Monthly Archives: September 2012

The Power of Music

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Have you noticed what a powerful effect music has on children? Within minutes, soft peaceful music can calm them right down, or loud music with an upbeat tempo will instantly transform them into mad creatures wildly springing round the room.

   

The School Run

Music is amazing at creating a mood. It seems to enter their brains at a subliminal level and speak to the unconscious mind. I often put soft peaceful music on the car stereo on the drive home from school, to quell the irritability brought on by tiredness at the end of the school day. It seems to take the edge off all the sneaky pinching and kicking in the back seat. Simon and Garfunkel fit the bill nicely. But I can’t play it on the way to school, unless I want them to lose the ability to walk, and all whine to get in the buggy at once!

Naptime

I use classical and meditation music to soothe the little one to sleep at naptime. He has been conditioned to it from the time I became his nanny when he was a baby (I used to play him a couple of specific ‘sleep CDs’ that I’d made for him while I gave him his naptime bottle and cuddle). He will now nod off whenever he hears his ‘sleep music’! This makes balancing his energy levels really easy and means he makes it through to bedtime without any tears or upsets.

Mealtimes

I find music a really powerful tool for creating a specific atmosphere. At mealtimes, when they usually tend to bounce up and down shrieking rather than eating, I find it helps a lot to play something soothing like Aled Jones singing ‘Walking in the Air’ while adopting a measured, genteel tone of voice to deliver a story. (Speaking like the Queen tends to encourage Manners). This subdues the energy ‘high’ brought on by the ingestion of food sufficiently for them to eat at least part of their meal. I suppose it’s healthy to stop eating once you’re no longer hungry, but after all, they do need to put back some of the calories they’ve been burning off zooming around all day!

Instruments

Children are often fascinated by musical instruments – real ones, not plastic fob-off baby ones. As this six year old played the long-drawn-out ringing note of a Tibetan singing bowl, her four year old sister expressed the effect of the dreamlike meditative quality by murmuring, “This makes my mind go away…and my soul seeks off to a faraway land!” (We’ve been discussing souls quite a lot lately.)

    

Children love to explore the sounds that can be made with real musical instruments, and will learn far more naturally, joyfully and intuitively from being immersed in a musical environment than from formal music lessons. Often, a child with musical parents will believe he too can play an instrument, and will learn quickly and easily from handling the instruments.

    

   

    

I saw this principle in action recently in the form of an amazing band of young musicians who were jamming together effortlessly and spontaneously at a folk festival while smaller children danced. The musicians – aged from 8 to 13 – had learned the language of music from early childhood as effortlessly as a spoken language. A couple of them played more than one instrument, switching naturally between them like a bilingual child.

There is a wonderful website I’d like to share with you, called Myriad Toys, that sells real children’s instruments. It’s listed in my Favourite Websites section to your right.>>>>

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Time to Dream

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Have you ever wondered, “What’s going on in there?” when your child looks like she’s a million miles away? 

Keeping Busy

It seems to be widely believed that children need constant exercise, stimulation (and expensive extra classes) if they are to become intelligent and to sleep at night. However, I have read many articles about children’s lives being too crammed full of scheduled activities, with no time to just relax and ‘be’. 

But what do children actually do with ‘me-time’? Do they even understand the concept? Surely they will get bored and restless if we don’t give them things to keep them busy and amused? And, you might ask, are they ever voluntarily still and quiet?!

Free Time

A child who is given space and time for free play, to choose what she will do from moment to moment, is enabled to develop her own inner resources. She is free to relax or explore at her own pace with no expectations placed on her.

   

A child sitting in the sunshine with a vacant look on her face is not necessarily just drifting aimlessly, nor is her brain suffering from under-stimulation. Children (unless they are mentally impaired) are pre-programmed before birth to instinctively seek whatever they need from their environment. They are learning in every second they are awake. But all the rapid learning and growing they accomplish needs time and space to integrate into the developing circuitry. Every now and then they just need to pause to let it all sink in.

