new abilities as they adapt.
However, without learning how to process feelings of uncertainty and stress, kids can find their thoughts and emotions overwhelming. Feeling worried constantly or acutely can have negative knock-on effects on a kid’s mental and physical health. A third of child respondents to a recent survey by the American Psychological Association had experienced physical symptoms related to stress, such as headaches and insomnia.
It is possible to prevent children of any age from developing extenuating problems related to stress by teaching them coping strategies to help them to become more relaxed in general and to process stress when it is triggered.
Mindfulness Can Help
“Mindfulness is nothing other than present-moment awareness, an open and friendly willingness to understand what is going on in and around you,” says the celebrated therapist and stress-reduction trainer Eline Snel. With practice, people of any age can learn to be more mindful, to put aside the worries that they are feeling and to become more engaged in the present moment.
Practicing mindfulness can improve kids’ lives in many ways, including:
- Providing a chance to let go of worries
- Freeing the mind to explore new perspectives
- Increasing optimism and happiness
- Lowering levels of aggression
- Inspiring feelings of compassion
- Reducing bullying tendencies
- Developing rationality
- Improving the quality of sleep
- Increasing the ability to concentrate
Everybody can begin to increase their mindfulness, and no special skills are required to start from scratch. Methods of practicing mindfulness can last for various lengths of time and can have many possible objectives, from achieving moments of relaxation and inner calmness to learning how to process difficult emotions like anger towards another person.
Mindfulness practice can take many different forms, including guided meditation or by trying out physical and mental exercises and games.
Mindfulness Is Not a “Magic Bullet”
The best preparation for getting the most out of mindfulness is to have no expectations. This applies to the execution of the mindfulness exercises, and to monitoring their effects. It doesn’t matter if a kid loses their concentration during their exercises, and it is important to remember that they are unlikely to feel the effects of their practice straight away. Setting oneself goals such as “stopping feeling nervous about exams” is unrealistic, and will result in feelings of failure.
However, by continuing to explore new mindfulness techniques or practice known ones, even for a few minutes per day, kids will gradually internalize alternative ways of thinking about themselves and processing their emotions. This ability ‒ to recognize that you are feeling a certain emotion and to choose your actions rather than behaving in a certain way automatically ‒ is the true magic of mindfulness.
Over time, for example, a child who often feels nervous about exams will begin to notice that they have developed new mental responses that they can use ‒ such as doing a breathing exercise ‒ when those feelings arise. With mindfulness practice, kids can train themselves not to let feelings such as nervousness overwhelm them.
Easy Mindfulness Techniques to Get Started
There’s no correct or incorrect way to practice mindfulness, and the techniques that are most beneficial to one child may not be the same as those that are most helpful to another. Exercises to increase mindfulness may involve learning breathing techniques and physical postures similar to those used in yoga, and can involve guided meditations, which can be read from a book or listened to.
Mindfulness exercises can be used for a variety of different purposes, from increasing compassion and empathy to relaxing before bedtime in order to prepare for a good night’s sleep. The following sections will introduce some popular practices which can be used to introduce kids to mindfulness, centered on reducing stress, increasing compassion and staying focused before exams. (For pointers on exploring mindfulness for kids further, see the final section, “Further reading: brilliant books on mindfulness for kids.”)
Banish Distress: Let’s De-Stress
Here are some techniques which kids can use to access their inner calmness. It’s not always possible or easy to remember to use these strategies in moments of intense stress. However, by practicing their favorite de-stressing technique in the morning, evening (or both!), kids will turn these thought processes into habits which will naturally begin to inform their thought processes in high-stress situations.
This simple mnemonic is a brilliant tool for dismantling a tangle of thoughts and emotions, and taking a step back from a situation which feels challenging. After going through the four stages of S.T.O.P, you’ll be able to continue your day with a clearer head.
The four stages of S.T.O.P. are:
Stop: Pause, and take a step back from what you are doing. Put down anything you may be holding. Get comfortable.
Take a few deep breaths: Breathing mindfully is different from breathing normally. Often, when we are stressed, we forget to take deep breaths. Concentrate on the sensation of your breathing. To slow your racing mind down, inhale through your nose, count to ten, and exhale out through your mouth, also counting to ten.
