Simple, Natural Remedies for Childhood Stress
Stress reduction focused on school achievement, emotional disturbance, chronic illness, can help manage triggers, but don’t always get to the root causes of childhood stress – or adult stress for that matter. While reducing the effects of triggers can have positive outcomes, triggers will continue to arise in new ways – changes in your child’s social circle, the onset of puberty, family moves and changes, increased expectations from highly competitive sports, arts or academic programs. Then the methods and workarounds that used to work may not be as effective anymore.
You may house their bodies, but not their souls.
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams
Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet – On Children
Learning about how stress lives physically in our bodies allows you deep awareness and effective actions to balance effects of hormonal activity – especially cortisol levels.
The cortisol hormone underlies our survival instinct.
Yet our fight-or-flight response associated with changes in cortisol levels doesn’t know that most of us are not really fighting for our physical survival. Instead cortisol levels respond to events causing high mental and emotional stress.
Developmental biologist Bruce Lipton explains that the environment and emotions our parents are experiencing in the months before we are even conceived – when we are just a winkle in our fathers eyes – alter our parents’ hormone levels, and become a part of our genetic stamp.
Further changes continue during the important in the utero period. “The developing child receives much more than nutrients from the mother’s blood …excess cortisol and other flight or fight hormones if the mother is chronically stressed… passing through the placenta, the hormones of a mother experiencing chronic stress will profoundly alter the distribution of blood in her developing fetus and change the character of her developing child’s physiology” says Lipton.
Though the mother carries the child, “the father’s behavior, attitude and qualities deeply affect the mother’s – and unborn child’s – stress level.”
And after birth, into childhood and adolescence, the modeling behavior of parents and other important adults in our close circles physical affects who we are – and even our destiny.
“The essence of conscious parenting is that both mothers and fathers have important responsibilities for fostering healthy, intelligent, productive and joy-filled children. Science has kept our attention focused on the notion of genetic determinism leaving us ignorant about…how our behaviors and attitudes program the lives of our children,” concludes Lipton.
A 20-year-old study conducted by anthropologists Mark Flinn and Barry England analyzed cortisol levels of children living in a village on the east coast of the Caribbean island of Dominica. In homes where parents who constantly quarreled, children had higher average cortisol levels than children from more peaceful families. Children of parents in conflict tended to become “tired and ill, they played less, and slept poorly.”
Try these easy family practices to bring more peace, health and joy into the home environment
Baby massage is an important way to keep up the physical touch important in balancing cortisol levels. Infant massage is widely practiced in traditional societies. Parents in India from the subsistence farmers to well-educated urbanites swear by infant massage. It’s a wonderful practice that is more intuitive, hearts-and-hands based than learned. If you’re still uncertain, research YouTube videos or check out library books. Use pure natural, non petroleum oils – but not commercial mineral-based baby oil, which have been linked to reduced vitamin D levels. You don’t have to buy expensive massage products. The olive oil in your kitchen is perfect. Indian parents use mustard oil, which is more pungent and invigorating.
Introducing massage for elementary school age or older children may be more challenging, especially if they are tactile sensitive. Start slow, perhaps without announcing a massage as new ritual or practice. Away from your child rub the oil lightly into your hands, touching them gently on the head or back of the neck, gradually introducing slow circular movements they will enjoy.
Head massage can be an lovely way to begin with older children. They may have already heard of the benefits hair oil can bring to shiny healthy hair, and will increase self confidence about her appearance – important to girls and boys alike!
You can also add massage as an after sports practice, helping your child with muscle strength and flexibility, just as their favorite pro athletes and dancers receive regularly.
The music, arts or academically oriented child responds beautifully to hand and shoulder massage, reducing stress from repetitive hands and arm movements.
Teaching your child breath work is perhaps the simplest and most cost-effective way to bring lifelong stress reduction, health, focus and happiness to your child. It costs literally nothing and benefits you as well. One yoga breathing exercise children of all ages enjoy and immediately benefit from is breath balancing.
Practice this yourself, and then teach your child. The simplest breath balancing exercise is just about noticing and regulating the different flows of breath in and out of each nostril.
As we go through our day, stress triggers tend to unbalance our breathing patterns. You can test this for yourself right now. Bring one hand to your nose, placing you thumb close to one nostril and your forefinger close to the other. Press your thumb to the nostril close to it. Breathe in and then out the other nostril, naturally and without force. Now close release the thumb from the nostril, and close the other with your forefinger. Breathe in and our naturally from the open nostril. You will notice a difference in breathing clarity and regularity.
To balance both sides, continue alternating the breath in and out of each nostril, using your thumb and forefinger to close the non-breathing one. In a short time, you’ll notice that the clarity and regularity of breath from each nostrils begin to become the same. Continue for five minutes or so, and at the end of this practice you’ll feel more overall clarity and balance.
After you teach yoga breathing to your children, they can practice in the car on their way to after school activities, before stating homework, or when they are stuck in completing a school assignment or project. Breath balancing also helps clear stuffy noses when kids or adults have colds, and is a great aid to taking a mindful, serene approach to difficult challenges we encounter.
Consciously Lowering Your Voice
In Japan, parents and preschool teachers have long understood that when you want children to listen, lower your voice. We raise our voices to make sure our child has heard what we say, but hearing is not always listening. Hearing can bring about obedience or cooperation for the moment. Listening allows learning, comprehension and the development of good habits.
Mindful awareness of the body-mind-emotional connections, and instilling practices that support both peacefulness and health, will benefit you, your children, and generations to come. Start today!