One Thing at a Time

Children’s brains have to process simple concepts before they can understand more complex ideas… it’s like building a wall one brick at a time from the bottom up. Worth knowing if you might be tempted to push advanced learning on them before they are ready. It is much better to keep explanations simple while they are young.

Pattern Matching

During sleep, new learning that has happened in the day ‘beds down’ and is added to existing knowledge. And during waking periods of daydreaming when it looks as if nobody’s home, children are processing new information and connecting it to patterns of learning they have previously internalised, like adding more beads to a necklace. Seeing, speaking and hearing needs to be temporarily suspended so that new knowledge can be digested. (Which is why teachers should take it as a compliment when their students daydream in lessons – it means they are taking it all in!)

When you see a child’s eyes go far away, he is looking inside his head…searching his internal database for a match to connect the new information up to. Building up a storehouse of knowledge about his world, one brick at a time.

You can liken it to a computer saving data. You get that little egg-timer icon and a message saying, ‘Please wait’……

It is good to respect this and allow the child a few moments of quiet while they focus their attention inwards. Sometimes this ‘trance state’ lasts only a few seconds before they spring off again with a new idea. Learning is never theoretical with children; they need to put everything into practice immediately.

     

In a Trance

Sometimes you see this entranced look when you are telling them something new and they’re trying to connect the dots, searching internally for a matching picture piece for the puzzle. Or when they are dreaming up a new idea for themselves. A trance, after all, is simply a focused state of attention, during which the person appears to ignore what’s going on around them. If your child seems at times not to hear you, she’s not deliberately being annoying; it may be that she is simply focused very intently on her internal world.

  

I love to watch the internal cogs turning as a child dreams up some new imaginary venture. What can I do with this leaf? It could be a caterpillar…or a kite…or a hairy monster!

Given a new object or idea to contemplate, a child retreats for a moment into her own private universe to weave her own magic around it. This child holds a painted and glittered stone – her treasure. Who knows what flights of fancy are going through her head in this moment?

Often when we present children with a new experience, we unwittingly put pressure of one sort or another onto them to respond in certain ways. Sometimes we don’t realise that they may be having a profound inner response that may not be readily apparent. They could be dreaming about what they might do one day in the future… or imagining an adventure… or simply absorbing the magic of the moment. A little peaceful time to reflect is important.

Stories and Role Play

Given a role to play, children take it very seriously; in their own minds they actually become that character. Many children have a rich fantasy life. (I know I did. I was Queen of my own world inside my head. :-)) They adore the chance to act a part and pretend to be somebody else; even if they are doing little more than dressing up, most of the ‘acting’ is taking place inside their heads! I am sure these two are imagining themselves proudly giving birth to the Son of God and riding a camel laden with gifts.

   

A child listening to a story, or taking part in a play, or even watching TV, easily and naturally enters a trance state, as she absorbs what has focused her attention. She is so caught up in the ‘reality’ of the situation that she switches off her awareness of all else around her. This is a highly suggestible state, in which the child deeply absorbs what she hears into her unconscious mind. Well worth bearing in mind when choosing children’s books, the plays they take part in and what you let them watch on TV!

    

    

New Sensations

Sensory experiences can be another trigger for this ‘daydream’ state. While the hands or mouth are busy feeling a new sensation or taste, the brain is absorbing the experience. Again, this is a kind of trance, with the attention closely focused on what the senses are feeling. It is as if, while something is going in, nothing can come out.

     

    

Taking a Break

Another kind of ‘time-out’ occurs when a child is ‘full up’. The children I look after often pause in their energetic play to come and sit on me for a cuddle and a rest. At such times they often ask for a snack or a story; I think they are just refuelling. Unless they are highly excited, children will often instinctively know when they have had enough stimulation and need to balance it with a calm interlude. A child will take himself off at such times and seek out a quiet room or corner where he can digest in peace, or curl up in a den.

