Category Archives: mindfulness

Awe and Wonder

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One of the joys of working with young children is their sense of excitement and wonder with the world, the way they delight at a snail or a dandelion can be delightful to see. This sense of awe and wonder is often lost in adults; we become jaded, worn down by the misery that we hear on the news, this feels especially relevant today on the back of more terrorist attacks.

This morning I walked around the community meadow, this is one of my weekly rituals, each Sunday morning I walk, think and enjoy the early morning stillness. The joy of walking around the same space each week, all year round, is that you notice the changes. This morning it was great to see how high the grass has grown, the recent rain has helped the growth. I also saw the wild orchids had come back. I have seen these orchids growing year after year for the last 23 years that we have lived here, but they still fill me with a sense of awe and wonder when I see them back, each year. By choosing to stop and notice, by engaging with a sense of beauty and awe, I feel this is nourishing and nurturing myself.

In the yearly cycle of nurture work we are now entering the last term, the term when we stop and reflect on what the children have achieved this year, on how far the children and the staff have developed. I love this term as it is an opportunity to spend time reflecting back on how distressed and unhappy the children were in September, to think about the fears we had back then and to recognise the progress that has been made and celebrate that achievement. I see this term as the chance to celebrate the awe and wonder of the children we work with over the year and recognise the change and the difference we have made.

I think as adults we need to be open to noticing the beauty that is around us, that might be in the people who surround us or in our environment.

Where do you find silence?

 

 

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In my work with children and my training, I often explore about how we can help children to have times of stillness and silence. In my recent book Promoting young children’s emotional health and wellbeing, I have a chapter exploring this. Currently, I am writing a book for Jessica Kingsley Publishers about promoting the wellbeing of adults who look after children, and recently I have been reflecting a lot on how as adults we need to have times of silence and stillness. If as practitioners and parents we want to help children to be able to manage a time of silence, then we as adults need to practice this exercise ourselves.

Our lives are often very busy and noisy, particularly when we work with children, we can often encounter a lot of noise each day. How often do we have background noise of TV, radio or music in our homes and sometimes work place, our streets are noisy from increasing traffic, living with and working with children is inevitably noisy. Silence can be difficult for some; it can lead people feeling uncomfortable and awkward, many people seek to fill the silent spaces.

Over the last few years, I have been interested in seeking out silence and reading about silence. Several years ago I was inspired by Sarah Maitland (2009)  A book of silence. Since reading this I actively put rhythms into my life which enable me to be in silence. One of these is my early morning swim each weekday morning, the process of getting up in a silent house, while everyone else is sleeping is very precious, during the swim there is an agreement with the regulars that no one chats, the focus is on the swimming. On a Sunday morning, I walk around the community meadow at the back of our house, this is often at a time when no one else is around. Of course, there is rarely complete silence, on the walk this morning I could hear several different varieties of birds singing and the gentle noise of hot air balloons above me, but the lack of other noises allows me to notice and appreciate the sounds in the meadow.

Research shows that lots of noise can have a negative impact on our mental health, it can lead to high blood pressure and cause people to feel increasingly stressed (Gregoire 2017), in my experience children are also vulnerable to this and can become increasingly agitated with an increase in background noise levels. So my question this morning is when do you encounter times of silence?

Image of the meadow this morning.

Growing

 

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These last few weeks I have been growing plants with children, we planted cress faces and planted peas in pots. I love the activity of growing plants with children,  it is hugely sensory and the children I work with need many sensory experiences to help them feel calm and in touch with their feeling and emotions. Also, there is something very beautiful about seeing a child who can find life and school challenging to be supported to nurture and grow something; it can give them a massive sense of achievement. As I went back into school this week all the children were excitedly showing me the peas that had started growing ( the cress worked less well!). The children were all taking such pride in watering and checking on their plant each day. There is the risk the plants won’t grow; we discovered cress doesn’t survive the weekend without being watered, but the staff and I were able to support the children to understand this and think about what we could try differently. The activity of growing something with children is an excellent way to help them with their wellbeing. It gives them sensory experiences; we can use lots of emotion language while doing it, we can talk about the importance of being cared for and tell children ‘ my job is to care for you and together we are gong to care for this plant’.

