Life

Practical sress-busting for children: How to help kids create a self-care toolkit

Day-to-day living can be full of pressures and challenges for children as well as grown-ups but putting pen to paper is one way of helping to manage the stresses of modern life, says Claire Spreadbury

We teach children about healthy eating, exercise and road safety but we need to better empower them to best deal with mental and emotional health

IN A world that's teeming with busyness, on top of the pressure to react instantly to friends on group messages, FaceTime and social media, being a child can seem pretty tough.

Thankfully, alongside the crazy lifestyles and innovation, we are all also trying to tune into ourselves a little more. We know it's a good idea to take time out from tech, to enjoy some relaxation, sleep properly and love ourselves as much as we can. And we're passing those messages on to our kids as well. And they're needed.

"The statistics on the prevalence of mental health issues for children are alarming," says Suzy Reading, mum-of-two and author of new mindfulness book Stand Tall Like A Mountain, citing that NHS Digital studies have shown emotional disorders in children are on the increase.

And to create calm within the chaos, she recommends building a self-care toolkit for kids, but what exactly is it? And how do we encourage our little (and not-so-little) ones, to get on board?

:: What is a self-care toolkit?

"A self-care toolkit is a bespoke selection of nourishing practices and skills that help our children navigate challenging emotions and life experiences, boosting wellbeing and resilience," notes Reading, and by 'bespoke', she means that it's most effective when tailored to the needs, preferences and interests of the individual.

"We teach our children about healthy eating, healthy exercise and road safety – we clearly need to broaden that toolkit to address mental and emotional health."

This might sound a bit challenging, but actually, all you need is a book, a brain and a bambino of any age.

:: How to do it:

To create a self-care toolkit, you need to identify times or situations your children find difficult, tricky or unhappy. "It's not about never feeling sad," says Reading. "Feeling sad is a really normal emotion. It's about letting yourself feel it, but doing something that soothes you."

Poppy, my six-year-old, describes her body as feeling 'fast' when she gets stressed. It's often when she's trying to do something like her hair, and is struggling with it, but instead of stopping and asking for help, she feels overwhelmed and gets upset. So, she decided to make a toolkit for when she feels stressed.

Rosie, my nine-year-old, sometimes lays in bed for ages, struggling to get to sleep. She's a bit of a worrier, and has always used the time before she goes to sleep to think over everything that's happened or is bothering her. So, she decided to build a toolkit for bedtime.

Collectively, they agreed they also miss lots of people in their family, as they don't get to see them as much as they'd like. So, they thought they'd make a third toolkit for when they're missing someone, whether that's Mummy and Daddy on a weekend away, Nana up in heaven, or Uncle Ben who lives quite far away.

To make a toolkit, you simply need to write down a list of things you can do when you feel stressed/can't sleep/miss someone – or whatever it is that's a worry. By writing it down, it helps you remember what to do, because when any of us experience challenging emotions – especially children – it's almost impossible to think logically about what to do to make yourself feel better.

:: What happened when we made our own toolkits:

My kids were surprisingly up for making self-care toolkits. I thought Poppy would be, because she's able to recognise when she's unhappy and is always keen to do something about it. But my eldest often suspects anything like this might be boring. She does love getting creative though, so armed with a fresh new pad, some stickers, pencils and pens, they set about starting a self-care journal, which would include their chosen toolkits.

:: Poppy's toolkit for stress

Poppy wanted to build a toolkit for when she feels stressed. These are the things she thought would make her feel better:

- Stand up tall

- Do a chicken wing shoulder roll (put your hands on your shoulders, breathe in, roll them around, breathe out and shake it off)

- Shut my eyes and concentrate on breathing slowly

- Do some drawing

- Write a story

- Ask for a hug

- Talk about how I'm feeling

:: Rosie's toolkit for bedtime

Rosie says she's "not always ready to go to sleep", so we decided she could try doing any of these things if she's struggling at bedtime:

- Stretch or do some yoga

- Listen to music

- Dream up the best day ever

- Think about baking and decorating a cake – imagine all the different stages

- Think about happy memories, like a holiday

- Put a toy on my tummy and focus on breathing – pretend your tummy is a balloon which you're trying to blow up slowly, and then let it out.

:: Stand Tall Like a Mountain: Mindfulness And Self-Care For Children And Parents by Suzy Reading is published by Aster, priced £12.99.

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