A baby may not know to give himself a break and will become fretful and fussy from mental exhaustion if overstimulated. It is up to us to judge for him when he’s had enough to be going on with, and take him to a quiet darkened room for a rest or a peaceful cuddle to calm him down. Otherwise he might resort to screwing his eyes tight shut, flailing and screaming to block out the sensory overload.

The Autistic Trance

Autistic children often have extremely oversensitive hearing, sight and other physical senses, and can’t shut off unwanted input. They don’t have the neural wiring to make sense of the world, make connections and link patterns of learning. So they flap, spin and rock to create a self-soothing trance state. This shuts off the overwhelming barrage of incomprehensible sensory overload. They are actually behaving perfectly appropriately based on their perceptions.

But that’s a whole other subject for another day….

The Magic of Stories

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Childhood Memory Stories

How often have your kids asked you, “Tell me about when you were little”?

Do you, like me, remember how much you loved hearing stories about your  mum’s and granny’s childhood when you were young? The three children I look after also love hearing tales of my youth. I have a stockpile of childhood memories (real and fictional) ready to bring out on any occasion.

If you are the parent, these stories can give a sense of shared history that helps your child feel rooted and securely connected to his family. But even as a nanny, my childhood tales are asked for again and again. Maybe just hearing the tale of a child in another time and place who had the same issues these children have, is comforting and helps them feel understood. I definitely find that a well-timed story or anecdote (with the truth tweaked here and there for maximum benefit) really helps the three nanny-children through their little ups and downs.

Distraction

Stories can be a helpful distraction from upsets of any kind. One day, the five year old lost sight of me at a kids’ club, panicked, and began to cry. I held her close, praised her for doing absolutely the right thing by standing still, and told her the story of how I got lost at the beach when I was five. She soon cheered up on hearing how my situation had been far worse than hers – running about screaming hysterically – and how much braver she had been!

And after the two year old had somersaulted off the sofa onto the floor and hurt himself, I scooped him up and started telling all three of them a story about how children in the rainforest can climb like monkeys….until I noticed he’d fallen asleep on my lap!

Life Lessons

Stories, which you can customise to your own purposes, can be a useful way to teach important life lessons such as how to share and be kind, what to do if you’re lost, or the importance of honesty. They can also be an invaluable way to prepare a child for a new experience (Topsy and Tim seem to cover all bases there!) Children can understand and relate to the characters and are a lot more receptive to anything if it is presented in the form of a story.

The latest favourite of the three children I care for is the cautionary tale of my little childhood friend Nancy who was a despicably vile spoilt brat. The children find her highly amusing, and yet at the same time educational in social skills! I have a lot of fun acting Nancy, stamping my foot and doing the whiny voice demanding “I want it NOW!”, letting the children see and hear how horrid it sounds and how it doesn’t get you what you want. Because it is not a lecture directly aimed at them, and because it makes them laugh, they take it on board much more readily. (Especially when I call her ‘Antsy-Pantsy Nancy’.) I often now hear them say to each other gleefully, “Oh, you’re acting like Nancy!” or I whisper to them, “That’s just how Nancy used to behave”, if we see another child throwing a strop. Nancy has become a useful self-correction tool. I also read them the story of the Selfish Giant and the Selfish Crocodile at intervals, just to make sure the message is hammered home!

autopilot’! S

Stories for Mealtimes

If your child has a tendency to whine, shout, jump around, keep getting up and down or pick at his food at mealtimes, maybe the tip I got from a friend with three young children could help. Just read or tell them a story while they eat. I have noticed they’re so busy following the story that they forget their meal is “yuk”, and instead sit quietly and just go on eating. Sometimes (if the story is particularly absorbing) they do forget to eat, in which case I have two options: feed them myself, or do a little playacting. I either say, “another bite, another page!” or make a big show of finding it really hard to turn the page until everyone has taken another mouthful, or pretend to collapse with exhaustion, dropping the book, until they have all eaten some more to ‘give me strength’. I then pop back up saying, “Ahh, that’s better! I feel much stronger now!” and continue reading. They love this game and always remind me to do it each time I bring a book to the table.