Observe: Pay attention to the sensation of the breath going in and out of your body. Observe your thoughts and feelings. Notice that your thoughts are not facts. Explore your emotions. Note any physical feelings in your body, such as muscle tension or a clenched jaw. Relax.
Proceed: Rather than resuming the activity you’ve paused in order to perform this exercise, proceed by doing something that will make you feel better. This could be drinking a glass of water, having a conversation about your worries with a friend, or going outside for a breath of fresh air.
This is a very simple breathing exercise which can be useful for introducing young children to mindfulness. For this practice, kids will need a cuddly toy, and, if they are doing the exercise on their own, a timer that beeps when the practice is over.
- Choose your favorite cuddly toy. This will be your breathing buddy for the exercise.
- Lie down on your back, set the timer to time one minute, and place your breathing buddy on your tummy.
- Until the minute is up, take deep breaths, noticing how it feels as your breath goes in and out. Watch your breathing buddy move up and down in the air as you inhale, filling your tummy with air, and exhale again.
- Notice any sensations that your body feels, and any thoughts that come into your mind.
- Imagine these thoughts turning into bubbles and floating away, out from your head and into the distance until they become so small that they disappear from view.
- This is an effective mindfulness exercise for kids to perform at bedtime, to send off any worries that are lingering at the end of the day.
The Sound of Silence
This practice is designed to help kids notice how much it is possible to increase one’s engagement with the present moment, and how much much more the present moment can hold, when one is focusing on it intently. It can be practiced with one child or with a group, and all that is needed is a bell and a timer.
- Ask the child or group to close their eyes, and to raise their hands when they no longer hear the sound of the ringing bell.
- Ring the bell.
- For one minute after the bell has been silent, the participant(s) should keep their eyes closed, and notice the sounds that they can hear, remembering as many as possible.
- After the minute is over, say aloud the sounds that were noticed.
Performed in a group, this practice can also inspire kids to become excited about sharing their experiences with others, and serves as a reminder that we are all individuals. No two people will have identical experiences of a single moment, and the act of sharing the differing sounds that they noticed will help kids to recognize that everybody’s perspective is valid.
Compassion’s Back in Fashion
One life-enhancing facet of being drawn into the present moment is that our ability to notice the behavior and emotions of others increases. This allows us to behave more compassionately and to make others feel happy and comfortable by responding to their needs.
For example, a mindful person is more likely than a stressed person to notice that their friend is feeling tired and to suggest a more restful activity. There are certain mindfulness practices which are specifically geared towards enhancing one’s ability to respond to others and to feel compassion.
Beginning and ending each day by performing a mindfulness exercise specifically focused on compassion can help kids to increase their ability to empathize with others. One type of exercise which promotes an altruistic attitude is called loving-kindness meditation practice. Young children might find it helpful to choose a favorite toy into the early stages of this meditation (as in the “Breathing buddies” exercise).
- Lie down on your back on the bed, and begin to take deep breaths in and out. If a toy is used, place it on your tummy and watch it go up and down as you breathe. After a few moments, say aloud, “May you be happy, [insert toy’s name].”
- After a few moments, say “May you be happy, [insert your own name].”
- Think of a friend and say, “May you be happy, [insert a friend’s name].”
This process can be repeated, extending good wishes to family members, a class at school, even people with whom you have a difficult relationship or have had an argument. Finish the practice by extending good wishes to groups rather than individuals – the whole school, the whole country – until you have sent positive vibes to everyone in the world.
Wearing Is Aware-Ing
Visual reminders are a very useful tool for helping kids to retain ideas, and this extends to remembering to be compassionate. That’s where the COMPASSION IT bracelet comes in.
These wristbands are more than just a fashion accessory: they’re designed to influence everyone who wears them towards positive behavior, and towards at least one compassionate act per day, to inspire a kindness-based ripple effect through the whole community. Visual reminders to be mindful are particularly useful for restless kids who may find it difficult to establish a daily routine of practicing their mindfulness exercises.
All the money that COMPASSION IT makes from their wristbands goes into global campaigns to increase awareness of the importance of kindness to others … a personal development investment!
Unpeeling Your Feelings
“Do you have a feeling that’s visiting today?
Can you open your door and invite it to play?”
From a very young age, kids have the capacity to detach ‒ in a healthy way ‒ from their feelings rather than being governed by them. The American Psychological Association recommends a book called Visiting Feelings (2014) by the clinical psychologist Lauren Rubenstein, who specializes in teaching yoga and mindfulness to children and adolescents.
