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Soothe Back-to-School Anxiety, Teach Kids to Relax

Simple steps can lessen stress when children get overwhelmed, experts say

SUNDAY, Aug. 23 (HealthDay News) -- Children who are nervous about the new school year can relax by practicing "mindfulness" during anxious moments, researchers say.

Experts at Duke University, in Durham, N.C., recommend mindfulness, which is a technique borrowed from meditation, to help children transition into the new school year and deal with many academic and social pressures.

"Making a transition, whether it's to a new school, a new teacher or a new grade, signals change," said Dr. Michelle Bailey, a pediatrician at Duke Integrative Medicine, in a news release from the university. "When adults are stressed, they often turn to smoking or alcohol or food to pacify emotions. We need to teach kids how to handle stress in a healthy way."

Mindfulness encourages children to live in the moment and not fret as much about future events, Bailey said. In addition, practicing meditative techniques can help children sleep better, reduce anxiety and stay more focused.

The following exercises can help young practitioners achieve a level of mindfulness:

  • Mindful breathing: Ask the child to take time in the morning and evening to pay attention to his or her breathing for 20 inhales and exhales. Steady breathing has a calming effect on the body.
  • Mindful walking: After dinner, take a walk and pay attention to all the sights, sounds and colors. Encourage the child to use this technique on the playground and at school.
  • Mindful listening: At the dinner table, ring a bell or play a note on a musical instrument to capture the family's attention, then give each person a turn to speak about their day while the rest of the family gives their full attention, to encourage active listening.

To get the best results, Bailey suggests that families go to an accredited, mindfulness-based, stress-reduction program offered at many clinics and hospitals.

"Mindfulness helps kids recognize their thoughts, reconnect with their emotions and understand how that impacts their behavior," Bailey said in the news release. "Ultimately, if we can heighten awareness of our thoughts, we can modify our emotions and that changes behavior."

More information

Mental Health America has more on how to recognize the signs of stress.

-- Peter West

SOURCE: Duke University, news release, Aug. 10, 2009

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