Stress has a way of creeping in, silently, slowly and sometimes quite unnoticed until you’re in deep.
School did it for my son. Every day a little more, like water whittling away at a stone. And all the while I had been so busy trying to help him succeed, that it wasn’t until a school photo came home that I realised I had lost my larger-than-life boy quite some time ago. That sad little photo has still not erased itself from my mind, nearly 20 years on.
Childhood stress shows up in many ways:
Insomnia and exhaustion; headaches, tummy aches; halitosis and IBS; anxiety and temper tantrums; clinginess, a lowered immune system; skin problems, as well as drug abuse and self-harming in teenagers.
Left undetected and untreated, it can soon turn into anxiety, depression and other serious mental health problems. One in ten children between the ages of one and 15 in the UK has a mental health disorder.
These figures are unacceptable for a civilised society. We need to wake up and act.
Children need their childhoods back. They need mental and physical breathing space to explore, to dream, time to be curious and to ask questions in order to discover about themselves and the world around them.
As it stands, we frogmarch them from one activity to another, measure their every move, fill every minute of their day without a moment that is not accounted for.
Here are 3 simple ways to start to give them back their childhoods.
1. Inner Space
Start with the simplest and most powerful tool of all. Teach them to breathe in deeply, out more slowly and for slightly longer. Five minutes of this a day can begin to turn the tide. Just how important it is to learn to focus attention is borne out by the Mindfulness in Schools Project. This successful course, founded in 2007, is already being taught in 12 countries. For my son – now in his mid twenties – the clarity that comes from meditation stands for liberation.
2. Metaphorical Space
Give your children privacy back: some time every day when they do not owe anyone accountability for what they are up to. Whether that is internet loafing, mucking about in the garden, with a book or seemingly doing nothing – their brains need a bit of this every day. In our household we call it ‘drifting time’.
3. Physical Space
Experiencing the freedom from constraint that comes from being out in nature and interacting with it, immediately helps children calm down. For millennia people have instinctively known that the combination of fresh oxygen, natural (sun)light, opportunity to stretch your limbs and connectedness to the natural world, help safeguard our sanity. Let us not forget that now!
We must place focus on our children’s mental well-being and help them to build resilience in an increasingly complex and demanding world. It is this support that will allow their natural talents and fervour for life to shine through.
With mental health issues in young people rising, this topic is important to discuss.
Renée van der Vloodt ( M.A. , FHGI ) is a psychotherapist and coach – and has had a private practice for over 20 years, which is now based at the Elysian Centre in Rye, East Sussex.
Renée is the author of the CD Calm the Chaos of the Creative Mind and works with children and adults as a coach and therapist to help them overcome life's challenges and emotional difficulties including stress, burnout, anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anger or addictive behaviour.