“Visiting Feelings encourages kids to treat their feelings like guests ‒ welcome them in, get to know them, and perhaps learn why they are visiting. Visiting Feelings harnesses a young child’s innate capacity to fully experience the present moment and invites children to sense, explore, and befriend all of their feelings with acceptance and equanimity.” 
Exam Time: Keep Your Head in the Game
In 2017, more teachers are reporting that the kids in their care are stressed about exams than ever before, with children as young as six years old reporting feeling stressed about exams and tests!
Mindfulness practice is an excellent way to for kids to increase their ability to stay focused on the task at hand, rather than letting worries about doing well paralyze them and sabotage their performance.
Mindfulness exercises for kids focused on exam success can emphasize:
- Being present
- Doing one thing at a time and devoting all of one’s attention to it
- Playing games that enhance one’s memory
- Building up one’s confidence
Coloring in pictures is a common activity for kids, but it has recently been discovered to hold many cognitive benefits for children and adults alike, as it makes use of all the areas of the brain related to concentration. While a child’s focus is absorbed by the task at hand, they become less receptive to worries and negative thoughts. Their preoccupation with the details of the pictures that they are coloring can protect them from letting any concerns that do cross their minds from spiraling into a negative emotional reaction.
Benefits which mindful coloring offers include:
- Increasing one’s ability to problem-solve
- Developing a sense of focus and concentration
- Developing the capacity for acting and doing, as opposed to thinking and observing
- Learning that, while negative thoughts may cross one’s mind, one does not need to become consumed by them or allow them to alter one’s emotional state
Regularly spending 30 minutes or an hour mindfully coloring can help a child to bring its benefits into other activities, including revision for exams and practice tests.
The Spaghetti Test
This exercise by the mindfulness guru Eline Snel is particularly useful for teenagers, and teaches one to relax one’s body, “like a strand of spaghetti.” Snel recommends the spaghetti test as a way for kids to de-stress and focus right before sitting a test or exam.
The spaghetti test can be practiced sitting down, or lying on the floor. It involves tensing parts of the body as much as one can, and then allowing them to relax, taking a few seconds to focus on the sensation of how the newly-relaxed body part feels as the tension ebbs away. One should keep one’s breathing deep and regular throughout, exhaling as one relaxes.
Snel suggests working through the body parts in a specific order:
- Eyes, jaw and facial muscles
- Hands and arms
- Stomach muscles
- Legs and knees
- Feet and toes
Teenagers can listen to a guided meditation which will talk them through the exercise here.
One of the most important ingredients for being a happy, healthy and grounded kid is a good night’s sleep. It’s easy to let one’s worries build up over the course of the day, but it’s important not to go to bed with a mind full of concerns. Tossing and turning through the night and being tired the next day makes a person more likely to become consumed by stress.
Performing a sleep-inducing mindfulness practice at bedtime can help soothe a frazzled brain and prepare kids to embark on recuperative rest.
Bedtime Body Scan
Body scans are a powerful tool for switching a person’s awareness away from their innermost thoughts and onto how their physical body feels in the present moment.
This mindfulness meditation from the World of Psychology also incorporates an introduction to practicing gratitude: kids can learn to monitor how their body is feeling before bedtime, at the same time as taking the time to be thankful for how each section of their body has functioned throughout their day.
- Close your eyes, lie down in bed and focus your attention on your feet. Silently notice whether they feel comfortable. Are there any aches and pains? Are they hot, or cold? Do they feel the bedclothes around them? Send a thought to your feet thanking them for carrying you around throughout your day.
- Move your focus up to your calves. Note how they feel, and send healing thoughts to any cuts or grazes you may have. Send a thought to your legs to thank them for carrying you throughout the day.
- Repeat this process for the arms, hands, neck and stomach, remembering to breathe deeply and evenly throughout the practice.
- Finally, thank your senses for allowing you to smell, taste, see, hear and feel throughout your experiences of the day. Notice anything you can smell, hear or feel in the present moment, before drifting off to sleep.
“The Dog Ate My Homework”: Practicing Regularly ... Or Not!
Even for children, and especially for teenagers, life is full of commitments. Part of growing up involves learning to expect the unexpected, but sometimes that extra homework project, a birthday party or the flu can get in the way of even the most thoroughly-planned daily routine. It’s important for kids to know that they shouldn’t worry if they forget to practice mindfulness ‒ this is a failure-free zone where every little bit helps.
