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It’s an Anxious World Out There, How Can We Help Our Kids

My husband often tells a funny story about the moment he realized his Dad was not in control of the Universe. They were traveling internationally and had just landed in a foreign airport when a connecting flight was canceled. Of course, he and his little brother, about 12 and 10, didn’t know this. All they knew was that their father, a retired army Colonel who had never lost his cool, was suddenly running back and forth down the corridor reading various tv screens and flagging down airline employees. As the boys watched him worriedly mutter to their mother with his hand on his forehead, they knew not to interrupt. “What’s going on?” His brother asked him, baffled. Just as completely and utterly baffled, Matt answered,

“I don’t think Dad knows.”

As a parent that story both thrills and terrifies me. And makes me laugh. We really do wield an amazing illusory power over our kids’ sense of security when they’re young. On some level, yes, we’ve got them. But on a greater one, we know we’re completely full of it and it’s just a matter of time before they realize we are not in control of much. At all. 

I think for most of us as kids, the time around that realization is the same period of time we become susceptible to anxiety. Thoughts and worries over that which we can not control begin. Anxiety Disorder sets in when we get addicted to that excessive thought and worry. Irrationally, if we worry enough about something, we can control it. Right? … Right?

Of course not! But our monkey minds do it anyway. And inevitably pass it on to our children. And over the last 20 months, well, talk about an epidemic.

We live in a world of abundance. Beautiful, confusing, too-many-choices, bigger is better, and more is the answer. Technology everywhere combined with a work-obsessed, “doing” obsessed culture has us busier than ever. We can literally be in two places at once now (In fact, we do it daily here at the studio through our virtual classes). The vibe is that you either keep up, or get left behind. 

All this abundance should make things easier – and in many ways it does! We are able to video chat with friends and relatives anywhere on Earth, we never have to cook dinner if we really don’t want to, and – I’ve learned (through observation only, I swear) – you can pay someone to do JUST about anything you don’t want to.

But there’s a downtick – we all feel it. It really is all a bit too much if you don’t protect yourself and remember to simplify where you can. Anxiety and anxiety disorders are rampant. We have all experienced it. But that’s the struggle – you either keep up the pace or it seems you may lose something. Miss out on something. So we continue at warp burnout speed. And inevitably, there’s a trickle-down effect on our kids.

As a parent to a third and fifth-grader, I will be the first to say, my kids are overscheduled with sports and social plans, often overloaded with wild amounts of homework and extra-curricular randoms like the Flute and are – sometimes – stressed out. 

Now, in addition to being back at full speed after the shutdown of 2020, many are left with the trauma of lockdown. And COVID’s continued existence has added even more stress to the lives of many families with new fears around health and safety. How could it not? NONE of us saw that coming, in all our worrying!

Believe me, I do hope that love, yoga and intuition eventually help us collectively strip away what doesn’t serve us and deliver us to calm, peaceful waters. Inner peace. World peace. I believe it and I know we are all working on it – especially here at Balance! But let’s get real. It’s not happening tomorrow. So this is our world. COVID-19 and all. 

The question I start with as a parent is where can I simplify? Where can I take over? Take something off their plate? Even if it’s a choice. It’s not really in the nature of kids to multi-task or choose one of five (albeit appealing) options. Generally, children want to be led and instructed – and when they push back on that… that’s normal too. It doesn’t mean strong boundaries don’t make them feel safe in the bigger picture. I think sometimes we give in too easily and ask too specifically how they’d like things, not realizing that giving options can feel like a parent is looking to them for guidance instead of the other way around. When anxiety presents, take over. Take them out of the driver’s seat.

We are often asked at the Studio by parents, what tools they can take away to help their children at home struggling with anxiety – which is what prompted this blog post.

Of course, we have our amazing Young Yogis program for kids 8-13 taught by Marina Gustafson (highly, personally recommended!) and we are so grateful to introduce kids to yoga for their toolbox so young!  If this resonates with you, click on the link below.

Otherwise, though, we are a fitness and yoga studio for adults. We work on adults the adult way; getting out extra energy through movement and sweat. Strengthening our muscles to help empty our brains. Kids are different.

So what else can we do to help them out, outside of yoga class? Need some preventative tactics or ways to intervene in an anxious moment. The answer, thankfully, is LOTS.

Self-Care Toolbox for Kids 

*The Five Senses. Want to get a child “mindful”? Get outside and engage their senses – even (especially!) in the cold and the snow. Children are still living in a sensory world and connect effortlessly. Get some fresh air – take a hike in World’s End and rip up Sweetgrass, have them smell it in their hands. Roll down a hill! Walk barefoot on the beach and listen to the ocean. Run sand through their hands like an hourglass. Clank rocks together. It’s just that easy. Poof. They’re present (in fact, try it yourself sometime).