I know many great examples of nurseries and schools who have gardens that children help to tend and look after, RHS have a schools project with ideas and suggestion on how your school or nursery can set up a garden. Many of the children I work with can find school work hard and a challenge. However they often respond very well to being outside and gardening, if they have support in taking responsibility for some of the growing they can often thrive and develop in this role and take real pride in what they have done. I wrote a blog piece about being outside last week and the research showing how good this is for our wellbeing and children’s wellbeing. Gardening is also recognised as an excellent activity for wellbeing; the charity Mind has many gardening projects across the country set up to help people’s mental health. I know for myself Gardening is one activity that helps me to feel calm, I find gardening a very mindful activity, I become totally focussed on the activity, and it allows me to switch off from everything else. I think this is the same for many children who are stressed and anxious.

This weekend I plan to spend lots of time in my garden and greenhouse.

Helping children to find stillness

 

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This is a blog piece that I wrote recently for Childcare Expo , it links to a chapter in my new book Promoting Young Children’s Emotional health and Wellbeing 

Our lives are very busy, and our children’s lives are often busy also, as adults we know that we need to find times of stillness and relaxation, to enhance our well-being but how often do we think about helping our children to find stillness?.

Several years ago I was on a study trip to a kindergarten in Denmark; the children had spent half the day in the woods, exploring and discovering. Later, back in the nursery garden, I noticed one girl lying on her back on a wooden water trough, she was gazing at the blue sky for around 30 minutes, this girl was in her space, she had found a moment of stillness. The image stayed with me as I came back to the UK, I started to question what opportunity we give to children and ourselves to find stillness. I spoke with colleagues, and often I was told that children ‘ don’t do stillness,’ some staff said to me of quiet areas they had in their setting, but often acknowledged these didn’t work as intended. I knew from my experience of being a parent that it was possible to help children experience stillness.

In one of my current roles, I work as a nurture consultant, supporting four-year-olds who are finding the transition into school difficult. An essential element of this role is supporting staff to help the children find times of stillness and calm daily; this is relevant for all the children. Some examples we use are:
Create a space in the classroom/nursery/ outdoors which is a safe, quiet area- you could use a tent, a den, have cushions, blankets inside this space, make it cosy. Explain to the children this is the space they can use when they would like some quiet time, time to be calmer and relax.
Make a sensory bottle ( Look at pinterest for instructions), or use a snow globe. These are excellent to use with children who are feeling agitated or anxious. Acknowledge how they are feeling, shake the globe or bottle and together watch the glitter solution as it begins to slow down; at the same time get them to put their hands on their tummy’s and notice their breathing, helping them to be calmer.

Use Mindfulness and Yoga with children; there are some excellent resources for teaching young children mindfulness and Yoga, examples to look at are:

The Mindful Child (2010) by Susan Kaiser-Greenland
My Daddy is a Pretzel: Yoga for Parents and Kids (2012) by Baron Baptise

Using stories to help children find stillness- A collection of stories called Relax Kids by Marneta Viegas. They have a short meditation at the end to help children find stillness and calmness

Helping children learn how to find some stillness and calmness is an essential part of enhancing their well-being.

Five simple ideas for taking care of ourselves

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My focus this week in the nurture work has been making calming jars with children, to help them find some calmness when they are stressed, anxious and agitated. These are great to make, to find instructions look on Pinterest. I have also been having an ongoing conversation with staff about dealing with stress and anxiety in themselves.

Next week I am delivering some training to a team who are about to go through major changes with redeployment and having to reapply for jobs. The training is not based on change but I feel this needs acknowledging, so I will be starting the session doing some work on thinking about their wellbeing. For part of this, I have written a simple guidelines sheet, which I am also going to share with the teachers I work with. The idea of the sheet is to give some simple thoughts around what we can do to take care of ourselves when we are feeling very stressed/ anxious/ worried.

The ideas are below:
Five simple ideas for taking care of ourselves
1. Be kind in words you use to yourself– acknowledge the feeling of stress/ finding the situation difficult – say kind words to yourself, e.g., ‘ It’s ok to find this hard,’ ‘It’s ok to feel stressed about this,’ ‘ I can get through this.’
2. Breathing If you are aware that you are becoming very anxious, fraught or stressed- take a moment to notice what your breath is doing- use 7/11 breathing or finger breathing
7/11 breathing
For this you need to ensure you are breathing from your diaphragm, this is about deep breathing, not breathing from your chest, which is what we often do when we are stressed. You know you are breathing from deep in your body if your stomach is pushing out.

Breathe in for a count of 7
Breathe out for a count of 11

The important part of this is to ensure your breathing out for longer than you breathe in. If you can’t manage 7/11 try 5/7 or 3/5.