One of the easiest ways for kids to make mindfulness a natural part of their routine is to suggest practicing first thing in the morning, and last thing before they go to sleep at night. That way, it will become a habit to start thinking mindfully as soon as they wake up, and they will begin to feel the benefits throughout their day and go to sleep feeling calmed and settled.
Practicing mindfulness techniques regularly will give a child the best chance of feeling their benefits, but there would be nothing worse than getting anxious about the techniques they are learning in order to feel less anxious! Mindfulness should never be a punishment, or feel like a chore.
Praising your kids by pointing out that you’ve noticed the effects of mindfulness will help them to understand how it is benefiting them ‒ the best incentive to keep practicing!
For example, instead of saying, “You lost your temper today, you should go and practice mindfulness to get those feelings under control,” say, “Even though you lost your temper today at first, I was really impressed with how quickly you calmed down ‒ you must be doing such effective mindfulness practice to have kept such a cool head.”
Instead of saying, “You should practice mindfulness so you can become less performance-shy; the school musical’s coming up,” say, “I noticed you managed to put aside your fears about performing in the school musical; everyone said how confidently you played your part!” This will subtly guide kids towards noticing the effects of practicing mindfulness for themselves.
Further Reading: Brilliant Books on Mindfulness for Kids
The positive effects of mindfulness are ongoing, unlike the temporary pleasures of enjoying a sweet treat or the transient elation of winning in a virtual reality game. There’s no big trophy at the finish line – in fact, there’s no instant gratification to be found at all – but the more kids and teens practice these techniques and learn to handle their worries, the more they will fully experience the present moment and all the rewards that living in the present can bring.
Here are some of the best new books offering parents, kids and young adults guidance in mindfulness: the key to enjoying the unpredictable rollercoaster ride that is 21st-century life.
Best Book for Kids: A World of Pausabilities by Frank J. Selio
A World of Pausabilities (Magination Press, 2017), is an all-rhyming, all-colorful introduction to one of the basic principles of mindfulness: the art of stepping back and taking a moment to pause as one goes about one’s day. Taking the reader on a journey through a busy neighborhood on a summer’s day, Selio’s beautifully lilting poems explore how easy it is to get caught up in one’s inner thoughts, and introduces kids to basic breathing, body and mind exercises which can help them re-engage with the present moment.
Selio is a top New Jersey psychologist who specialises in reaching relaxation techniques to children, teens and whole families. There’s a section for parents at the back of the book which explains how to help kids to carry the ideas within it onwards into their lives.
Best Book for Teens: Superhero Therapy by Janina Scarlet
A childhood survivor of the Chernobyl nuclear explosion, Scarlet struggled with radiation poisoning through her school-days and had difficulties integrating with her peers as a teenager, so she’s no stranger to encountering setbacks that feel like they are beyond one’s control, and to overcoming the depression and anxiety that can accompany them. Now a psychologist, Scarlet has revisited the superhero comics and movies that she drew inspiration from growing up, and has devised this ingenious self-help book for a teen audience, introducing readers to the principles of acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT).
Superhero Therapy: Mindfulness Skills to Help Teens and Young Adults Deal with Anxiety, Depression, and Trauma (New Harbinger Publications, 2016) follows five superheroes struggling with confidence issues as they attend Superhero Training Academy. As they learn how to surmount their individual barriers to happiness ‒ anxiety, shame, depression and anger ‒ so do Scarlet’s readers. Life lessons with luxuriant graphics.
And One for the Parents: Mindfulness for Parents: Finding Your Way to a Calmer, Happier Family by Amber Hatch
A perfect blend between introducing mindfulness to parents and teaching parents how to introduce mindfulness to their kids, Mindfulness for Parents (Watkins Publishing, 2017) offers practical tips to bring some calm to the stressful situations inherent in family life. From advice on maintaining one’s serenity when kids’ tempers are short to limiting screen-time with grace, parenting and mindfulness expert Amber Hatch’s book is a mindfulness manual to navigating contemporary parenthood with aplomb.
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Snel, Eline. Sitting like a Frog: Mindfulness Exercises for Kids (and Their Parents). Shambala Publications. 03 December 2013. p.2. ↩
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