All parents and teachers want the best for the children in their care, we want them to grow up healthy, happy, strong and kind, and to live a meaningful life as adults. We want them to be able to manage living in our chaotic world and avoid becoming overwhelmed by the speediness and busy-ness of modern life.
One of the best ways to do this is calming our students’ lives. Stress is a new health and social contributor to challenge children in our modern world. The hurried child and the over-scheduled child are both modern developments. Somewhere over the last 10 years parenting has become a type of competition and the hidden stress this places on growing children causes many other issues that delay healthy development and growth on all levels emotionally, socially, mentally and cognitively.
Curriculum dominates teachers’ lives by being packed, or maybe overloaded, and the pressures of NAPLAN have added new dimensions of stress to both teachers and students. We have sped up the pace of life and living. We live in an instant world where we expect everything NOW. Communication, food, pain relief, results, well-behaved children – you name it, we expect things instantly.
This expectation works silently and unconsciously, creating stress when things do not always happen like that. Children take all of childhood to grow – to learn how to think, learn, process information, behave appropriately, manage their lives, dress themselves, find their way home and learn who they are! Adolescents are also experiencing profound biological changes that cause enormous stress in the wired, plugged in world.
Daniel Goleman in his now famous book Emotional Intelligence wrote that happy, calm children learn best. Homes and classrooms that consciously create calm and quiet times are building enormous support structures that will help children feel safe, allow them to enjoy their own quiet company and lower the stress levels within their growing bodies. The over-exposure to TV and screens is overstimulating many little minds and bodies.
In Bruce Lipton’s book The Biology of Belief, he writes that babies and toddlers brains download everything they hear and see from TV – even when they may appear to not be paying attention. That means all the violent images and stories on the news and other adult programs are downloaded into their memory banks – and because they are so vulnerable, it causes them to skew the way they see the world. We need to avoid TV and other screens as much as possible in the early years and then be very vigilant on what programs your child’s sensitive mind watches or is exposed to. Keeping noise levels down is also very important in those precious early years.
Canadian psychology and philosophy professor Dr Stuart Shanker has an important key message for all of us who work with families and that is that children’s capacity to self-regulate largely determines how well they will perform at school, much more than whether they can count, or be good at picture recognition or colour-in within the lines.
A child who has the capacity to learn to self-soothe and self-regulate their energy and emotions will start school with a huge advantage over a child who cannot.
Being treated with kindness and fairness will give children the best opportunity to learn this vital life skill. When we treat children with anger, avoidance and abuse we threaten how their sensitive brains process information and experience for life.
Dr Shanker has discovered in his research that children differ greatly in how they use energy. There are many things that will sap a child’s energy: poor attachment to their mother, over-scheduled lives, overstimulation, poor sleep patterns, too much TV/screen time, low-quality food, lack of predictable routines and boundaries, abuse, shouting, shaming, and unrealistic expectations.
Children need to be in a relaxed, calm and focused state to be able to play and to be able to learn.
Dr Shanker believes that kids vary how much ‘gas’ or energy they have in coping with life. If a child is struggling with stress, abuse or feeling disconnected they will have less energy to learn, to think and to be happy.
According to Shanker’s six levels of energy, he says kids need to be in level four to be able to play, to concentrate and to learn.
- Calm, focused and alert
WHAT HELPS BUILD SELF-REGULATION?
- SAFE TOUCH
- DEEP LOVING RELATIONSHIPS
- VIDEO GAMES
- TOO MUCH PRESSURE
- NOT ENOUGH HUMAN CONNECTION
- STRESS AND THREAT
One of the main inhibitors for children’s learning well is prolonged chronic stress. Jensen believes that there is up to a 50% reduction in neuron development within a week of a major stressor event. He also believes that the existing neurons wither with continued chronic stress (Enriching The Brain, 2006). This has enormous implications for children and their learning in both our homes and our schools. Many small stressors can have the same impact as one large one such as a death of a loved one, divorce or social dislocation like moving school, town or country.
Simple Tips for Calming Students
- Be comfortable with quiet yourself and model it.
- Use quiet tonality when speaking or making requests of children.
- Use soothing music in the classroom.
- Spend time in quietness and stillness.
- Connect children to nature and spend time outside often.
- Avoid hurrying and rushing students.
- Turn the TV and computer off more often. Limit its use.
- Take slow walks outside the classroom.
- Create bonding and inclusivity within the class.
- Encourage reading for pleasure.
- Read to students to calm them.
- Try aromatherapy using oil burners. Check you are using calming essences like sandalwood, lavender or a mixture specially made for calming – if candles are an issue for your school’s fire safety regulations, use an electric burner.
- Encourage sensory activities like play dough, clay modelling or building with sand, finger painting, painting a playground fence with coloured water or blowing bubbles outside.
- Try to use humour to diffuse energy. Do the unexpected!
- Use creative visualisation audios or nature music in the classroom.
- Encourage students to improve sleep patterns and opportunities.
- Develop safe classrooms.
The magic of silence and stillness is something that helps shape the developing child in a positive way. While there are many cognitive (left brain) benefits from teaching silence, there are even more emotional and social (right brain) benefits. The inner world of children today is in turmoil and the outer turmoil of the world that we have created probably contributes. I believe that children who can build a doorway to their own sense of value and worth will be better able to manage this chaotic rapidly changing world. This doorway is found on the inside rather than the outside.
Calmness is a skill that can be learned early in life. Please help teach your students to experience the value of calmness, stillness and quiet – everyone in your classroom will benefit.