When the lockdown restrictions were first announced back in March and schools closed their doors to students, we couldn’t have predicted that children would finish the school year via virtual learning. Yet they did.
It’s been a big upheaval for many families as they struggle to manage expectations with work and school. Plus, their children’s mental health, as their main form of social interaction had been ripped from underneath them.
Thanks to careful management by Qatar, we have seen lockdown ease, with a set, phased plan to return to “normal” while still managing the risk of a second wave. Yet, as we begin to leave the safety net of staying at home, the ramifications of a long period away from others is beginning to show.
Children are, understandably, both nervous and excited, and with emotions running high, how do you help support them?
According to positivepsychology.com, research suggests that mindfulness has many benefits for children. It can mitigate the effects of bullying, enhance focus, reduce attention problems, improve social skills, and enhance mental health and well-being. These are all things that children could benefit from in this uncertain time. But just how can you help your children practise mindfulness?
The Feeling Wheel
It’s often difficult for younger children to put how they feel into words. Using external tools such as a Feeling Wheel can help as a conversation starter when those emotions are just too big.
A Feeling Wheel is simply a segmented circle with a range of emotions labelled and drawn by your child. These emotions can include: happy, sad, angry, proud, scared, excited, worried, or surprised.
For parents and caregivers, you can use the wheel as you talk to your children about their day, especially as they head back into the school environment. As they talk to you, empathise and speak with them about how they felt during the experience to help them verbalise and process their emotions. Lisa, a mum of two, says this that she goes through this process at the end of the school day. It helps her daughters reconnect with her and helps her understand what they have been doing and feeling all day.
Sometimes, children do not feel comfortable verbalising their emotions and would prefer to express themselves more privately. They often feel safer exploring their thoughts and feelings, knowing that they are the only ones seeing them. Journalling offers a medium for children to really dig deep into what is important to them and also provides a space for reflection.
While your child is just getting started, you can offer prompts to jumpstart their thought and writing process. Questions such as “what makes you happy?” and “what are three things you are grateful for?” are excellent starting points.
Emma, a mum of two, likes to journal both with and without her children. By taking the time to really explore prompts with them, she has found that her children are more empathetic with her as well as each other, while still having the safe space of their journal to not have to share something if they choose not to.
Positive affirmations are statements that can help you challenge and overcome self-sabotaging and negative thoughts. It is believed that repeating them often and believing them can help you make positive changes.
Some schools are now starting to use these, to great effect, with children as young as four. Laura, a mum to three, shares that her middle child’s class were starting the school day with a set of four affirmations. She says that this had a positive effect on all the children and had promoted a positive class atmosphere. Examples of those affirmations included:
“I am unique.”
“I love myself.”
“I love my community.”
“My love can shape the world.”
Affirmations can also have a positive effect on children outside of the school day. Doha-based Merve set up Monkinya, a yoga and mindfulness brand for kids. Merve, through Monkinya, has created colourful affirmations cards containing affirmations specific to children to help them achieve a positive mindset. Two examples of these include “I am talented and creative” and “I sleep peacefully through the night”. These can be a great tool for parents to connect with their children and for children to learn how to speak positively about themselves.
Deep breathing is a well-known technique for keeping calm. Unfortunately, it’s not always as easy to get your child to practise this by telling them “deep breaths”. So, instead, you can help them by having them blow bubbles. Ask your child to focus on taking a slow breath in and exhaling steadily to fill the bubble.
Dayna from Lemon Lime Adventures believes that mindfulness actually comes easily to babies and toddlers. After all, being mindful is being more aware of your surroundings. When young children stop to smell the flowers, they are completely in that moment. But that’s not the case for older children and adults, who often have other things on their mind that take them out of the present.
Therefore, it stands to reason that sensory play—which involves the senses of taste, touch, smell, sight, sound, and physical or emotional movement—helps reconnect children to, once again, living in the moment.
Simple sensory play ideas include: going for a walk and observing what you see, touching a variety of substances and describing the way they feel, using specific objects such as a mindfulness jar (a jar filled with coloured water and slow-moving glitter), or even listening to calming sounds. All of these can help your child.
As previously mentioned, a mindfulness jar (otherwise known as a “calm down jar”) can be beneficial in helping your child focus. It is an effective way to teach children about how their minds work when they are experiencing negative emotions and what they can do to calm down.
Jonathan, a dad to three, helped his middle daughter make a calm down jar when she was feeling anxious. He says that watching the glitter slowly settle to the bottom helped her to calm her negative thoughts and enabled them both to talk through what she was experiencing.
A mindfulness jar is simple to make and requires only four things: a jar, clear glue, warm water, and glitter. Simply fill the jar with clear glue—the more glue you add, the slower the glitter will take to settle—then top with a tablespoon of glitter and warm water. Screw the lid on and shake.
These techniques are really only the tip of the iceberg, and a simple Google search will show you a plethora of mindfulness techniques suitable for children of all ages. There truly is something for everyone!
Whether your child benefits from deep breaths or yoga classes, mindfulness jars or journalling, it is important that we all keep the lines of communication open during this time, as our little ones return to the school environment after a long time away.