Helping kids return to school with less anxiety (and more mindfulness)
In Scotland our schools have already returned after the summer break, but in the rest of the UK (and perhaps worldwide) children and teens will be gearing up for their return.
Some will feel excited about the prospect of a new school or new term. However many will feel anxious.
Cast your mind back to what school was like for you growing up and perhaps it will help you access some empathy and compassion for the young people in your life.
Returning back to school is a challenge for many, but we can give our kids some mindful skills to help them negotiate this tricky time.
Here are some top tips for reducing back-to-school anxiety:-
- The breath is our anchor in every moment. If you help young people notice their breath, it’s as if you have given them an extraordinary and easy-to-use surfboard (or skateboard) to navigate their way through some challenges that lie ahead.
When we get anxious, our breath is affected. Research demonstrates that by simply focusing on the out-breath we can help our nervous system to relax and prevent the build up of chronic, long term stress.
For young kids it is easier if they make a sound as they breathe out. Or perhaps give them the image of blowing out a candle. One of our Connected Kids Tutors reminded me of how she teaches children to imagine their thumb is a candle and as they blow on it they blow out the flame – this uses the imagination and gives them something tactile to use with the breath.
For older teens, they may feel more self conscious doing this. So give them the opportunity to count the out-breath. The longer they do it (eg the higher the number they reach 1….2…. 3….) then the more they release.
When to use this tip – teaching them how to breathe is a great way to give them a self-supporting tool – in other words they don’t really need you once they know how to do it, plus they can teach their friends… we are all in favour of peer to peer support!
Once children can do this, you can help them think of times when they could apply it – on the way to school, waiting in line to enter class or at lunch time, before doing their homework, when they have a worrying thought in their head about bullying or schoolwork pressure – or ask them to tell you when they feel most unhappy or stress.
2. Use social media as a reminder. Yes, you heard me correctly. We have to connect with what teens are interested in…in any way we can. It is useful to encourage teens to focus on the breath (like the suggestion above) when they hear the ping of a social media message (before looking at it). This gives them an easy way to remember to do it and helps reduce that reaction to social media.
3. Using the body to reduce anxiety. The way we hold our body can indicate if we feel stressed or not. Take a moment to really hunch over as you read this and notice what happens to your mood, feelings and thoughts.
Now take a moment to sit or stand straight – try to have a balance between the left and right sides of your body (so not slouching to one side) and as if there is an imaginary string attached to your head stretching up to the sky.
Check in with how you feel, your thoughts etc? Totally different?
This is why yoga is one of the most practical and helpful ways to do mindful movement. It isn’t always about postures or moving, it is about simply standing or sitting with what we call ‘dignity’ – as if we have a right to be on this earth. You can guide your young people to practise this too.
When to use this tip – they can use this when standing in line at school to enter class, or on the way if they walk to school (though they can also do it when sitting in the car/public transport).
4. Using it to get to sleep. The other evening I was guiding a very anxious 7 year old back to sleep by encouraging her to think of her favourite colour and imagine a magic bubble around her that was filled with this. I already knew she had a sore tummy (stress) so we imagined her breathing this colour into her tummy. I used words like “it feels like warm sunshine” or you could use “it cools down all the anger in your tummy” – using the words that feel right to you. I asked her to imagine that all the thoughts in her head just disappeared into the colour bubble.
When you use imagery this way, you give the brain some respite as you create distraction but it may also help let go of what is troubling them and releasing it into an imaginary place. Children’s imaginations are easier to work with than adults so they are usually quite receptive.
5. Remember to watch how you behave/think/feel – your energy will affect your children so if you are rushing around getting stressed about them returning to school, then they will feel this too and this will create stronger, anxious feelings for them. If you get the opportunity to, then go outside for a walk – preferably amongst trees or nature which has a very healing and grounding affect. You don’t need to talk about anything, just hang out and walk (or skip, run… ) – all this movement is very grounding and helps us feel more settled and less anxious.
When to use this tip – remember to check in when you go about your normal day (so when the kettle boils for a cuppa), as you are brushing your teeth or waiting by the school gates to pick them up?
For more information about how to bring mindfulness to our youth…