Emotional development in children- try being a mindful model!

The ability to develop emotional self-regulatory capacities begins in the very first few moments of life, and it is all ignited by how a parent responds to their child’s emotions.

Within the early stages of an infant’s life, there exists a process called “scaffolding” which is defined as a parent’s ability to respond to their child's developing emotions.  This process between parent and child, whether supportive or not, eventually results in the parent letting go of the stabilizers and allowing their child to begin their independent exploration of the world, emotions, and relationships with others. All the parent hopes is that they have enabled their child to develop a good awareness and understanding of their emotions, leading them to develop a positive sense of self, and the ability to integrate with others and create reciprocal relationships with them. This can be achieved by the parent reacting effectively and responsively to their child’s emotions and also by modelling positive emotional management and awareness themselves. The important early stages of a child’s life can affect this developmental process of their emotional health, even newborn babies form and purge millions of connections within their brains each day based on what they are observing!

A famous study of Bandura and the bobo dolls illuminated that the way in which children observe an adult emotionally responding to a stimulus impacts upon their own response to it. Although there are arguments that this study lacked ecological validity, meaning ‘true to life’, the children were still, in those following moments after observing the adults hit the bobo doll (a fake blow up doll, don’t worry even in those days it couldn’t be a real person they hit!), copying the adult’s behaviour and responding in an aggressive manner. This, therefore, was indicating that children observe, imitate and copy the behaviours that they see from others. Being aware of this process of emotional development, and its onset from such an early age is very powerful as it can be used to greatly benefit the child, and it is our responsibility as adults to ensure that they develop healthy self-regulatory capacities to deal with all that life throws their way.

So, this is where Mindfulness comes in, ta daaa!! It is such a simple, usable concept which can be easily brought into many every day moments or situations.  Mindfulness doesn’t have to be viewed as something which means an individual must sit down, still, for a certain amount of time each day and meditate, this traditional method is certainly not the way I began to be mindful within my days! (This can also prove to be quite tricky in busy households with children/pets/life/lots going on!) So mindfulness to me is more about a mind-set, it’s not about having to be positive all the time, but being able to acknowledge the negative and not let it have a lasting impact on your emotional wellbeing.  It is also about having the emotional awareness and resilience to sit with certain situations and stresses, and to breathe through them and take a step back, in order to view them in a clearer headed manner making you able to deal with them more effectively.

So, as a parent, if you want your child to develop a healthy sense of emotional resilience to all the various, mounting pressures there are on children each day, model mindful behaviour yourself.  Your child will observe the way you deal with stress, anger, upset, happiness, all of which you have the ability to positively model!  If being mindful, however, is not really your bag, then it is hard to pretend it is, but by reading this hopefully it is something that you will become more aware of.  There are more and more people like myself training in Children and Family Yoga, just as a teacher in a school would train how to teach math’s or science, the same goes for this. I view it as a key element of character education that I feel each child should be exposed to at some point during their life, preferably during pre/primary school age, to allow them to open their minds to this way of thinking.  Also, due to the sheer benefits of yoga on the body, posture, healthy bone development, incorporating this factor feels like a no brainer to me! 

There are a few simple things you can introduce to help yourself be more mindful:

Make sure you take a few moments each day to appreciate something within your surroundings, this could be done on your commute to work while walking to the bus stop or train station, just look around you, see what is there, appreciate the diversity of life.  If you find yourself looking down too much at your phone/work/a book whatever it is, then a simple act like this could help you (and help your posture too YAY! Kill two birds with one stone .. well don’t actually do that please … I am a vegan.)

At home, place a few small dot stickers strategically on a few things and when you see the dot, take a big inhale and exhale just for one moment, then carry on as you were.  This could also help during stressful situations at home either with children, partners, family, etc.. make it the norm within your house that, if stress levels rise, you manage it effectively by taking a moment to breathe and ponder before addressing the situation at hand.

Do at least 10 minutes of yoga each day, either alone or with your child/family.  YouTube has many options to guide you on this.  If 10 minutes is too big an ask, then at least just a few poses to stretch and to connect with your breath.

Book-end every day with a positive, either to just think about or write down.  I write in ‘The five minute journal’ (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18692407-the-five-minute-journal) every day, which really helps me to set intentions for the day, and to think about what was great about each day when tucked up in bed at the end of it.  It also includes daily affirmations and asks you what you need to think about and what you are thankful for.

If its cold, and wet and you get caught in the rain, instead of thinking ‘ugh its cold,  I’m wet, life is dreary, etc..’ you can think ‘I am thankful for my coat for making sure I don’t get soaked, I am thankful for being able to go to work today and earn money etc…’ these thoughts have helped me through many negative thought moments/days.

Be thankful for waking up every day, as not everyone has got the chance to!

I am looking to enrich families lives by guiding them through Family and Children Yoga either on my own (or with others!) retreats, workshops, or as an extra benefit to a families’ holiday.   Please do get in contact if you would like to introduce this amazing practice of yoga and mindfulness to your children and family.  

'Practice, and all is coming'

Jen x

Mindfulness in schools- whats the big deal?

So as an individual, or parent, interested in the education system or child development, it is likely that you may have come across the concept of mindfulness based interventions and how they are having a positive impact on children’s well-being and behaviour in schools.  There are many methods in which schools are employing people externally to run programs, or they are providing training for the teachers themselves to implement mindful methods into the daily teaching schedule.