Repeat this exercise for several minutes. It will slow breathing, the longer breaths out slow your heart rate and decrease your blood pressure. The deep breathing exercise triggers our Parasympathetic Nervous system, which is opposite to the Sympathetic nervous system which is the fight and flight

Finger Breathing

Hold one hand in front of you, as you breathe in trace the outline of your hand with your index finger, e.g., follow your index finger up your thumb as you breathe in and as you breathe out bring your finger down the thumb, repeat this for each finger.
3.Get outside If you can take a short walk outside, get some air, step outside, notice and enjoy some nature. Recent research has shown the benefits being outside has to our mental wellbeing

4. Do something which makes you happy / helps you to feel good. This doesn’t have to take lots of time; it can be something simple e.g. spend half an hour reading a book or listening to music, take a warm bath, watch a film, go swimming or for a run, plant some seeds.
5. Eat some good food when we are tired and stressed we often forget to eat well. Make sure today you eat something good, food that makes you smile, this maybe a bowl of soup or a curry or variety of fruit or a fish finger sandwich!. The important thing is to give some thought to what food will help you today. The act of feeding yourself, of giving thought to what you are eating and how it will help you is an essential nurturing practice we can all do.

How do you deal with stress?

 

 

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This week many of my conversations have been with staff about how they deal with stress. Stress is a word we all talk about, we know it can have a massive impact on our bodies, but as educators/ care givers we are not always very good at stopping and noticing what it is doing to us, what impact it is having. Sometimes we don’t notice until it reaches crisis point.

In one school this week we had a staff meeting, with all the staff in the classroom. We talked openly together about how stressed they were feeling, what this was doing to their bodies and their minds. The staff recognised there were moments when they were feeling overwhelmed and panicked. One tool I shared with them was 7/11 breathing, this is a simple tool to use when you are feeling anxious, stressed, in a panic. 7/11 breathing won’t solve the issues, but it will enable you to take a moment to focus on your breath, a time to slow down your breathing and help to calm your anxiety.

7/11 breathing
For this you need to ensure you are breathing from your diaphragm, this is about deep breathing, not breathing from your chest, which is what we often do when we are stressed. You know you are breathing from deep in your body if your stomach is pushing out.

Breathe in for a count of 7

Breathe out for a count of 11

The important part of this is to ensure your breathing out for longer than you breathe in. If you can’t manage 7/11 try 5/7 or 3/5.

Repeat this exercise for several minutes. It will slow breathing, the longer breaths out slow your heart rate and decrease your blood pressure. The deep breathing exercise triggers our Parasympathetic Nervous system, which is opposite to the Sympathetic nervous system which is the fight and flight. If you would like to know more about this, the Human Givens blog explains this in more detail.
One of the statements I remind staff of all the time is that we need to be kind to ourselves. Using the 7/11 breathing technique, recognising the impact that stress is having on you is one small but important step towards being kind to yourself.

Enjoying the moment and practicing gratitude.

 

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At times life can feel busy, fraught as if things are happening and I get caught in them rather than actively taking part in them. During this month I have been trying hard to feel present, to enjoy the moments and to practice gratitude. I have started a journal this year, a journal to write down the things I am feeling grateful for. This practice of gratitude helps me to see the good moments, even in a day which has felt very hard. This last week has had some wonderful moments to be grateful for, a walk in beautiful sunshine with my daughter, excellent feedback on Mummy’s Got Bipolar book, children joyfully engaging in an activity, attending a protest march, watching beautiful sunrises as I arrive back from my daily swim

This last week it has felt particularly important to be grateful for the life I have and the opportunities I have. Last Sunday we spent time with a close friend who is dying of cancer, the conversations were around the time she has left, the things she wants to do, her regrets about what she hasn’t done but also the joy of the life she has had. These conversations brought to the front of my mind the importance of enjoying the here and the now, the importance of embracing and loving the life I have. I am also aware as a woman in the UK I am so fortunate; I run my own business, I have the freedom to be creative and try new things, I feel safe in the area that I live and in the job that I choose to do. I don’t agree with the politics of the leaders of my country, but at least I am not hearing that our Prime Minister is advocating the groping of women and the verbal mockery of disabled people. For this reason, I took part in the women’s march in Bristol  yesterday, to celebrate the fact that I am free to protest, I am a strong, healthy and able woman who can have her voice heard and I can speak out against injustices.

This poster from yesterday felt like words of truth for me, I am grateful that I am a strong woman, that I am surrounded by strong women who are my friends and that I have raised two strong daughters. For these things, I am very grateful.