Like many children in 2020, author Zoe Twitt's five-year-old son struggled to adjust to the Covid-19 pandemic. At the time, his family lived just a block from a hospital in New York City, where sirens blared day and night. The sudden switch to virtual learning, mask wearing, and social isolation caused him to experience anxiety.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “as many as 1 out of 5 children experience a mental disorder in a given year,” including ADHD, anxiety and depression, Tourette syndrome, among others.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) also reported that children experienced increased irritability, sleep disorders, anxiety, and depression since the beginning of the pandemic.
Mindfulness strategies are key to dealing with stress in today’s world. Learning how to address big feelings in the moment can help prevent greater issues from arising. Both kids and their parents can benefit by using mindfulness techniques to become self-aware in stressful situations.
Sara Zandford, MSW, a current resident with Beach Therapy & Consulting completing her hours for licensure, explains that anxiety comes from worrying about future events or something that may have already happened in the past. “We’re kind of everywhere instead of being right in the moment,” she said. “So mindfulness is all about trying to bring us back there.”
Thankfully, there’s no shortage of resources to help us become more mindful here in Hampton Roads. Read on to learn how parents can use imagination and movement to connect with kids in calming ways.
Exploring Common Fears with Stories
“Adelaide and the Cosmic Rescue Squad”
Eventually, Zoe's son and his family relocated to Virginia Beach, where Zoe hoped to find new ways of alleviating the anxieties caused by the pandemic. At bedtime, Zoe would come up with imaginative stories together with her son, exploring the different feelings and outcomes as they went along. Soon after, Zoe was inspired to create the children’s adventure series “Adelaide and the Cosmic Rescue Squad.”
“I’m somebody who’s always been a little bit anxious. Even as a child, I didn’t know what that was,” said Zoe. “I didn’t want other kids to grow up without an understanding of mental health. The earlier we start, the better.”
Throughout the book series, readers follow Adelaide and her friends as they experience scenarios that kids face every day–stage fright, swimming, fear of the dark, and more. Using calming tools like breath focus, visualization, and awareness, Zoe’s characters teach readers how to overcome these challenges and practice these skills in real life.
For example, in the first book, the characters knit their own warm, golden bubble to conquer their fear of the dark. “The golden bubble meditation was one that somebody let me borrow with her permission. It’s supposed to be very grounding and securing,” explained Zoe.
Younger children might not be able to sit still for a full story, so Zoe’s books all come with a QR code for the free audio book, which comes in handy to keep kids engaged while doing other activities as well.
Ultimately, learning healthy ways to manage stress is Zoe’s goal with her books. “We’re only as healthy as our nervous system,” she said, “It’s important for kids to learn how to be mindful and regulate their nervous systems.”
The first two books of Zoe Twitt’s series are available now. To purchase and explore upcoming releases of “Adelaide & the Cosmic Rescue Squad,” visit www.enchantedpress.co.uk
Tips for Modeling Good Behavior
Courtesy Michele Tyron, CHKD Community Outreach Coordinator
Think about the last time your child threw a tantrum. What was your response? Were you stressed out? Angry? Did you discipline the behavior, or did you find a solution together with your child?
Parents and their children can practice calming skills together during everyday moments in order to apply them when it counts, says Michele Tryon, CCLS, Community Outreach and Engagement coordinator with CHKD. When parents are able to see a child’s behavior as communicating a need, they can learn to respond appropriately.
The programs and webinars hosted by CHKD focus on the relationship between parent and child. “It starts with the parent,” said Michele. “We come into our composure, and then we respond to the child’s needs from a place of more rational or higher reasoning. It’s really modeling for our children healthy ways to cope with stress, upset, and conflict.”
Michele explained that parents should consider the impact of their responses to their children’s behavior. For example, if we want children to learn how to handle stressful situations in a healthy way, our response to their stressful behavior should model the same behavior we would like to see from them.
For kids, mindfulness goes beyond the meditation and breath work that adults are often taught. Awareness of their bodies and learning how to name the emotions they are experiencing is the first step in being able to intervene. Sometimes kids can calm down through movement as well, such as snapping fingers, clapping hands, or waving their arms up and down in sync with deep breaths.
“Something that is rhythmic … helps bring them back into regulation, helps bring them back into their body, so they can calm their body down,” said Michele.
Parents can learn more from on-demand programs like “Mindful Moments: Parenting Reset” at CHKD’s website, or join live webinars listed monthly. Be sure to register for “Parenting: Beyond Behaviors” coming up in November at www.chkd.org/classes
Groups for Kids & Teens Support Mental Health
Led by Sara Zandford, MSW, with Beach Therapy & Consulting
Sara Zandford, who helps kids dealing with trauma, anxiety, and stress at Beach Therapy & Consulting, occasionally leads after-school group meetings for kids and teens to learn mindfulness skills. “I’m a big fan of groups,” she said. “There’s a lot of empowerment and validation that comes from knowing you’re not the only one going through this struggle.”
Through these groups, which will likely be available again next spring, Sara discusses hypothetical situations with kids and asks them to identify what is happening with their bodies in these situations. Maybe their heart is beating fast, or their head feels fuzzy. Learning how to recognize and understand anxious responses helps kids know when to practice their calming skills.
Some activities Sara employs with kids include arts and crafts, talking, and playing games. By applying different experiences, kids (and teens) are able to discover what works best to help them process feelings. “I think a lot of it is playing to different kids’ strengths,” Sara said. “We do a lot of grounding exercises, things that they can do not just in group, but also at home.”
There are lots of ways to seek calmness when life feels chaotic, even for the youngest children. Try an infant yoga class, or maybe go out bird watching. The goal is to keep the mind present and focused on the moment. Count cars with your toddler, or ask your preteen what their body is telling them. Imagine cozy blankets keeping you safe together.
Just be present.
Visit Beach Therapy & Consulting’s website to find out when group sessions are back and reserve your spot! Being a patient at the practice is not a requirement for participation.
For mindfulness ideas to experience with children, visit www.mindful.org/mindfulness-for-kids