Five ways to support children's emotional wellbeing

As I write this, we're in the midst of exam season, with Y6 SATs, GCSEs, A levels and university exams. Just as most adults are looking ahead to the summer, many of our children are facing daunting tests and unseen papers that will determine grades that stay with them for life.

Having taught teenagers for eight years, I know how much pressure exams put on our children, alongside the inevitable impact of social media.

I am also sure that change will come with time, and everyone will begin to see how important it is to prioritise emotional wellbeing alongside physical health.

But, until the big societal changes embed themselves, we can all start to make some ripples. We can start to arm our children with easy, fun, accessible tools that will help them to help themselves when life gets challenging.

Here are five simple ways to support children's emotional wellbeing (and your own!).

1. The impact of the breath

Our breath is so powerful - the one constant throughout our entire lives. When we focus on it, we can engage the parasympathetic nervous system and initiate the calming hormone, oxytocin. It's the same for children.

Teaching them early on about the importance of the breath can provide them with a calming tool wherever they are and whatever they're doing. They can begin to notice how their breathing changes in different situations, and how they feel when they're breathing slowly and deeply.

The simplest way is to place their hands in prayer position and open them for the in breath, and bring them back together for the out breath, mimicking the lungs expanding and deflating.

2. The Pause Button

One of my favourite tools to use with children is the 'pause button'. I always ask them if they know about the pause button on the top of their heads, to which most of them look at me bewildered!

The idea of the pause button is to place the hands on the top of the head, to lightly press the imaginary button which provides us with a chance to take stock and reset ourselves. We can take a moment to just notice how we're feeling, which can then lead to some really insightful conversations.

3. Moving

Ask any primary teacher what they do when a class is getting restless and they'll say 'move'. We all know how inextricably linked the mind and body are. The easiest way to ground our mind is to ground our body too.

To bring our attention out of our heads, we can bring our awareness to our bodies. Running, skipping, dancing, stretching, jumping...children love to move. So encouraging movement during particularly challenging times can be incredibly powerful.

4. Creating

Children are naturally mindful and no more so than when they are 'in flow'. When children create, you will see them caught up in their own little worlds. Even as toddlers, it is clear to see them in their naturally joyous state playing or drawing or building.

A simple creative task such as painting or drawing can provide children with a chance to let their imaginations flow. To bring some focus to the task, encourage children to draw what they think of when hear characteristics such as 'strength' or 'friendship' or 'love'.

5. Taking time to just be

As a parent, I know how easy it can be to fill the day with activity after activity, on an endless plight to keep the kids entertained. And it's the same for many adults too - keeping busy for fear of boredom.

But the moments of stillness are the moments when we get to connect. Not just with each other but also ourselves. Whether it be a few moments before bed time, or quietly walking to the shops, or just sitting and noticing. Learning to just 'be' is a moment to switch off and re-charge, and recognise our innate okayness. Guided meditations for children can be wonderful tools to help with this, as well as identifying those times of the idea that are a little bit quieter and making the most of the opportunity to just breathe.

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