Gratitude, breathing exercises can create resiliency in children

May 05, 2020

During the COVID-19 pandemic, parents can introduce small, daily practices to foster resilience in their children.

Education professor and Director of the Centre for School Mental Health, Claire Crooks told parents and caregivers during a webinar that breathing exercises, expressing gratitude and understanding how the brain works can help children deal with stress.

"Stress isn’t necessarily bad," emphasized Crooks. "Rather, it’s how children deal with it that determines whether they recover from a setback. It is also important to note that children who have a lot of adversity or trauma in their lives will have fewer resources to handle the added stress of the pandemic."

Practicing gratitude can help children think positively, said Crooks. There are techniques that can be used to teach gratitude, such as writing gratitude letters or writing a gratitude journal. Children should specifically identify what they are grateful for and they should also share their gratitude during mealtime or as part of their bedtime routine.

"Expressing gratitude is more than having good manners or saying thank you," said Crooks. "It’s about connecting to others and to society and expressing what something has meant to you."

What's more, breathing exercises can also reduce stress because it helps children self-regulate their emotions and brings them to the present moment without being worried about the future or what’s happened in the past, said Crooks.

Breathing exercises should be part of a child’s daily routine. Crooks recommends children incorporate breathing breaks and they can also use online apps to practice their breathing.

"The time to teach mindfulness is not when people are upset. It’s something you practice, and it becomes part of a routine. As kids get better at it, they use it on their own when they feel they are getting upset," said Crooks.

Finally, teaching children how their brains work can also increase resiliency. Crooks said when children learn about their amygdala – the threat centre in the brain – it gives them an understanding of their feelings. It also allows them to talk about their feelings without being ashamed. Knowing their brain allows children to say they are upset, and they need to take a break and practice their breathing.

"That capacity to understand what you need and to take steps to get it is the heart of self-regulation," she said.

Crooks’ recommendations are based on MindUP, a universal, school-based education program that incorporates neuroscience, mindful awareness, and positive psychology in 15 teacher-led lessons. These lessons integrate attentional, self-regulatory, and social-emotional strategies for children. Currently, this program is used in the London District Catholic School Board.

Western Alumni offers these webinars as part of the university’s commitment to lifelong learning. It’s also meant to keep alumni and the public’s intellectual curiosity thriving with free online learning opportunities.