With summer holidays fast approaching, so does the dilemma of what to do with your children for six weeks.
However, there are tonnes of free activities you can do to enhance your relationship and get them using their mindfulness and wellbeing skills.
‘Most parents want health and happiness for their children,’ says Sue Roffey, a psychologist and child wellbeing expert. ‘Yet research by The Mental Health Foundation suggests that around one in six young people have mental ill health concerns, and of those, around 75% may not be getting the support they need.
‘Therefore, supporting children with ways they can learn to accept their emotions (positive and negative), as well as feel empowered to manage them when they need to, offers children a wonderful foundation to build upon their sense of wellness.
‘Furthermore, if you role model what you teach, you demonstrate consistency between words and action, and reap the benefits of the practice, too.’
We spoke to some of the UK’s top wellbeing experts and asked them for their number one activity to boost children’s happiness this summer.
Create a calm kit
‘A calm kit is a great way to teach children ways to self-soothe in a healthy manner,’ says Dr Audrey Tang, psychologist and author of The Leaders Guide to Resilience.
‘It can open a dialogue about emotions, let children know that they are OK and teach them how to manage them.
‘A calm kit is a little box or bag of things that can help children release or manage stress, like a bottle of bubbles to help them breathe slowly, a notepad and pen to express themselves with words or pictures, a stress ball or fidget toy to calm them and a fan to cool them down.’
‘If you’re heading away from the bright city lights this summer, try some night-time mindful stargazing together,’ suggests astrophysicist and Zen teacher Mark Westmoquette, author of Mindful Thoughts for Stargazers. ‘As it gets dark, lay down a blanket together, prepare a flask of hot chocolate, then look up and notice what you see.
‘Don’t feel like you have to be an expert or explain anything, be guided by the questions from your kids. Enjoy wondering about the night sky together. Make up your own constellations and stories.
‘Mindfulness means allowing things to be as they are, so even if clouds come and go, or the kids get distracted, don’t worry. It’s a great way for the whole family to wind down before bed.’
Get them to use their imagination
‘Take your child outside and ask them to pick five objects such as a leaf, a stone, or a flower,’ says Esther Marshall, author of the Sophie Says children’s books series. ‘Once they have the objects ask them to make up a story that features the objects they have found.
‘Not only is being outside and exploring good for them, but when they are making up the story they will be fully immersed in their imagination and anything that was worrying them will feel calmer during that time.
‘Using your imagination will help with your wellbeing, too, as it allows your mind to think creatively and switch off from day-to-day stresses.’
Dedicate some ‘me-and-you time’
‘Set an alarm for 10-15 minutes and invite your child to decide what you do/play during that time,’ says positive psychology practitioner Cheryl Rickman, author of Navigating Loneliness.
‘There’s just one condition: no screens. When the alarm sounds, set another alarm but this time you choose something you loved to do/play as a child to do together for 10-15 minutes.
‘The first part gives children a sense of control, which is appealing when constantly being told what to do by the grown-ups in your life, and the second part boosts connection between you and reminds them you were once a child, too.
‘Repeat this with each child and invite them to make “do not disturb” signs while one takes their turn, ready for when the turn is theirs.’
Teach them well
‘Parents are a child’s first and most important teachers,’ explains Roffey, who is also the co-author of Creating the World We Want to Live In. ‘What you teach them impacts not only their own wellbeing but how their future world shapes up.
‘Help them move from a “me” focus to what is best for all of us. So, teach them to share things, so sharing becomes routine, teach thankfulness by asking them what went well in their day and teach kindness by talking about how some people have it tough. All this will make them proud of who they are becoming.’
‘One of the best activities you can do is sit down, snuggle up and read a book,’ says Georgina Atwell, founder of online children’s book review platform Toppsta.
‘Make an event of it, with duvets and snacks. Reading together is so important because it gives children an opportunity to talk about the storyline, increase their comprehension skills and realise that their opinion matters, which boosts their confidence.
‘More importantly, it gives them a chance to just sit back and recharge their batteries but equally, it’s an opportunity for us, as parents, to leave our never ending to-do list and just be still.’
Express your feelings
‘Possibly the most important skill a parent can teach their child is how to have a conversation,’ says psychotherapist Neil Wilkie, author of the Relationship Paradigm book series. ‘This will open the door for them to really understand how you both feel and creates a strong bond.
‘Often parents will ask a child closed questions like, “How was school today?” It is rare for parents or children to talk about much more important things like how they are feeling.
‘To open the door, ask a question like, “What has been the best thing about your day so far?”
‘Keep going until they run out of feelings to express.
‘Be open with them, too, and make expressing feelings part of the family ritual. It will improve both your lives and those of generations to come.
‘Possibly the most important lesson you can teach is how to have a conversation’
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