Creating Happy Healthy Content Children in Early Years
Body image is a term that we often hear, but have you ever stopped to ask yourself what this actually means?. Wikipedia defines body image as ‘a person’s perception of the aesthetics or sexual attractiveness of their own body. It involves how a person sees themselves compared to the standards that have been set by society’.
Having a healthy body image is important to overall wellbeing and builds positive habits in relation to food and exercise.
The thing is we are all different, we come in different shapes, sizes and colours so by setting ‘standards’ ultimately we are all doomed to fail in one way or another. This is a challenge faced by adults and children alike and there is increasing awareness on the way we look, clothes, make up, cosmetic enhancements, snapchat filters, the list goes on. Added to this our lives are played out on social media so any ‘bad looks’ are there for the world to see and cyber bullying is a real threat.
The truth behind it all is, nobody really wants to judge anyone else just as they don’t want to be judged, but we are all caught in the game of survival and so we continue to keep up with the ever changing rules of society and how to fit in, because if we don’t the little voice in our head reminds us ‘what if no one likes me?, ‘what if we are not good enough?’, ‘everyone will laugh at me?’.
As children develop, they are learning about who they are, who they want to be and how this fits in with everyone else. These years can be cruel and a cycle of hurt can develop. It’s a fact that hurt people, hurt people. If someone feels badly about themselves, the easiest way to feel better is to make someone else feel bad about themselves, right? Wrong.
What if instead the little voices in our heads said things like ‘we are all unique’ or ‘it’s okay to be me’ and instead of spreading hurt we spread kindness.
Wouldn’t we all like to be the best version of ourselves instead of trying to be someone else’s best or a fictional best dreamed up by advertisers and the media.
The 17/18 courage to talk report by the NSPCC worryingly found that some children experiencing problems worried about talking to others because they felt they might be judged, that they might be seen as crazy or attention seeking and that they felt alone. Surely what we should be viewing as crazy is that people are willing to put what others think about them ahead of their own happiness and wellbeing.
What is encouraging however is the coping techniques children reported they use. Mindfulness and relaxation self-reward, exercise, taking a bath, keeping a diary of feelings to name just a few. These are all simple and relatively free things.
As early years educators and parents you are uniquely placed to bring about change. In their book, Daniel J Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson ‘the Whole Brain child’ state that parents and caregivers provide the biggest influence on young children who mirror their brain and look to them to learn how to negotiate the world. The parents/caregivers own growth and development or lack of it impacts the child and as the adult becomes more emotionally healthy so the child reaps the rewards, this they say is the most loving and generous gift we can give a child. Parents and educators would agree that before and success or material gain in the world, the first wish for children in their care is health and happiness.
Emotional growth then isn’t just for children and the good news is that our brains are mouldable, they have the capacity to change throughout our lives, in fact the brain isn’t fully formed until the mid 20’s to early 30’s. There is however a key time in a child’s life where positive messages and beliefs are key and this is from the age of 0-5 years, basically the early years.
Without going into too much detail around the inner complexities of the brain (there are some great books around this – Prof Steve Peters Chimp series is worth a read as is The Whole Brain Child) we are largely governed by the primitive part of our brain, the limbic system, this part of the brain is emotionally driven, impulsive and anxious, it is looking for danger, it is the part of our brain that cause the fight, flight or freeze response. It is the first to respond in a situation and later we may look back and wonder what we were thinking and that we could have handled the situation better. Luckily we do have other parts of the brain, the frontal lobe, this is our control panel and gives us judgement amongst other things, we also have the parietal cortex, this is like a computer hard drive where we store our memories and pre learned actions.
There are two important things connected with this:
1. Although we cannot avoid our primitive brain, we can learn to recognise when it is acting out and we can choose to listen to the other two parts of the brain. We call this brain integration. Integration of the brain results in better decision making and allows us control over our body and emotions.
2. Parents and caregivers lay the foundation for brain integration by putting information into the computer, this can be good or bad information. But here is the crucial message, between the ages of 0-5 children accept and store all information, they are unable to filter and reject. As Aristotle famously said, ‘Give me a child until he is 7 and I will show you then man’.
At Yoginis Yoga we have 20 years’ experience of working with adults and children teaching yoga and mindfulness in schools and nurseries including SEND, creating happy, healthy, content children.
We offer training for those working with children, starting with our Early Years Foundation course for carers of pre-school age children to train to deliver the Yoginis Yoga programmes in their settings. Our aim is to make yoga accessible to all regardless of ability or background throughout their school lives.
There are many benefits associated with yoga especially for children, yoga places emphasis on individual abilities rather than competition allowing children to be their personal best with no winners or losers and no one right way to perform a yoga posture. Children are taught to work with the breath which helps to create self-awareness and can be used to regulate the stress response. Yoga build body awareness, which is at the root of effective brain functioning, for children to reach their own full potential.
Yoginis Yoga programmes are uniquely created with an awareness of neuroscience and biomechanics; the way the brain and body function and how development can be positively influenced. All our programmes are delivered with the intention of equipping the parietal cortex (the child’s computer) with positive beliefs, habits and messages, like muscles, these need to be strengthened and re-enforced to become stronger. Routine, repetition and rhyme are key to harnessing security and predictability, which empowers children to take the lead in class and become the teachers in their own homes.
The Yoginis Yoga promise “Kind Heart, Kind Words, Kind Thoughts” is made at the start of every session from early years upwards and becomes a visual image stored in children’s hard drive. Teachers have reported to us that children are using this to regulate their behaviour and challenge their peers, as well as showing an awareness of others feelings and needs.
Showing kindness to ourselves and others, leads to self-acceptance, being satisfied and happy with oneself and recognising ones strengths and weaknesses. Through self-acceptance we are able to accept others for who they are without feeling the need to change or compete with them.
Of course the primitive survival part of our brain will always jump in first acting from an insecure position urging us to put ourselves or someone else down, but this poses no long term threat to an integrated brain filled with positive experiences and self-belief. To use another great quote ‘She believed she could so she did’.