We live in the age of technology, of instant access, where busy seems to be the new black. Most parents are consumed by busy… living off too little sleep, on too much coffee, chauffeuring kids to and from school, play dates and the endless extra-curricular activities. As a result it can often seem that most of our day is spent on auto-pilot.
Have you ever experienced the following?
- Driven in the car and arrived at your destination without remembering the journey
- Asked your partner the same question four times and still don’t remember the answer
- Eaten a whole packet of Tim Tams and wondered where they all went
We live in a constant routine without truly experiencing, our minds forever wandering to what happened yesterday, last week, last year, or focused on that never ending ‘to do’ list.
If we do this surely our children must too?
Have you ever asked your child what they did at school that day and been met with an empty response? Like adults children can also fall into the trap of running on auto-pilot … being told where to be, what to do, and how to do it.
How do we encourage our children to live in the moment and be fully present and why is this important?
The answer is teaching them to be mindful. Mindfulness is the process of ‘focusing attention to internal and external experiences in the present moment, without judgement’.
The benefits of mindfulness in children include:
- Increase self-awareness, social awareness and self-confidence
- Help those high energy kids to better regulate their emotions and behaviour.
- Improve the ability to understand what another person is thinking or feeling
- Help build positive relationships.
- Reduce the severity of depression and anxiety
- Build resilience by helping them to cope better with stress and engage more fully in the world.
How do I get my child to practice mindfulness?
Mindfulness is most effective when it is done regularly in short doses. It doesn’t require you getting your 6 year old to lie still for 30 minutes or meditate for hours. Children are imaginative and creative, and that is how their mindfulness practice should be. Start with mindfulness exercises of no longer than 5 minutes. As your child grows and mindfulness is practiced more regularly the duration can increase.
Here are some quick, fun and creative activities to get you started:
- Body Scan
- Have your child lie down on their back on a comfortable surface and close their eyes.
- Then, make your way through each muscle group telling them to squeeze that muscle in their body as tight as they can – squish their toes and feet, squeeze their hands into fists, make their legs and arms as hard as stone, shrug their shoulders, and scrunch up their faces.
- After a few seconds, have them release that muscle and relax for a few moments. Repeat for each muscle group two times, before moving on to the next muscle. Encourage them to think about how their body is feeling throughout the activity.
- Awareness of breath – Balloon Breathing
Sitting in a comfortable cross-legged or lying position, ask your child to place their hands on their stomach. Tell them to imagine they have a balloon in their belly, and get your child to choose the colour of the balloon.
Instruct them to take a deep breath in through their nose, noticing their tummy rise as though they are filling up the balloon with air. Gently, blow out through their mouth, getting them to imagine the balloon is floating away in to the sky. Get them to choose a different colour balloon and repeat the process five times.
- Spidey Senses
For those little super heroes, instruct them to turn on their ‘Spidey senses’ – smell, sight, hearing, taste and touch. Ask your child to identify three things they can smell, see, hear, taste and touch in their environment. This activity is simple, but so effective in bringing your child to the present moment
- Mindfulness Walk – Safari
This activity turns an average, everyday walk outside into an exciting new adventure. Tell your child that you will be going on a safari, and their goal is to notice as many birds, bugs, creepy-crawlies, and any other animals as they can. Anything that walks, crawls, swims, or flies is of interest, and they’ll need to focus all of their senses to find them, especially the little ones.
- Blowing bubbles
Have your kids focus on taking in a deep, slow breath, and exhaling steadily to fill the bubble. Encourage them to pay close attention to the bubbles as they form, detach, and pop or float away.
- Gratitude Time
Before bed, share something that you are grateful for that happened that day – something that made you happy, and have your child do the same.
On a final note, a popular application that I recommend daily to parents in my psychology practice is the Smiling Mind app. This app is free to download, and features hundreds of guided mindfulness exercises for children as young as 6 years old.
Let’s aim to be mindful instead of mind full!
Whatever you are doing, ask yourself, “What’s the state of my mind?” – Dalai Lama, 1999
Imagine that you were asked by your personal trainer to wear a weighted vest which was 10-15% of your body weight between 8am and 3pm, Monday to Friday for 12 years.
