The Power of Storytelling for Children’s Mental Health.
Guest Post by Author Shelley Wilson.
One in six young people aged 5-16-year-olds has a mental disorder. It’s essential to engage our children in activities that improve their mental health, including the fabulous activities in Lisa’s recent post, The Importance of Play. The power of storytelling for children’s mental health is often overlooked.
I believe storytelling and meditation are important toddler activities to be considered for improving their mental health. Keeping the channels of communication open for children allows them the space to break any stigma surrounding mental health and keep talking. But how do you build a good mental health practice in children as young as 4 or 5?
Meditation calms an overactive mind and soothes an overexerted body. It can boost creativity and reduce stress. Even very young children have worries and can experience stress or depression. In preschoolers, anxiety can be caused by separation from parents. Once older, academic and social pressures can cause our children to feel overwhelmed.
Furthermore, meditation is an accessible tool to support your child’s positive mental health by developing and strengthening their ability to calm thoughts and actions
In just five to ten minutes spent reading with your child is enough to get them into a healthy habit of disconnecting from hectic routines and enjoying a healthier lifestyle.
Why are kids so distracted?
With the amount of technology our children are faced with every day, it’s no wonder they can be so distracted. We structure extracurricular activities and allow them unlimited screen time and then become irritated if they don’t concentrate when we need them to. Our poor kids don’t stand a chance! Meditation can help with this as it allows them full control over their creativity, concentration, and ability to learn.
The Power of Storytelling for Children’s Mental Health.
Think about a moment when your child was fully absorbed in a film or coloring in a picture, or building Lego. I remember with absolute clarity watching my eldest son drawing a picture with his brow furrowed and his tongue sticking out slightly. It was an adorable sight and one that showed me he was totally captivated by the activity. Instead of disturbing him to see what he was drawing, or congratulating him on his efforts, I left him alone to enjoy the moment.
A story holds a similar magic spell and captures a child’s interest to the same extent.
As a daily meditator and meditation tutor, I see, first-hand, the benefits of regular practice and the power of storytelling, which was the driving force behind my book, Meditation for Children.
“A wonderful how-to guide for parents and teachers. These techniques will help to bring balance and tranquillity in an over-stimulated world. I highly recommend!” — Dr. Kimberley Taylor, DDiv., MSc, CCH, CMRMand founder of The Clearing Place.
I’ve included one of the meditations from the book below for you to read with your child. Have a go and see how calm you both feel. Create a safe space, either in bed or curled up on a favorite chair. Speak slowly and softly. Get your child to close their eyes if they feel comfortable. When you’re finished, you could ask them to draw what they ‘saw’ in their mind and turn your meditation session into an arts and craft activity. Alternatively, meditation stories make an excellent bedtime routine.
The Fairy Tree (approximately 3.5 minutes to read).
Close your eyes and take a deep breath in through your nose and out through your mouth.
Now, imagine you are walking down a beautiful path surrounded by pretty flowers in every color you can think of. There are pink flowers, yellow flowers, bright blue flowers, and ruby red roses.
Feel your arms and legs becoming more and more relaxed as you enter your special garden.
Whilst walking along the winding path, you see little animals scurrying through the undergrowth. Rabbits and squirrels chase each other under the bushes and in and out of the flowers. You can hear the bees flying lazily from flower to flower collecting the pollen.
In this special garden, you feel happy and safe.
You come to an open space that has a great old oak tree in the middle, but this is a special oak tree. It’s a magic tree.
As you walk up to it you see a pretty pink door in the side of the great old oak.
Turn the handle and step through.
Inside, you see lots of doors: fat ones, thin ones, wooden ones, and colored ones. As you walk up a winding staircase, you see an oddly shaped door at the top of the stairs and you open it. Inside you meet a friendly fairy called Bella. She has bright yellow hair and a blue dress, and her wings are silver and flutter behind her.
Both of you decide to explore the great old oak tree together.
You may select to look in any of the doors. Which one do you pick? What’s inside?
Will you find the kitchen where the fairies are baking tiny cupcakes with pink frosting?
Maybe you will find the sewing room where the fairies are mending their tunics and skirts?
Or perhaps you will find the great hall where the new fairies are learning to fly?
Turn the handle and open the door. You are in the great hall. As you watch the fairies, you feel your shoulders start to tingle, and when you look, you have a beautiful set of golden wings. You can flutter them and wiggle them and make them flap.
You and Bella join the other fairies and lift off the ground flapping your new wings and spending some time flying around the great hall. You are laughing, whooshing through the air, and swooping low then soaring high. You are having so much fun.
(Pause for approximately 10-30 seconds to allow your child’s mind to create this image.)
Finally, your wings are starting to grow heavy. It’s time to head home, so you wiggle your fingers and toes and stretch your arms. Your wings disappear, but they will be ready to use the next time you visit the great old oak. For now, you can dream about fairies and cupcakes with pink frosting, and maybe next time you and Bella can visit the kitchen and do some baking. Until next time. (Pause.)
It’s so easy to adapt meditations and include adventures of your own. Let’s take The Fairy Tree as an example. Within the guided visualization you are given three options: to bake in the kitchen, visit the sewing room, or explore the great hall. In our story, we learn to fly in the great hall. However, you could create a unique adventure for your child and choose one of the other options.
Follow the same pattern by keeping it short, speaking slowly and calmly, and giving your child plenty of time and space to interpret the story in their mind.
Note: If you are using this as a classroom exercise then perhaps your students could create an alternative adventure or ending.
In conclusion, have fun and explore opportunities to invent mini-meditations that are special and distinct to you and your family. Make storytelling a powerful self-care tool that supports positivity and good mental health. These kinds of toddler activities help them to calm their mind and make them feel relaxed.
You may wish to make an upcycled fairy garden to complement this meditation.
About the Author:
Shelley Wilson is a multi-genre author of adult non-fiction, children’s books, and young adult fantasy fiction. She lives in the West Midlands with her three children and runs a book coaching membership for ladies who wish to write their own books.
One of the most important toddler activities for your little ones is meditation. A book of Mindfulness: Meditation for Children was published by BHC Press in 2019 and includes a collaboration with a local artist who created the stunning illustrations to accompany the meditations.
Connect with Shelley here: