School Breathe’s Blog
Today, children are in a near constant state of noise and stimulation with the role technology now plays in our lives. Alongside technology, everything is so fast paced and this of course transfers onto children, leaving very little time for stillness. A recent article published by National Geographic highlighted the important role that silence can play in children’s mental health, acting as a safe pause from external stimuli to allow them to better process their emotions and the world around them.
Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, an education, psychology and neuroscience professor at the University of Southern California says that ‘Children need an opportunity to strategically and safely disengage from a complex social world, step back, assimilate, and build a story of who they are.’ As adults we know how easy it is to distract ourselves from overwhelming emotions, whether we’re consciously aware that we’re doing it or not, and giving ourselves time to listen to our body and mind is crucial when learning how to regulate our nervous systems, recognise physical emotions within the body and, in turn, create greater resilience to stressful situations.
Getting children to engage with silence may sound easier said than done, with one study showing that college students would rather administer a minor electric shock to themselves than sit in complete silence for fifteen minutes; this is all the more reason to create space for children to feel comfortable in silence from a young age. Luckily, the benefits of silence can also be felt by engaging in activities that are mindful and quiet, creating a perfect opportunity for a child to make friends with their breath.
It’s essential that as both children and adults we learn how our breath influences how we feel in our mind and body, if only we get quiet enough to listen to it. Getting a child to really feel into how their breath feels in their body, notice where it’s going and even change where it’s going, will cultivate all the goodness found in silence. When you create awareness in the breath, slow it down and move it into our bellies, you help activate the parasympathetic (rest and digest) branch of your nervous system, slowing down your heart-rate, lowering your cortisol levels and quietening the mind, allowing you to step back from a situation and notice how you feel. Creating this awareness in children will help foster a more regulated nervous system as they grow up and encounter different stresses and stimulus in their environment. The article also notes that regularly relaxing in this way helps activate the brain’s hippocampus, which is crucial for building memories that support decision-making and empathy.
We have several simple breathing exercises that you can practice with your children that can reduce anxiety, help children manage stressful situations, feel calmer and more emotionally regulated. Box Breathing, The Triangle Breath or The Breath Detective exercises offer fantastic opportunities to find quiet, stillness and awareness for a child’s busy mind, all available on our website or check out School Breathe’s You Tube Channel too.