How do you think that you would cope with carrying that extra 6-10kgs on a daily basis? You would probably get a sore back, neck or shoulder right?
In essence this is what many people are asking their children to do when they pack their bag for school every day. Next time that your child complains that their bag is heavy or their back hurts from carrying their school bag it might be worthwhile thinking about the above analogy.
Obviously, often this hard to avoid but below are 5 some simple tips which may help lighten the load for your child and reduce the risk of them sustaining an injury as a result of carrying a heavy back pack:
- Ensure that your child’s school bag does not exceed 10% of their body weight – pack only what is necessary for that day and encourage your children to only bring home what they need that night
- Choose a bag with a padded back which can mould to the shape of your child
- Encourage your children to wear both shoulder straps in order to distribute the weight of the bag evenly across the body. The use of chest and waist straps (although not always considered cool) also help alleviate the weight placed on the child’s shoulders and back
- Choose a school bag with multiple compartments and pack the heaviest objects (e.g. books, laptop) closest to the child’s body. This allows the weight to be placed closer to the child’s centre of gravity and decreases the lever arm of the weight through the back.
- If you have packed only the bare necessities and still think your child’s bag is too heavy consider a separate carry bag for some items.
Any questions regarding fitting your child’s backpack or on what bag to choose feel free to email email@example.com
Physiotherapist and Co-Owner of Gecko Sports Gold Coast
Meningococcal vaccinations: Exploring the debate in Australia
Meningococcal is a rare disease with devastating effects. The very worst case scenarios can involve brain damage, organ failure, and even death. In Australia, these disastrous outcomes can deeply concern parents who aren’t able to vaccinate their child against meningococcal.
Bexsero, a relatively new vaccine, can protect children against the virulent meningococcal strain B. However, Bexsero is not currently included in the federal government’s National Immunisation Program. This has been a controversial topic amongst parents, especially as pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline announced there would be a global shortage of Bexsero vaccines from the end of 2016.
According to reports, a worldwide shortage resulted from countries such as the United Kingdom and Ireland implementing the Bexsero vaccine as part of their national public health schemes. Globally, there is now a much higher demand for the meningococcal-B vaccination and very little supply available.
Why hasn’t Bexsero been added to Australia’s National Immunisation Program before now?
In 2013, a ruling from the federal Department of Heath determined the meningococcal-B vaccine would save less than 10 lives, over a five year period. However, the cost for implementing these vaccinations would be over $400 million. Unfortunately, this has made meningococcal less of a priority for the government, when compared to other infectious diseases like the measles, mumps and rubella.
Within Australia’s current privatised system, the Bexsero vaccine costs around $120 per injection. This is an expense that most Aussie families cannot easily afford, especially if they have a number of children to care for. Even though meningococcal can respond to intense antibiotic therapy, many parents remain fearful of the disease, which has a fatality rate of 10 – 15%.
Without vaccinations, are Australian children at a higher risk of contracting meningococcal?
“Due to the cost of Bexsero, meningococcal vaccinations are typically reserved for children who might be at increased risk of contracting meningococcal,” explains Dr Harvey, the Deputy Medical Director at House Call Doctor. “For example, children who have been exposed to meningococcal at their school or day-care may need the Bexsero vaccine as an important preventative method.”
Dr Ryan Harvey is in fact one of the few doctors within Queensland who has treated meningococcal occurring in toddlers. Incredibly, all of Dr Harvey’s meningococcal patients have survived and gone on to lead full and enriched lives.
“If parents suspect their child has meningococcal, they should seek immediate medical intervention, as patients can go from seeming their normal selves to needing intensive care within a matter of hours,” says Dr Harvey. “The disease is characterised by a distinctive red, purple or black rash, that does not fade when pressure is applied.”
“Fortunately within our community, meningococcal is still far less prevalent than other infectious diseases, and there is a strong level of public awareness about the disease and its symptoms,” says Dr Harvey.
For more information on the National Immunisation Program, visit the federal Department of Health online. If you suspect that your child has meningococcal, immediately phone Triple 0 (000) and request an Ambulance. If your child needs acute medical care, that does not warrant an Emergency response, phone House Call Doctor on 13 55 66.