You can't give from an empty cup.
I know that this phrase has become a cliché, but I have learned this lesson the hard way with poor mental health. In recent years, I have had two acute periods of anxiety. Both episodes have left me house bound, unable to sleep or eat, vomiting, crying and feeling terrified of life. I am not ashamed to admit that I have suffered. I will talk about it with whomever will listen! I think, in part, talking about it has been important for my healing. I know that I am not alone.
"One in four adults will experience a mental illness at some point each year in the UK. Three in four mental illnesses start in childhood, with 50% of mental health problems in adult life taking root before the age of 15".
MQ, Transforming Mental Health, 2018.
This last statistic worries me. It worries me a lot. I do not want my daughter to suffer with poor mental health. I can't even begin to imagine a child experiencing the same intense feelings that I've suffered. The thought horrifies me. But instead of worrying, I have taken action. This is how I have introduced mindful practices into our home and into our daily rhythm...
We started by reading this book, 'Happy: A Children's Book of Mindfulness' by Melanie Edwards and Katie Hickey. It is a beautiful book. The text is simple, but meaningful, and invites children to engage in mindful practices throughout. Bean didn't need any encouragement to share her thoughts or experiences.The illustrations are warm and comforting, even when talking about difficult emotions.
I'd recommend this book for children from around 2-8 years old, although younger children may still enjoy the illustrations and gentle rhyming text, even if they do not have a full understanding of the content. Discussions can be extended for older children.
This blog post contains affiliate links. If you do click through, Bean and I will receive a small amount of commission which will contribute to new books and resources for her home education. You can, however, find all of these resources elsewhere, including other online retailers, second hand selling pages and your local library.
Shortly after, I began to introduce mindfulness practices. We practice mindfulness daily, and have incorporated it into every aspect of our lives. For example, by taking a moment to sit in silence in the garden together and listen; taking the time to appreciate the taste of our meal, or having a cuddle on the sofa and enjoying simply being together.
After lunch each day, if Bean wishes to, she can choose from one of the following practices, or a combination of them...
Exploring impermanence with the Buddha board
A 'Relax Kids' guided meditation (available on YouTube)
A 'Cosmic Kids' yoga practice (available on YouTube)
In the photograph below you can see Bean making a mandala (top left and right) with the collection of loose parts that I gathered for her birthday. In the bottom photographs, Bean is using our Buddha board to explore impermanence.
What is a mandala?
"Mandalas have their roots in Hinduism and Buddhism. Mandala – Sanskrit for circle – is both a symbol and a ritual. As symbol, mandalas represent harmony, wholeness, and the infinite nature of the universe. As ritual, the mandala helps facilitate meditation. The creation of mandalas requires intense focus, stillness, and attention to the present moment –key components of mindfulness meditation."
You can view the mandala invitations that I have available, by clicking on the photographs below, or by visiting the Reggio Loose Parts shop here.
Our Buddha Board was a gift, and I can appreciate that it may be out of budget for many of you (affiliate link below). A chalkboard, a large piece of slate, or simply a big rock, with a paintbrush and water, will achieve a similar effect.
I've provided links above to two other books that I highly recommend for incorporating mindfulness into your home. 'Sitting Still Like a Frog' by Eline Snel is a book of simple mindfulness exercises for children, with an accompanying CD. 'Nurturing Spirituality in Children' by Peggy J. Jenkins is a book of simple lesson plans to heighten children's spiritual awareness, progressing from 'seedling' (beginner) to 'full bloom' (experienced).
For yoga practice, we enjoy 'Cosmic Kids Yoga' on YouTube. We also use the 'Yoga Pretzels' cards linked below, and the book 'Yoga For You And Your Child' by Mark Singleton. Both are easy to pick up and go with a yoga practice.
Nature Therapy and Exercise
Living in a city, with a minimum of five roads to cross to get to any green spaces, this is something that I have to mindfully timetable in. We have a small garden, and although I've added as many elements as I can to encourage wildlife and opportunities to engage in physical activity outdoors, nothing beats getting out and about into wild places. Thankfully, we have an array of beautiful nature spots within a short drive from our home, and plenty of willing companions.
"Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves"
John Muir, Our National Parks.
At bedtime, when we are snuggled together in Bean's cosy bed, and I feel like the world can't touch us, we have developed the habit of gratitude practice. This has evolved from my own childhood, where we used to share our 'bests and worsts' at the end of our day. I found that playing it in this way, however, Bean tended to want to talk a lot about the 'worsts'. So now, we don't touch on the worsts. We talk about the bad things that happen in our day, as they arise, and in as much detail and depth as is needed to be able to happily move on. At bedtime, we focus on the things that have happened in our day that have brought us joy, things that we feel grateful for and we give thanks. It's a lovely way to end the day.
When Bean was about 4.5 years old, I wanted to support her in sleeping by herself. We co-slept from birth, in a double bed in her bedroom, so there was no issue with transitioning to a new space to sleep. It was at this time that I discovered 'Mighty's Treetop Dreams'. I don't remember who or how we came upon this, but it has been a game changer at bedtime (if it was you, thank you!!) This bedtime meditation for children has become a strong sleep trigger for Bean. After saying goodnight, and finishing our cuddles and kisses, I switch on her CD and she goes off to sleep listening to it, all by herself. You can find it on YouTube (link below).
Do you suffer with poor mental health? Do you practice mindfulness? Have you introduced mindful practices to your children? It's never too late to start and, in my opinion, you can't start soon enough...
With love, Rowan x