A blog for parents and carers who’d like their kids to CHILL (t.f.) OUT a bit more (so probably all of you)
Hi. How has the last month been for you? The now distant half term holidays, and these loooong bank holiday weekends? The usual glorious mix of joy, noise, exhaustion and extreme chocolate consumption? Filled with car races, train track engineering, pretending to be Batman, singing the entire Greatest Showman soundtrack, watching many, many, many, many dance performances, diffusing arguments and making endless snacks?
Sounds like you need some quiet time – and that’s what we’re here for. You just sit there and quietly raid the kids chocolate stash (if there is any!) while we talk about feelings. It’s bad for them anyway. (The chocolate, not the feelings.)
With SAT and GCSE season in full swing. This can be a worrying and stressful time. Helping children and teenagers understand these emotions and learn to cope with them is essential for their longterm happiness and mental wellbeing. And even if your little one (or the little ones you care for, if you’re a nanny or childcare provider) isn’t at school yet, it’s never too young to work on understanding and expressing feelings.
If recent government reports are correct*, one in twelve 5-19 year olds are experiencing mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. And that scary statistic only goes up as they grow into teenagers.
So what can we do at this early stage of their lives to equip our children with the tools they need to cope with the stresses of life in years ahead?
I met with Katy Acton from Love Leigh Yoga to find out how children’s yoga and meditation might be one parenting tool we can use to help our little ones develop calm minds and bodies. (And maybe even get them to lie quietly on the floor for a bit. Bonus!)
And she even gave me some brilliant, simple children’s relaxation tips and techniques for our Happy Nest readers to try at home. Read on to find out more.
A little about Katy and her classes
Katy is a qualified psychotherapist as well as a yoga teacher. She’s a firm believer that if you help young people develop skills to manage stress early, this will help them throughout life and may even help them avoid mental health issues in future.
She teaches in Leigh-on-sea, in Essex and has been practicing her yoga since she was 15. Having had children of her own, teaching children seemed like a natural step. And becoming a mum gave her the confidence to dive in and set-up Love Leigh Yoga Kids.
Her classes are story-based, which not only makes them brilliant fun, but engaging and easily accessible for children. And they love it. They get a full workout for body and mind with no pressure attached. They go on sleigh rides and balloon adventures and meet a whole host of characters along the way. And they come out calm and energised.
I’m actually quite put-out that I can’t join in. It’s much more fun than spin class!
How does yoga improve children’s physical and emotional wellbeing?
Children’s yoga helps children to connect to their bodies and recognise emotions. It gently strengthens muscles without putting too much strain on developing bones, using weight-bearing and core strength poses rather than focusing on developing flexibility. And it introduces body awareness and breathing exercises to help with stress management and relaxation.
By following the stories and movements children tune-in to their own body and breath. Copying the actions and feelings of the characters in the story provides an opportunity to express big emotions such as anger or frustration. The children then practise releasing these emotions through breathing techniques and yoga poses.
Children can find it difficult to articulate their emotions – and unexpressed emotions can lead to anxiety and worry. Yoga gives them an alternative way of releasing tension and expressing feelings.
The final relaxation held at the end of each class, is particularly helpful in focusing their minds and experiencing the positive effects that being calm has on our wellbeing.
What other skills will children learn?
Katy’s classes aim to provide a fun introduction to yoga, which gives children confidence and skills they can use throughout their lives.
Here are a few of its many benefits:
- It helps develop focus, memory, attention-span and concentration. This is beneficial for all children but can be particularly helpful with children who have attention disorders.
- Children practise listening skills by following instructions and being asked to identify specific sounds in the stories.
- It introduces the concept of mindfulness by learning to tune-in and focus on their individual senses like hearing.
- Learning guided meditation as a way of relaxing. This is a coping technique that can help with stress throughout life.
- Learning to trust themselves and develop healthy coping mechanisms. Connecting to their body teaches children that they have the resources within themselves to cope with worries, anxiety or stresses. This helps them to develop a trust in their own body and build faith in themselves. If they develop their coping skills and build self-esteem when they are young, they are less likely to be drawn towards unhealthy ways of coping with stress when they get older.
- Helps children understand and express big emotions. Story-based children’s yoga helps children to recognise and understand big emotions via the characters in the story and how they express them.
- Use coping mechanisms for dealing with stress or anxiety – Katy draws from her background in psychotherapy to create lesson plans that focus on particular issues (like not sleeping or feeling frustrated) and introduces yoga postures and breathing techniques for overcoming these through stories and imagination. The children can then take these practical coping mechanisms away to use in their own lives whenever they need them.
And the most wonderful thing about Katy’s classes it that they’re always positive and inclusive. There’s no competitive element or judgement about abilities. Children are never told that they are ‘doing it wrong’. So they leave feeling like they are achieving, which is a massive boost to their confidence and self-esteem.
Things to try at home
Emotions can be a tricky subject for children. They’re still learning what each one means and aren’t always able to tell us what might be worrying or upsetting them because they may not know themselves. Calming an anxious or frustrated child can take a lot of patience and a little creativity. But if we can teach them the skills they need to do it for themselves, it’s a gift for life.
Here are a few of Katy’s a tips and simple relaxation techniques to try at home.
- To help children understand different emotions – ask how they’re feeling and help them to name their feelings. It’s important not to label feelings as good and bad, they’re all just part of being human.
- When feeling angry or frustrated – teach children to walk away, count to ten or take three big deep breaths.
- When they’re worried or anxious – help calm things down by asking them to breath in through the nose for a count of four, hold for a count of two, then exhale for a count of six or eight (whatever feels more comfortable). Lengthening the exhalation in the breath relaxes the whole body and calms the body’s fight-or-flight response by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system.
- To help relieve stress – ask the child to breath in through their nose and imagine inhaling happiness. Then breath out through their mouth with a loud sigh, releasing any anger, sadness, stress – or anything that might have happened that day that they want to let go of.
- Trouble sleeping? Ask the child to lay on their back, eyes closed with hands on their tummy. Get them to concentrate on feeling their tummy rise like a big balloon as they inhale and then deflate as they exhale.
- To help with anxious situations when you’re out and about – try carrying bubbles with you everywhere and encourage children to blow them when they are feeling anxious. The lengthening of the breath when blowing the bubble wand is a fun way of working with the breath that is easily engaging for children.
Katy’s classes take place at Leigh Community Centre on Saturday mornings at 9:45am. Classes cost £6 and are drop-in, but it’s best to email Katy at email@example.com in advance to guarantee a place. Each class lasts about 30 mins.
Plans are in the works to run even more classes, so keep up with all the latest info via the Love Leigh Yoga Kids instagram feed and get on the waiting list by signing-up on the Love Leigh Yoga Kids website.
Thanks so much to Katy for sharing her yogi wisdom and passion with us. And good luck to everyone who’s little ones will be sitting tests or exams in the next few months. You’ll all smash it!
The Happy Nest Team.
Love Leigh Yoga Kids classes take place on
Saturdays at 9:45am.
Room 3 (upstairs) at Leigh Community Centre,
71-73 Elm Road, Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, SS9 1SP.
Some options for those of you closer to our Leeds office
Many more children’s yoga classes throughout Cheshire & Manchester
Om Yoga Stars @ www.weloveyogachester.co.uk