Is the Anxiety of the Pandemic Affecting Your Kids Sleep?
Is your child keeping you awake at night because of bad dreams? It’s hard to ignore the impact of the global pandemic, especially when so many children are feeling anxious and fearful. Uncertainty and isolation have left kids struggling to sleep at night. Author and meditation advocate, Vanessa Potter wants to share with you some of the techniques that she has found useful for her own family.
While taking part in a ground-breaking meditation experiment at Cambridge University, exploring ten different meditation techniques while neuroscientists recorded her brain activity via EEG (electroencephalography), Vanessa never expected to pass those methods onto her children. Nor that meditation would get her family through a pandemic. However, she found that applying meditation experience to regulate emotional reactivity and improve mental wellbeing brought calm to otherwise turbulent times of homeschooling and isolation.
3 Meditation Techniques To Try
One of the plus sides of lockdown was that we went outside every day, even if just for a short stroll. On the days we made it to the park I would ask my children to sit on a bench for five minutes — and listen. Invariably there were complaints at first (sitting still wasn’t their favourite pastime) but after a minute or so the results were quite surprising. We would hear trains far away or a dog barking nearby. My son delighted when a rat ran out of the bushes and my daughter murmured that she could hear the flutter of a swan’s wings on the lake. Children are naturally inquisitive and listening out for sounds or noticing the waft of a woman’s perfume as she passed by, became an easy exercise.
Mindfulness has many benefits, particularly when it is practised in nature. It pulls us back into the present moment and anchors us into our bodies. We felt less like ‘mobile heads’, and more like whole people again. My children were visibly calmer and softer after this exercise and the walk home was always more peaceful (something I also would point out to them). It offered us all a novel way of having five minutes of ‘time out’ that was fun and enriching. Although what we practiced was a form of mindfulness we didn’t need the formal practice of sitting down with our eyes closed to get the same benefits.
Another meditation that is easy to share with children outside is Sharon Salzberg’s ‘street practice’. This focuses on feeling compassion towards oneself and others. Compassion meditation is sometimes seen as wishy washy or somehow ‘weak’. Some believe that being compassionate might even make them lazy or less successful. This couldn’t be further from the truth as compassion has been shown to increase creativity and problem solving abilities.
I describe this practice in my book, Finding My Right Mind, or you can access my guided version here. Walking to school or the shops I would ask my children to notice how they were feeling. Maybe they felt agitated or playful — it didn’t matter. All they were doing was noticing (and not trying to change) how they felt. As they became more aware of their bodies, I’d ask them to spot people walking by. The idea was to send these strangers kind wishes, without needing anything in return. Silently inside our minds (or whispering quietly) we would send each person good wishes such as, “be safe”, “be happy”, “be well”. My children could choose whatever wishes they wanted, sometimes it was “get home safe” to a cyclist whizzing by or my son might ‘zap’ an elderly man all of his kind wishes in one go, superhero style. This was a fun exercise and my children enjoyed being creative. I would end the exercise by asking them to send kind wishes to themselves, “may I be happy”, “may I be well.” The knock-on effect of this practice was that we all felt a little kinder towards each other afterward, making us more reasonable and cooperative.
Even though my son has always slept well, he has suffered restlessness and difficulty in getting to sleep on occasion. A nightly body scan has helped him relax at bedtime so I created a guided meditation for this. To start, I gently asked him to focus on and relax different parts of his body starting at his feet and working up to the top of his head. By pausing at each muscle group and asking him to tense the muscles up then release them, he experienced both physical and mental relaxation.
It’s Good For You Too
With both of my children, these practices were less about meditating per se, than they were about connecting and spending time with me. The irony was that I was getting the benefits of the practices too. They were shared experiences. I’d started my meditation road-trip as a means to de-stress and improve my own mental wellbeing, but the benefits ended up rippling out into my family too. And we know we all feel better when our kids sleep well.
Vanessa Potter is a meditation advocate and author of Finding My Right Mind: One Woman’s Experiment to put Meditation to the Test (Welbeck Publishing) priced £12.99, available online and from all good bookstores.
During my three-year research study, I realised that that meditating didn’t have to be an isolated experience. When I was learning mindfulness meditation and struggling to find time to practice alone, it was easier to include my children in some simple, fun practices. When I discovered how effective a body scan was at releasing the day’s tension from my limbs, it wasn’t difficult to teach my son these same techniques when he was restless at bedtime. There is an assumption that we have to meditate cross-legged, alone in a room, but including your children in a practice can be a deeply connecting experience that flexes all of your compassion muscles.-Vanessa Potter
BODY SCAN – https://insig.ht/9g2VOwuABfb
COMPASSION STREET PRACTICE – https://insig.ht/71GnlXrdDfb
Let us know if you try any of these techniques with your children and how they work out for you. We’d love to know if they help you get a better night’s rest