If this seems a little too indulgent, I sometimes use another alternative to shouting at them for bad table manners. I always find kids will behave far better when out for a meal than at home, so I use this to have a little game of ‘posh dinner’ at home. Sometimes I can kill three birds with one stone and get them bathed, do a birthday celebration AND encourage nice manners all at once. We did this on the day the little one turned three. They actually showered themselves, washed each other’s hair and dressed up in bridesmaid finery while I prepared a party tea. Then while they all sat eating like ladies and gentlemen, I told them my most successful story yet, of a princess who invited them to her wedding because they were such polite, well-behaved and angelic children! I embroidered the tale with descriptions of how their wonderful dancing, violin and flute playing and magic tricks captivated the wedding guests. On hearing how good they were, they all became perfectly behaved and even helped me clear away at the end!

Afterwards I speculated to myself about how the messages we give children about themselves influence what they believe about themselves, and ultimately how they act.

The Ice Cream Story

At pudding time the kids ask for my ‘ice cream story’ again and again. It’s the (not strictly true) story of how I learned to share with my sister when we were young. There was only one scoop of ice cream left in the tub, and my dad told me about the ‘wonderful warm and fuzzy feeling’ I would feel in my heart if I gave it to my little sister. When I reluctantly put the ice cream in her bowl, her smile of joy made me feel so good that I was kind to her ever after. The kids love to act out the story and take on the roles of me and my sister as they practice sharing. Then they act out the story of the morning after, when my sister woke up and was sick all over her bed, and I mopped her up, comforted her and we were friends ever after.

Teaching Values and Beliefs

I use storytelling as a very practical way to teach moral values.

My Children’s Bible comes out at regular intervals; whether you practice a faith or not, you could use whatever book or stories you choose that contains the truths and lessons you find valuable in life. Children gain a valuable sense of security and resilience if they know there is always Someone who cares for them and watches over them (whether it’s you or God!) I often find myself reciting the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (by popular request) as we walk up the road to school. And I’m always getting asked what God looks like!

   

I am reading them my favourite classics at the moment, such as Pollyanna, A Little Princess, Heidi, and The Animal Family (see Goodreads, in the column to the right of this page), all of which highlight life lessons such as the value of optimism, gratitude for simple pleasures, inner beauty, and caring for others. I want to counteract the negative messages given out by this society about having to look a certain way in order to be accepted, or that material wealth is the only thing that matters. I am teaching them that true riches come from the heart. I don’t want them to grow up believing that happiness comes only from perfection, beauty and a massive bank balance.

Sharing Closeness

Of course, we all know that reading to your child will help him enjoy reading himself when he’s older. Books can become a special pleasure for your child, on his own or sharing with a friend. The sharing of attention in this way can strengthen bonds between children.

   

Travelling with a Book

When out and about, I often bring a book to while away a bus ride or trip to the doctor. One time, I was out with a fellow nanny. We had six children aged 1-6 between us and went into town on the bus. We couldn’t all sit together on the bus as it was so crowded, so I raised my voice and read the book to the entire bus! Everyone listened beautifully.

Rest Time

Stories are invaluable for quiet time, when they’re a bit old for an after-lunch nap but you know they really need a rest. The whole cuddle/story ritual creates a  calm and peaceful space in their day which really helps little ones feel safe,  cherished and secure, as they snuggle up and lose themselves in another world. Sometimes we’ll go through an entire pile of library books in one sitting. It’s a much nicer alternative to TV, and means I know exactly what they are absorbing.

