With the recent spike of new COVID-19 cases in Victoria, things are started to look ominous again in Australia as many worry about the potential return of lockdown. Although it is easy to get caught up in our own bubble, we should also remember that children are not immune to feeling anxious about the uncertainty of the state of the world. Regular practice of mindfulness exercises is an effective way to help our children to maintain their mental wellbeing during these uncertain times!
In psychology, mindfulness is the idea of bringing our mind to the present moment, instead of being engrossed in the worries of the future or memories of the past. We’d like to suggest some mindfulness exercises for you to try with your kids!
Studies have shown that engaging in a few minutes of controlled deep breathes can be effective in inducing calmness and relieve stress. Breathing mindfully forces a person to slow down and pay attention to their breaths and how their body is reacting. This is a great exercise to practice with your children during times of over-excitement, hyperactivity, anger or anxiety, to help them to regulate their internal states. To make this exercise interesting for your children, you may ask them to pretend to blow up a balloon. Instruct them to breath in through their nostrils slowly, holding the breath in for 3 seconds, before slowly releasing it through their mouth and holding the breath out for another 3 seconds. Repeat this cycle for as long as necessary for and with practice, the time it takes for your child to regulate their internal state should decrease.
Although most people know ‘I Spy’ as a game they’ve played in their childhood, it is also a fantastic grounding exercise to focus children’s attention back on their immediate surroundings. The premise of the game is simple: a player chooses something they can see and states its colour, while another player guesses what the object is. You can also modify this to utilise other senses such as smell, sound, taste or feel. I Spy can be a powerful tool for grounding children during states of distress (i.e. episodes of anxiety, panic attack or dissociation). It requires children to become aware of the present moment and the environment through engaging their senses. It can also be used as a strategy to distract children from uncomfortable affective states such as boredom or stress.
Mindful colouring of a complex pattern has grown in popularity in the past few years, but it is not just a trend! Rather, mindful colouring is another effective grounding technique that can help both adult and children to be present-minded. It requires the individual to concentrate on the filling in intricate details carefully. Another advantage is that not only can mindful colouring keep your children occupied for hours, it’s also an activity that you can join in on! Given its popularity, you can find mindful colouring books in most bookshops and even department stores. There are also many free designs online that you can print out!
Slow-motion race or statue contest
Psychological research tells us that just as our internal states influence our outward actions, our actions can also affect our internal states. Therefore, encouraging children to slow their movements and activities may reduce their level of arousal and calm their ‘engine’. One way to do this may be challenging your child to a ‘slow-motion race’ where the winner is the person who finishes last. You can also bring your child to total stillness by challenging them to a ‘statue contest’ where the first person to move loses the game. These activities are fantastic strategies to get children on board with relaxing their actions as it takes advantage of their competitiveness and provide them with a goal (to win!) for slowing their movements.
Progressive muscle relaxation
A natural response to stress is the subconscious tensing of muscles. If you noticed that you or your child have become physically more tense or tight than usual during these uncertain times, you may benefit from progressive muscle relaxation (PMR). PMR is an exercise in which you gradually relax your entire body section by section. PMR involves flexing and holding the tension for a few seconds in specific muscle groups, before releasing. While this is a fantastic tool for both adult and children to counteract the physical symptoms of stress, it is also a great calming/relaxing exercise in general. There are many videos on YouTube that provide verbal PMR instructions which you and your child can follow along to. Alternatively, the Centre for Clinical Interventions has released a free script that you can read out to your child.
NOTE: if you have an injury or health condition, always consult your GP before attempting PMR!!