We tend to think that stress is something that happens to adults rather than children - after all, what do they have to worry about? The reality is that many young children do suffer from stress; they may not be worrying about whether they can pay the mortgage or juggling work and childcare, but their concerns about dealing with a playground bully, about not getting on with a friend or not being able to understand their school work can be real and upsetting.
Stress is often triggered by being unable to cope with events or demands in life, and children can experience this in a variety of ways:
- Starting nursery, pre-school or school can be stressful. Although some children may just seem to fit in and enjoy it from day one, others will take a while to settle and to feel confident, calm and happy.
- Some children are so busy rushing from one educational opportunity to the next, be it ballet, drama, swimming, music or French, that there is little time to play or relax. If your child doesn't seem to be enjoying classes or structured activities, you may want to think about stopping for a while or cutting down on some of your extra-curricular activities.
- Family arguments can be very upsetting for young children. You and your partner may know that shouting at one another about the washing up isn't going to lead to a divorce, but your child may not. When parents argue a lot in front of young children they can find this very upsetting, and they may assume that rows are more serious than they are.
- Never underestimate how serious playground politics can be to a young child. They have to learn strategies to negotiate and being teased or having friendship problems can sour a child's entire experience of school or nursery.
- Educational stress can start at a surprisingly early age, especially if children feel pressure from their parents or teachers to succeed academically. Later on, SATS tests and eleven plus exams can be particularly stressful for children.
- When there is any other problem or hurdle which the whole family faces, whether it is moving home or dealing with a bereavement or divorce, this can affect a young child as much as it affects the adults in the family.
In some cases, for example with an over-scheduled child, you may be able to do something to relieve the pressure, but teaching your child some simple meditation or relaxation techniques may give him the tools he needs to address stress more effectively for the rest of his life.
Lorraine Murray is a meditation and Reiki teacher who has written a practical book, Calm Kids, aimed at parents who want to teach their children relaxation techniques. Calm Kids is based on her own Teach Children Meditation Programme which she has successfully used in schools. She suggests simple methods to support children using relaxation and meditation techniques, and also includes tips for adults on how to stay calm in difficult situations. You don't need to have any previous experience in meditation yourself in order to be able to use the techniques.
The book aims to give all the information you need to start teaching your children mindful activities with tips on how to work with different age groups. It also includes ideas on how to include mindfulness in everyday activities and there is advice on working with children who have autism or ADHD.
About the author: Lorraine Murray has been practising meditation for fifteen years and teaching meditation classes since 2003. She runs a Teach Children Meditation Programme for adults as well as classes in meditation and reiki at Feel Good Therapies.
Calm Kids is published by Floris Books at £9.99