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How to teach children to deal with stress

IT'S NOT only adults who find themselves stressed. In this Wednesday's episode of How Healthy Are You? Elsa helps a family with their 10-year-old son who has become shy and withdrawn from family and social life, preferring to spend his time playing computer games.

The problems of childhood anxiety are on the rise, says Suzanne Condren (right), a psychotherapist with Owen Connolly Counselling Centre who feature on this week's show. The counsellors were brought in to the Educate Together School in Portrane to teach children how to deal effectively with stress and develop coping mechanisms early on in life.

"People wrongly assume that children don't suffer from stress but it can have an impact on them," says Suzanne. "Generally speaking, kids are more anxious these days -- and that could be down to any number of factors the way that society itself is going or because their parents may have anxiety issues. If you are an anxious parent, then chances are you will have an anxious child as kids are very sensitive to their parents' feelings."

Suzanne says teaching children how to deal with stress is essentially telling them there is nothing wrong if they find themselves worried about things and how to calm themselves down when they feel particularly fraught.

"It's getting children to notice how they are feeling physically and emotionally," says Suzanne. "It's trying to normalise stress and fears. We let the kids know that it is not unusual to have worries and that everyone has certain worries. We also let them know what we can do when we have certain worries and stresses."

One effective technique for children is concentrating on breathing. "The workshop is run over 10 weeks," says Suzanne. "In the first week, we take a reading of each child's breathing pattern using emWave software. The next three sessions are dedicated to practicing the belly breathing technique along with some psycho-education around positive thinking. An exercise that is very effective for mastering the belly breathing is 'Teddy Surfing'. The child lies flat on the floor and places a small teddy on their tummy. As they breathe their belly moves and the teddy rises and falls, in other words he is surfing on their belly! Another exercise we use is a laughter meditation. It involves evoking belly laughs as this promotes belly breathing. It is also a good ice breaker."

See how the children get along, tune into How Healthy Are You, TV3, Wednesday, 7.30pm