The stress kids are feeling today is reaching epidemic proportions – helping kids learn to be their ‘best self’ in difficult situations can reduce anxiety. Quick thoughtless reactions to emotional triggers, can often lead to undesirable outcomes. By pausing to observe and among their own reactions, children are better able to respond effectively to challenges and be their ‘best selves’ in all situations.
The WHO (World Health Organisation) reported that depression is “the predominant cause of illness and disability” for children age 10 – 19 years old worldwide.
Even more scary is that the report found that suicide to be the third leading cause of adolescent deaths behind traffic accidents and HIV/AIDS
Regardless of where you come from children are struggling with how they feel about themselves on a day to day basis.
By teaching kids these skills at an early age we can help them develop resilience, self confidence and self leadership skill so they can handle the ups and downs of growing up.
More and more reports keep coming out waking us up to the to the scary facts that there are soaring numbers of children suffering from stress and anxiety. The NSPCC (Jan 2017) warned that their Childline service had seen a 35% rise in calls about anxiety from children in just twelve months. This is beyond critical and reflects the pressures our children face today from “around the clock” social media, bullying, insecurity concerns about body image and general poor self esteem.
The NHS data (Jan 2017) showed that in 2015/16 more than 10,000 patients under the age of 18 were admitted to hospital with a diagnosis of anxiety. These include almost 2500 children who were 12 and under.
This is just more evidence that we need to start prioritising the ‘wellbeing’ of our children not just exam results.
We might be able to recognise stress in ourselves but we need to start realising that children can experience stress too.
What happens when we experience stress/anxiety….
The fact is that our children are experiencing stress more so than ever before and we need to acknowledge this and help them. There are the pressures of school, exams and peer pressure. Plus children feel their parents’ stress (or that of any adults around them) and they learn from adults how to cope (or not to cope) with stress.
As adults we can often find it hard to admit if we’re stressed as society has a way of encouraging us to just ignore it and keep going, regardless. Many of us live with daily worrying thoughts or a constant feeling of anxiety. If we are not careful, this can quickly tip us into a long-term stress state and it is often not until we are at the point of collapse that we start to pay any attention to the signs and to the need to do something about it.
Compared with adults, children often don’t know how to recognise stress or how to cope with and process it. Mindfulness can help children become aware of their feelings and process them safely, releasing emotions so that they don’t build up inside and create long term difficulties. If we have reached a state of chronic stress, these symptoms can be reversed by practising relaxation, meditation and mindful activities. Anxiety activates the sympathetic nervous system, and as such, feelings of worry are often felt in such places as the stomach, chest, and throat. Breathing with visualisation can calm the nervous system and begin to kick a child’s logical brain back into gear.
Some perceived threats experienced by children and teenagers include:
- Listening to parents arguing
- Falling out with friends
- Being bullied
- Struggling with schoolwork or homework
- Hearing about money issues from adults
- Listening to the news
- Not being able to sleep
- Being scared of the dark
- Sibling rivalry
- Being abandoned – fear of something happening to parents
- No one to play with
Children of all ages, may find it difficult to recognise and verbalise when they are experiencing stress. For children, stress can manifest itself through changes in behaviour. Some of those behavioural symptoms may include:
- irritability or moodiness
- withdrawing from activities that used to give them pleasure
- clinging; being unwilling to let parents out of sight
- aggressive behaviour – quickly getting angry or irritable e and being out of control during outbursts
- regression to earlier behaviours (ie thumb-sucking or bed-wetting)
- school refusal
- unwillingness to participate in family or school activities
- finding it hard to concentrate
- not sleeping or waking in the night with bad dreams
- complaint of tummy aches or feeling unwell
- constantly worrying or having negative thoughts
It is normal for children to worry about things from time to time – our worry response is there to protect us from harm. Anxiety is a feeling of unease, such as worry or fear – it’s an understandable reaction in children to change or a stressful event.
However, sometimes it can become overactive and create crippling levels of anxiety that start to pervade everyday activities and make life extremely difficult and unbearable for the child concerned. For children, an anxiety or worry may start about something quite small, but if left to fester, may develop or grow into a HUGE worry that shapes every thought and feeling and behaviour they display.
Anxiety can be a very scary experience which can lead to feelings of embarrassment, shame or even increased panic as they may not be old enough or have the skills to recognise why they’re feeling this way.
Which is why we need to help them with ways to reduce the anxiety and allow them to get back in touch with their feelings and develop their own ways of managing worries when they happen before they get too big and out of control.
Over 30 years ago, Jon Kabat-Zinn, developed a therapeutic meditation practice known as Mindful Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). Defining mindfulness simply as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally.
Mindfulness is a meditation practice that begins with paying attention to breathing in order to focus on the here and now—not what might have been or what you’re worried could be. The ultimate goal is to give you enough distance from disturbing thoughts and emotions to be able to observe them without immediately reacting to them.
In the last few years mindfulness has emerged as a way of treating children and adolescents with conditions ranging from ADHD to anxiety, autism spectrum disorders, depression and stress. And the benefits are proving to be tremendous.
Stress reduction and self-acceptance are two of the major perks of mindfulness, benefits which are particularly important during the drama and turmoil-filled teen years. “Emotional regulation, learning how to quiet one’s mind—those are invaluable skills.” Diana Winston (author of Wide Awake).
If your child feels anxious, the way around the discomfort is straight through it. We must teach our children not to deny, avoid, or squash parts of their emotional experience. Long-term avoidance of emotions can actually spark and perpetuate depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. When we choose not to face our worry, we are left enslaved by our pain. The alternative to avoidance is acknowledgement. Helping children acknowledge his or her anxious feelings instead of shutting them down is not an easy choice. Sometimes it’s easier to just say, “Don’t worry so much. Please trust me, it’ll be fine.” But, by facing our fears and naming them we can overcome them, minimise their power and learn from them – building strength, self awareness and self confidence – critical life skills for dealing with the challenges life may offer along the way. When we teach our kids to bury and push down their emotions the result is often anger and rage.
By helping our children self regulate and understand their emotions we will hopefully be creating a more positive future for them, giving them the opportunity to heal themselves and bring themselves back into balance naturally, mentally and emotionally.