*Pets. If you don’t have one, get one. Patting, holding and caring for an animal is so therapeutic for children. It totally takes them out of themselves and delivers them to a state of love and sensory bliss where they are also in control. When my son is anxious, he snuggles up with our dog and smells her fur, rubs his face on her ears and squeezes her paws (and she is there for it). It changes his whole mood. In fact, as soon as my kids walk in the door from school I direct them right over to the dog as I say hello. “She’s been so lonely and missed you all day! Go give her a pat!” I know how it decompresses them and shifts their energies into a more gentle mode. 

*Spirituality. If you’ve got it, share it. I believe it can be found and held in so many different traditional and non-traditional ways from church to nature. Never underestimate that children believe in magic. I know it greatly helps me to feel held by the Universe in my way and to know that there is more. I believe it helps them too.

*Meditation for kids. One benefit of our everything-at-your-fingertips world, all you need is a phone to download an array of meditation apps designed for kids of all ages. Find one you like and engage them at bedtime or in the morning as part of their routine. Too many screens? Guide them on a meditation of your own! Have them close their eyes while you invent a quiet, peaceful story (starring them of course) and ask them to visualize along. Poof! They’re meditating. 

*Essential oils. Another holistic tool I know many parents use and believe to be magic. You can engage their sense of smell for sneaky aromatherapy by diffusing calming oils like lavender, lemon or chamomile in their bedroom or around the house – or rub them right onto the souls of their feet (diluted depending on age). For ADHD-like energy, wood oils like Sandalwood, Cedarwood or Pine can be hugely grounding.. 

*Be mindful of their experience. Put yourself in their shoes. Try and remember to respect their energy levels and give them breaks, even mental health days, when they need. Skip a practice or even homework if it becomes too stressful. I find their coaches and teachers always understand when I email to explain. Kids just don’t know their breaking points yet; it’s our job as parents to guard them from getting too close.

*YOU. And most importantly. Seriously. You, the parent, have to be okay. First. Remember that your own self-care is not selfish. If you are chronically stressed out, it’s inevitable your kids will first pick up on it, then pick it up. This is why we at Balance are here. To make sure you have a community where you can take an hour out for body, mind and soul. From Kundalini Kriya to Hot II/III Vinyasa to Yin yoga- whatever your flavor. Your children will learn to prioritize what you prioritize for yourself. So show them how to love and come back to yourself through your practices – the ones they’re not quite ready for yet.

And when you come back in the door, dewey and empty of stress, give them some of that space you just made. Watch a movie with them, take them for ice cream or a bike ride. Wellness, after all, is just love in different forms. Because they don’t always remind us, I think it’s easy to forget how much they need to feel our love and are transformed by it. And you can’t pour from an empty cup as the saying goes. So fill up and let it trickle down

Parents: We see you. We are here for you. Abundance is a tricky place to live and navigate when raising a family, contrary to what we imagined. But we know we are so blessed. Gratitude really is the secret sauce to just about everything you want for yourself and your family. So don’t forget to stop in to help your body remind your let us help you remember again and again. 

Allyson Paul is a student, community member, teacher, and in-house psychic at the studio and has been guest writing our blog! Below is an interview she has with two ten-year-old girls on anxiety. We thought it was pretty hilarious. Enjoy.

Q: Do you ever get anxiety?

Both: Mmm hmm (both nod and shrug like I’m asking them if they like cereal)

Q: What makes you feel anxious?

T: Thunderstorms. I don’t like the noise. Also stage-fright. Not like actually on a stage, but just when I have to talk in front of the whole class or something. 

C: Stuff with friends, like when you think someone’s mad at you. Or when someone’s mad at someone else and wants you to be on their side. And in basketball and soccer when I’m out of breath and we’re losing and the coach is yelling at me or something.

Q: Anything else?

T: Failure?

C: Yeah failure! Oh and death.

Q: Death?! Like worrying someone will die or your own death? 

C: I don’t know…? Just thinking about death is stressful. (fair enough)

Q: Do you guys have any tools you use when you feel anxious? 

C: If I’m worried how someone’s treating me and I think it’s cause they’re mad at me, I come up with three other things that could be making them act that way. Then that makes me realize I don’t know the answer and I forget about it.

Q: Where did you learn that?! 

C: TikTok. Oh, also picturing a duck in my head and then picturing drops of water sliding down it’s back into the pond.

Q Jesus. Where did you learn that one?

C: I don’t remember

T: Oh! My dog. I just pat my dog when I’m worried or when there’s a storm or at night. And after school, I just sit and pat her for a while when I get home. 

C: Also triangle breathing. Like where you draw a triangle on your leg with your finger and breath in and out as you draw it. Like if you’re hyperventilating or having a panic attack.

Q: And that one?

C: Mrs. R taught me that. Mrs. R – the feelings teacher (adjustment counselor)

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