Heart-Mind Challenge: Secure and Calm

 

“Inner peace is the key: if you have inner peace, the external problems do not affect your deep sense of peace and tranquility.  In that state of mind you can deal with situations with calmness and reason, while keeping your inner happiness” Dalai Lama

What is the quality?

Secure and calm describes the ability to take part in daily activities and approach new situations without being overwhelmed with worries, sadness or anxiety.  To be secure and calm also means to be able to cope with stress and pressure, and to bounce back from difficulties. It is an inner capacity for well-being.

When children and youth feel calm and secure, they are able to participate in fun activities and enjoy learning opportunities, cope effectively when things feel overwhelming, and reach out for help when they need it. It is within the context of safe relationships that we develop important social and emotional skills such as learning to regulate our emotions, to express our needs, to solve problems, etc. that lead to the ability to feel calm and secure.

The ability to be secure and calm is very connected to the development of a secure attachment between child and parent/caregiver.  This attachment relationship begins in infancy and, as we go through life, it develops and can change due to genetic influences as well as disruptions (e.g., divorce, trauma, loss) in the child’s environment. In secure attachment relationships, there exists the open expression of emotions that provides the opportunity for the child to learn how to become competent in their emotional world.

What does that quality look like?
Children who are secure and calm are usually able to experience pleasure in everyday activities, and to cope when they encounter difficult situations.  They do not ordinarily appear fearful, anxious, sad or depressed.  Young children who are secure and calm do not get overly distressed when left by their parent or guardian, or when they face new and unfamiliar situations. They call on inner resources to calm themselves. They get along with other children and are usually able to express their needs to adults and peers. Children who are secure and calm tend to be hopeful, optimistic and independent.  
 
What does it look like when that quality is diminished?
When a child is not secure and calm they may be anxious, worried, fearful, unhappy or even depressed.  These feelings can be mild or severe depending on the child, and the situation.  We all experience stress and anxiety, and the right amount of anxiety heightens alertness and will actually enhance performance on complex tasks.  So, we don’t want anxiety to go away entirely, as it keeps us alive and alert to threat or danger in our environment.  However, when anxiety and worry interfere with daily life, it becomes a problem.
 

Because anxious children and teens are often quiet and compliant, they often go unnoticed by their parents and teachers. As a result, many never receive the help they desperately need. Unfortunately, untreated anxiety can lead to other problems later in life, such as depression, missed opportunities in career and relationships, increased substance use, and an overall decreased quality of life.

Why is it helpful/useful to have that quality?
We all experience psychological stress in our lives, even very young children. Stress can be toxic at any age.  When it becomes chronic it can seriously impact well-being. Children who experience excessive anxiety often try to avoid going to school, making friends, enjoying animals and nature. Children who are secure and calm have the ability to manage stress in their lives, which leads to healthy cognitive, social and emotional development.
 

A child who is not calm and secure can experience difficulty in learning, absorbing and understanding new information.  Excessive worry means much of the brain's resources are tied up in managing “what-if” thoughts. Chronic anxiety and fear can change the brain's circuitry, it triggers stress hormones, and it may lead to developmental delays.

However, anxiety is a normal human emotion that is essential for survival. We all feel anxious, fearful, nervous or “on guard” at times. In babies and toddlers normal anxiety looks like difficulties with separation or with new things. Preschoolers are predictably afraid of the animals, the dark and being away from parents. School-age children experience normal anxiety around their performance, fitting in, and bigger issues such as death.  It is during adolescence that youth begin to become more concerned about social life and the future.  All of these are normal, and, in fact, stress at a certain level is healthy and keeps us engaged and alive.  It is when anxiety reaches a sustained level that we see school participation diminish, impaired relationships with adults and peers, more bullying, and substance misuse.

Choose your action to foster the ability to remain secure and calm.

Eat well!

Research demonstrates the importance of nutrition in learning, mood and energy levels. Here some tips for children and teens to boost their healthy food choices:

  • Make breakfast a regular habit
  • Drink water often
  • Get children involved in cooking and meal prep
  • Eat together as a family  


Take the Healthy Eating Quiz and check out Kelty Mental Health’s resources and toolkits for parents and professionals or complete a nutrition screen specific for toddlers, preschoolers and seniors!

Sleep well!

Adequate sleep is associated with fewer behavioural and emotional challenges. Sleep is linked with coping with stress and generally feeling well.  This helps children AND those who care for children!

Here are some things to try to increase the chances of a good night’s zzzz:

  • Try to go to bed at the same time every night
  • Don’t drink pop, tea or coffee with caffeine past noon
  • Exercise (run, jump and play!) 3 hours before bed to help get ready for sleep
  • Avoid big meals before bed
  • Create a bedtime routine to cue you for sleep; e.g. a bath, music, reading, storytelling
  • Turn off electronics 2 hours before bed (and no screen time for children under two years)

Nurture a shy child.

Have a “shy” child in your life?  This is a must-watch video; Maria LeRose and Dan Siegel role play a parent and shy child interaction (both informative and hilarious!).

Know who to turn to for information or help.

Know some go-to resources and supports for anything related to child and youth mental health:

http://www.friendsparentprogram.com - interactive online resources for parents of children 4-13 covering topics of resiliency and anxiety in children.

http://youth.anxietybc.com - an innovative website designed for youth (and those that care about them) to learn and explore anxiety and helpful coping strategies.

http://www.anxietybc.com/parent/index.php - a website chalk full of articles and specific informaiton related to anxiety in children and youth.

There’s an app for that!

For teens and adults who struggle with anxiety, check out the mobile app “Mindshift” created by AnxietyBC and BC Mental Health & Addictions Services.  Mindshift will help users learn how to relax and identify active steps to manage all sorts of common anxiety such as conflict, panic, worry, social anxiety, test anxiety and more.

Stories that bring home the message!

Check out this week’s book list that celebrates the developing skills of children and youth becoming secure and calm.

PICTURE BOOKS

The HippoNOTamus, by Tony Payne

Shhhh!, by Jeanne Willis

Chicken Big, by Keith Graves

Blue Chameleon, by Emily Gravett

Suki’s Kimono, by Chieri Uegaki

Interrupting Chicken, by David Ezra Stein

CHAPTER BOOKS

Out of My Mind, by Sharon Draper

Jason’s Why, by Beth Goobie

Laugh With the Moon, by Shana Berg

Addie on the Inside, by James Howe

Challenge book recommendations from a Children’s Librarian, Vancouver Regional Library.

Create a safe and caring classroom.

Use this initial checklist to assess your classroom environment:

·       Is every child involved in frequent friendly individual interactions with teachers to build a secure relationship?

·       Are classroom jobs used to build pro-social skills and a sense of community?

·       Are photos displayed of the children working and playing together?

·       Do adults model pro-social behaviours and language?

·       Do classroom expectations include the “do’s” as well as the “don’ts?”

·       How do families receive tips to encourage pro-social behaviour at home (without rewards)?

Take an attachment style quiz and implement strategies to strengthen relationships.

This quiz provides parents and caregivers an opportunity to identify a child’s attachment style.

The following actions work for children and youth of all ages! Increase your attention to an attachment relationship you have and bump up the frequency and authenticity of any and all of the following:

  • show physical affection; holding & hugging
  • make eye contact
  • follow your child’s lead
  • talk openly about feelings
  • celebrate mistakes as a learning opportunity - show children that people make mistakes but can repair them.

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