During the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, lots of changes have happened within our environments and our working practices. Even though we understand these changes and the reasons for them, they can still be unsettling. Some people may have felt unsupported or overwhelmed; having to adapt in order to protect children and their families from a very real threat. This all takes an emotional toll.
We are very good at using the word resilience, but maybe feel less able to promote resilience on a daily basis. I’m going to give you three simple strategies for feeling more resilient, strategies that can help both adults and children.
Have you found yourself feeling more tired than usual after a day at work? No surprise! Not only are you managing the daily stresses of life, (paying bills, meeting deadlines, tending to family), you also feel under threat by something that is beyond your control. Living in survival mode can leave us feeling exhausted. Stress clouds our ability to think clearly, be present or have perspective.
Giving time for mindful moments throughout the day can help to get you, and the children you support, out of the whirling chatter of the brain (where all the worries live) and into your body, which exists in the present moment. In other words, mindfulness helps you to feel embodied, and in feeling embodied, you will feel more resilient. When you are present, you signal to your body that you’re feeling safe, if this is practiced daily it can give your brain and body a rest from the stress and an opportunity to recalibrate.
Try practicing these exercises for yourself alongside the children, modelling the behaviour for the children will help them to connect with the present moment too.
The pat down
Tell the children that all our worries are like little 'bubbles' on our bodies and to get rid of them we are going to burst each and every one of them!
Use the flats of your hands and pat firmly all over your body. Do not be afraid to pat yourself quite hard. Obviously we do not want any injuries but a good firm pat will stimulate your deeper tissues and really let you know that you are here. You can direct the children “Let’s burst the worry bubbles on this leg, now on our other leg” pat down your body from top to toe.
Once all the worry bubles have burst. Show the children how to wipe them off. Cup your hands around your arms, legs etc and wipe firmly as if cleaning your skin of muck.
This practice really brings you into an awareness of your body. It acts like a self massage and the process of consciously separating yourself from the worries is a great reminder that we are bodies, not worries.
This is a cuddle that everyone can give themselves, it works well at the start of a circle time or when children are lining up to wash their hands.
Simply get them to place one hand under their armpit, and cup their other hand on top of their opposite forearm. Then get them to give themselves a big squeeze, mimicking the feel of a big cuddle.
This exercise generates a comforting feeling of security, as well as embodied presence.
Circle of calm
In this exercise you breathe in slowly and deeply through your nose and then smoothly and steadily out through your mouth, in response to a circle drawn in the air. Have the children watch you for their cue and model what to do.
Extend your arm so that you are drawing a really big circle, breathe in as you draw the upwards arc of the circle and out as you draw the downwards arc. Aim to breathe out for slightly longer than you breathe in.
A nice variation is to start off with a relatively small circle and gradually make it bigger following the rhythm of your breath.
When we control our breathing, it helps to control our heart rate and regulate our autonomic nervous system making us feel calm (even if we are anything but calm!) All of these exercises help to bring you out of your head and into an embodied presence.
When I have facilitated these exercises with teachers and parents on my training days, they have been able to feel a physical difference immediately. Supporting your own wellbeing as well as the wellbeing of the children, is all the more important in strange times like these.
If you are curious to learn more, I offer a range of training sessions and online workshops for teams and individuals.
Katie Rose White is a Laughter Facilitator and founder of ‘The Best Medicine’. She works predominantly with carers, teachers and healthcare professionals - teaching playful strategies for boosting mood, strengthening resilience and improving wellbeing. She provides practical workshops, interactive talks and training days - fusing therapeutic laughter techniques, playful games and activities, and mindfulness-based practices. The techniques are not only designed to equip participants with tools for managing their stress, but can also be used and adapted to the needs of the people that they are supporting.