Mindfulness and hypnotherapy for children
Mindfulness techniques and mental health are being discussed a lot in the media, especially for children following the last 18 months. My passion is to help clients make positive changes to their lives and I know many other hypnotherapists share this passion! This could be a habit or a self-sabotaging behaviour, or it could be simply to aid relaxation and help with techniques to manage anxiety and/or stress.
I wholeheartedly believe that humans are amazing and we all deserve to reach our true potential and not be held back by the limiting beliefs many of us have had since childhood. Can a combination of mindfulness and hypnotherapy give children a toolkit to regulate their emotions and live a happy, fulfilled life allowing them to say ‘Yes’ to new experiences, wholeheartedly living life to the full?
Just look at the last 18 months. Did any of us expect to face the Covid-19 pandemic and be forced to deal with all of the difficulties, trauma, and in some cases loss that it has brought to us? Parents', teachers, carers and children's lives have changed nearly overnight, meaning their life scaffolding has felt many wobbles and strains.
With mental health being on many of our minds, now could not be a better time to learn simple techniques and give yourself and your children mindfulness tools for life.
Studies have shown that practising mindfulness can help children to regulate emotions and keep their stress bucket empty or at least running low. This, in turn, can aid concentration and focus, sleep quality, and support mental resilience – to name just a few. There is also growing evidence that the practice of mindfulness in children allows them to focus on their own inner selves, noticing feelings, emotions, strengths, and the ability to experience this moment – right now!
This got me thinking about introducing mindfulness to children from a young age, to look after their own mental health just as we take them to sports clubs to practise skills. However, it is one thing knowing that mindfulness can be useful for children, and a whole different thing knowing the best way to help a child learn the techniques in an engaging and effective way.
How to help children learn mindfulness
I have met and researched many inspirational authors and therapists during my research and practice who all have different ideas for this. Out of all of them, though, one sticks out for me: Milton Erickson.
Erickson was an American Doctor of psychiatric medicine who moved away from traditional methods and adapted all he had learned alongside hypnosis including his own experience of childhood illness. He explains that nearly all his patients would respond to stories and metaphors both under hypnosis or not, demonstrating the power of storytelling and observing a client’s body language.
I believe that children are our most valuable gift and giving them a mindfulness toolkit has become a real passion and is when I come alive. As a parent, I want to help my children have the tools to help them process, regulate and understand their feelings to be able to live a happy, healthy, and full life.
This means being able to cope with trauma however big or small it seems. For example, a first boyfriend break-up, a death in the family, exam pressure, dealing with the school bully, and conquering themselves as their own worst critic. Wiring the brain from an early age, so both mind and body work together as a team in harmony, having their own awareness!
What is also important to keep in mind, is that mindfulness is not just one technique or practice and what works for one person, may not work for another. It is, therefore, really important to develop a mindfulness toolkit of different techniques and learn which ones work best for you and your loved ones for different situations.
Practice makes perfect, they say. So, introducing these techniques to children before we meet a trauma and after we have used hypnosis (to help process a trauma) can give tools that are ready to use any time, maintaining our sturdy scaffolding base into the future and beyond.
Building a mindfulness toolkit for children
Stories can be a great way to introduce mindfulness techniques. They can be used at any time of day and whenever a particular technique is required. For example, bedtime could be a great time to introduce mindfulness to children, or maybe first thing in the morning to start the day. Do whatever suits you and your child.
The more you practice, the more natural and automatic they will become. Furthermore, while stories are the means to explain the techniques, once learned, they can be used in many situations outside of your home.
With practice, your child will become their own expert and be able to access the skills when they require them. Hypnosis aids relaxation and offers a means to focus on breathing, relaxing your body and maintaining a low-level stress bucket moving forwards.
Below are some of my preferred mindfulness and therapy techniques. These can help you to build a mindfulness toolkit that works best for your family:
Do a short body scan meditation before bed. This teaches the child to focus on their internal state and can aid relaxation of all their muscles visiting each in turn.
"The wave of relaxation relaxes your arms, hands and very tips of your fingers" or maybe "The magic fairy dust dances around each body part to send you off to sleep."
2. Breathing buddy and breathing
Breathing can be hard for a young child to solely focus upon, so using a breathing buddy alongside an instruction to pay attention to their breathing can help to introduce mindfulness breathing. A 'breathing buddy/teddy' can be used at bedtime or anytime during the child's day.
The child takes a stuffed animal/cuddly toy (it can be their favourite cuddly toy or a worry bear), and then lies down on their back with their buddy/cuddly toy on their belly. The child focuses their attention on the rise and fall of the cuddly toy as they breathe in and out. This can take less than two minutes to complete and is an easy practice to implement either as part of a routine or as needed.
3. Mindful walks and flower in your hand method
A 'noticing mindfulness walk'. You can walk through a local park or on the beach and notice things you have not seen before. You can choose a time that suits you and your child by pencilling in one minute of the walk where you become completely quiet and simply pay attention to all the sounds you can hear.
For example, waves, dogs barking, frogs croaking, woodpeckers, a lawnmower, any sounds. You can add to this mindfulness by counting birds and, at the same time, rubbing the palm of your hands together. Maybe counting 10 birds or pebbles on the beach.
The great thing about this technique is that it can also be imagined. It can help to aid the child to deal with daily issues they face by first thinking of the event and then doing the mindfulness walk in their mind. This could also be a special or safe place you can create, such as a beach, a garden, or any imaginary place.
4. Owl/superhero senses
This technique can be changed for your child to select their favourite superhero or super animal. What super senses do they have? What can they hear? What can they smell? What can they see? Can they use their super senses to overcome an issue?
The superhero meditations or super animals senses meditation teaches children to activate their 'owl senses' and their ability to focus on all that they can smell, taste, and hear in the present moment. It can help to build awareness of their environment.
5. Tapping (TFT)
Karate chop, anxiety, and worry sequence to help emotions felt by the child. These are sequences that can be used in the moment or after a worrying event such as losing your homework diary. A simple karate chop can be effective as a reset button.
6. Brain tree characters
To help feeling awareness and aid self-regulation. Another great and simple technique is to introduce your child to checking their personal weather report. The child can sit still like a frog, and then notice what the weather is and how this links to their own emotions. For example, they may notice it is super sunny, dark, rainy, stormy, calm or windy.
This exercise allows children to observe their present state without openly identifying with their emotions. The child cannot change the weather outside, and we cannot always change our emotions in the heat of a moment and that is OK.
We all have emotions and all we can change is how we relate to them, let them out, or release them. For example, a child may notice it is stormy outside, but I am not myself the scary storm; I am not a scared frog, but I can notice that sometimes I have this huge, scared feeling in my tummy.
Alongside hypnosis and the gift of stories, mindfulness can be used to aid relaxation and help to regulate children’s emotions and build resilience. There are a huge variety of techniques that help children to engage with mindfulness and build a toolkit for life.
If you’ve found this article helpful, you might like my new book, Eny Greenie: The Water Witch. Short Stories for Introducing Mindfulness. This collection contains an incredible selection of mindfulness and therapy techniques, written within a beautiful fairy-tale setting, to help your child’s imagination come alive. You can purchase it at Amazon.
For more information, visit Hypno4Children to find out more about the Hypno4Children programme, which uses many of the above techniques.