Keep Calm & Read On

It may surprise parents to learn that toddlers experience stress too. Dr. Becky Baily, author of Conscious Discipline, describes stress as the sense of “not enough-ness” in their language, physical, and cognitive skill areas. Throughout their day, babies have to deal with all the frustrations of their developing selfhood – which is why taking the time to teach them how to relax and be calm is critical to their emotional well-being.

Melody Warnick in Better Homes & Gardens magazine offers “11 Ways to Help Your Child Chill Out.” I have chosen the following five as most relevant to children here in a multicultural society:

Do Relaxing Activities
A recent survey revealed that more than half of seven- to nine-year-olds studied were stressed out. You can’t eliminate all stress but you can help your child manage it in a healthy way. Play in the park, take a yoga class, meditate – any activity that you two can do together to relax.

Make Family Meals a Priority
Studies show that sharing a meal together keeps kids and parents connected and communicative, which in turn makes children more resilient to the negative effects of stress. If dinner is usually a no-go at your house, breakfast or lunch are great alternatives.

Make Sleep a Priority
Experts recommend nine hours of sleep a night for teens but high school seniors generally average less than seven. Work with your child to limit late-night studying, try to enforce an earlier bedtime, and encourage naps if you can tell that your child is worn out.

This is especially important here in Vietnam where I have children as young as three-years-old coming to class after being up until midnight or later.

De-Stress Technique: Deep Breathing
Taking deep, belly-filling breaths sends an all-clear signal to the nervous system that triggers the relaxation response. “The heart beats more slowly, blood pressure comes down, and the muscles release tension,” says Susan Biali, M.D., the author of Live a Life You Love.

How to teach it: Have your child sit or lie down and coach them to breathe in and out of their nose so that their belly fills with air and empties again. For a younger kid, coach them to fill their belly like a balloon as they breathe in and then let the air out as if they’re blowing water from their nose. You can also have them place a hand on their belly and try to move their hand up and down with each breath.

De-Stress Technique: Listening to Music and Yoga
Why it works: Studies have shown that soothing music lowers heart rate, blood pressure, and stress-hormone levels. It can help to create a mellow mood. Yoga can also help counter early childhood pressures. When children learn techniques for self-health, relaxation, and inner fulfillment, they can navigate life’s challenges with a little more ease. Yoga at an early age encourages self-esteem and bodily awareness with a physical activity that’s noncompetitive – improving their concentration and sense of calmness and relaxation. By doing yoga, children exercise, play, connect more deeply with the inner self, and develop an intimate relationship with the natural world that surrounds them.

Shana Meyerson, the founder of Mini Yogis (miniyogis.com), a yoga studio in Southern California that offers classes for kids, believes that yoga builds self-esteem and self-respect. “A child’s yoga practice is a rare opportunity to experience play and focus without worrying about being wrong,” she says.

Lauralynn Goetz, B.A., M.M.Ed. US, is the director of an early childhood education center in Vietnam.

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