From my past experience of working with children I was particularly impressed with one organization The Special Yoga Foundation which is based in London.  This is a small charity with big aspirations, and they provide yoga for children and adults with special needs alongside those who don’t have special needs.  I met the founder and course creator, Jyoti, who is an amazing person with big ideas of how she sees the charity developing and spreading the mindfulness based interventions far and wide. Jyoti compiled a training program for teachers which equips them with a variety of tools they can use at a click of a button or with just two minutes to spare.  These include tools such as a 2 minute relaxation within the classroom or a few yoga postures and stretches- see the link to their website here- https://specialyoga.org.uk/. It was exciting talking to her about the program especially due to its focus on making these methods so easily accessible and workable for teachers to integrate into their daily work in schools.

Mindfulness is spreading around schools across the world, and there are a few organisations in America whose successes have been shared widely on social media in recent times.  One of these is a school in Baltimore where they have introduced a ‘mindful moment’ room.  To put this into context, the school is in a highly unsafe area with many vulnerable children who routinely engage in criminal activity and who regularly abscond from school.  As a consequence there are high rates of students with emotional problems causing daily conflicts between students in the school leading to a pattern of low achievement rates.  This was the reality of this school, and being a student there pretty much meant that your prospects for achieving well and integrating well into society were quite bleak.  That was …. until they introduced mindfulness into the school.  Aggression rates in the school have now reduced hugely which has lead to 100% of all suspensions being abolished.  This school’s ‘mindful moment room ’ has served to replace detentions, and by teaching the students that when they feel they can’t concentrate, or they are getting themselves riled up and into trouble, they can go and calm themselves down in a safe quiet space.  Someone is always there to support them and help them with techniques if necessary.

Another school in the USA introduced a ‘calm down beanbag’, which has resulted in young children taking themselves over to it during a class, and taking a minute to breathe slowly and calm themselves down before returning back to their desk and to the task at hand.  Unlike traditional time out methods – the child, in this case, has learned to take control themselves and thus has a feeling of achievemnt.  I find this a very exciting concept, that young children are learning to recognize their emotions and are taking it upon themselves to calm down and breathe for a moment, without being instructed to. This is something that all children need, especially following the Ferrell and Barrett claim in 2007 that ‘numbers of children being diagnosed with anxiety and depression is increasing at an alarming rate’.  So 10 years on from this, the problem remains on a rapid increase, making it evermore important for us all to act now because, should we leave it to fester any longer, the problem will only get worse, and it will affect not only these children and their families, but subsequent generations in the future.

‘Remember, balance is key’

Jen x

 

Self concept- a shift from negative to positive

Mindfulness is something that has really helped me as an individual who spends most of her time, as many of us do, worrying about some insignificant thing that is coming in the future, or might have happened in the past.  Of course, some of these things we need to address as if we don’t, we might make those mistakes again, but many of the things we worry about are things we conjure up in our heads and through thinking about them we exacerbate them to a staggering degree.

Going back to my studies of social psychology, and the psychology of identity and knowing oneself is a good place to start.  I learnt a lot during the time I spent studying for my masters.  We develop a self-concept of ourselves, and are constantly trying to ensure that, in our minds, we are the person who we believe we are. This is an ok concept in isolation, however, when your self-concept is a negative one, this can be a very self-destructive process.

There’s that typical saying ‘we are our harshest critics’.  This is true and very relevant to this point because of the need for our own selves to ensure we are constantly bettering ourselves.  The way to do this is to consistently hone in on the negatives we view within ourselves.  It's almost like trying to hate those things in order to ensure we expel them from our existence and reality.

The way I think of it is that we have two sides of our brain, which are separated simply into the positive and negative brain.  I think that every time we do/say something negative, or have a negative thought this allows a big tick to appear on the negative side of our brain, which tells us 'yes I am that negative, thoughtless, stupid, ugly etc.. person that I always thought I was'. This continues the downward spiral of the existence of a negative self-concept.

But returning to the issue of a negative self-concept, the problem is that we are always trying to better ourselves, which is or is not a healthy process.  We are also telling ourselves that these negative thoughts are within our reality, which then makes them become our reality.

We force ourselves to become our negative self-concept.

So how to overcome this?

Being mindful and aware.  Enjoying the things around you that you won't have noticed before.

Although it might sound a bit airy-fairy and hippy, but, for me, I have never enjoyed the sound of the birds like I do now, or seeing someone help another human being when its not totally necessary…they could always ‘walk by on the other side’ -metaphorically speaking.

Looking out a window of a bus and just observing life go by. The sheer diversity of us all is a beautiful thing

Music is also a massive mindful practice for me.  It’s a great method as it's not always easy to get yourself into the mindful, 'just being in the present' mind-set, but music has helped me a lot to induce the feeling.  If you think in terms of Sound being one of the 5 Elements then this is not at all surprising.

Smiling at things, seeing children making mistakes while they learn.  Smiling at people, looking down and not conversing is not natural to the social beings that we are.  No one is going to hit you or be angry with you for simply acknowledging them and saying hello, it will only make you and them feel better.

Look at someone's face sitting across the tube from you and wonder, what is their story?  I wonder how they are feeling right now or where they are going.  Approach them if you feel comfortable to. If you want to compliment someone or say something nice, don't hold back, even if it is a stranger, what is there to loose? 

Positive thoughts and interactions with others are so easy to come by.  Make them your reality. As the more positive thoughts you have about yourself, the more you will build a positive self-concept, and reverse any prior negative self-concept and identity you may have believed about yourself.

'Positivity breeds positivity'

Jen x