And of course a story is the perfect way to end the day. Any conflicts or difficulties can be forgotten and forgiven as parent and child snuggle up with a good book. Even when the child is older and can read for himself, the closeness can be maintained by reading alongside each other. I have a very lovely family member who ends every day by lying on the bed with his son, each reading their own book.

An older child can be an invaluable help in teaching a younger one to read, write or learn his spellings. As a 10 year old expressed it to me recently: “I went through a hard time when nobody realised I was dyslexic for years, so I understand how tricky it can be to learn to read.” She is really patient and encouraging in helping her six year old brother read to her.

The children’s uncle is a really expressive reader who captivates any child in the vicinity with all his funny voices! 

Stories and Trance

Have you noticed the entranced expression on children’s faces when you read or tell a story? They get that faraway look in their eyes as they see the pictures in their minds, make connections with what they already know, and absorb the underlying message. The story has literally created a trance and tapped straight into their subconscious. In the same way as a hypnotherapist reaches into the dark places in a client’s mind to undo harm and hurt, you can reach into your child’s mind to implant positive messages and lessons through a story.

    

There is nothing scary or mysterious about a hypnotic trance. While studying psychology, I learned that it is simply a natural brain state designed to allow programming in of new information. It is simply a state of deeply focused attention. It’s like clicking a ‘save’ button.

If you watch your child’s eyes closely you will see him or her dip in and out of a trance state many times in a day, often for mere seconds at a time. We all use trance every day, every time we focus our attention closely on something. Meditation is one well-known type of trance, but any absorbing creative activity, storytelling, group singing, reading, listening to music or watching TV, a play or even a puppet show can all cause a trance state. The right story or song can have a very powerful therapeutic effect. The wrong TV programme or film can have a powerful negative effect.

Healing Hypnosis

There is a strong connection between our minds and bodies, and it is now known by psychotherapists that illness can begin or cease through our beliefs and attitudes. Studies have been done on the power of guided visualisation (leading a person through a trance state with mental pictures) in helping cancer, and in some Eastern countries, hypnosis is used routinely for pain relief in childbirth. Imagine helping your child recover from the flu by telling her a story about a powerful, kind King who saved his loyal subjects by vanquishing evil goblins from his kingdom! In the child’s subconscious, transmitted through her body, the bugs carrying the infection will be weakened as she believes or imagines the power of good conquering bad.

    

Maybe this sounds far-fetched, but we’ve all heard on the news about violent children who have been influenced by violent movies. They have been literally programmed by what they’ve seen to accept violence as normal. And gentle, kind children are also deeply influenced by what they read, hear and see. Remember that children are highly impressionable, and please be careful what you let your child watch on TV or DVD…and choose their books with care. They are still learning about reality.

Sleep Hypnosis

I personally find bedtime or naptime so much easier with a story; I put on soothing classical music, choose a really relaxing book, (usually about a character who doesn’t want to go to bed but ends up asleep!) and as I cuddle up with the small person, I focus his attention more deeply on the pictures, slow my voice down and become quieter and more hypnotic until his eyes close. (“…and then Baby Owl snuggled down….and fell…fast…asleep.”) Children are so easy to hypnotise!

Interestingly, with the youngest, who is two, I find that if he is tired (and usually resisting sleep) I can ‘tip him over the edge’ by repeating key words or phrases in the story such as ‘close your eyes’, ‘relax’ or ‘sleepy’. I can utilise a young child’s tendency to only hear the ends or key words of sentences, by saying something like, “I love this song, it always makes me feel sleepy….it’s making me yaaaaaawn……I would love to close my eyes right now….” He then focuses on the soft music and the message sinks in. Once he’s yawned a couple of times I know the job’s done. Within minutes, he’s out for the count! I often use this trick in the car, where I keep all my ‘mood music’ CDs, because the sound of the car engine is hypnotic in itself.  Ooops, everyone fell asleep!

Made-up Stories

Storytelling is an amazing way to engage with the hearts and minds of children as well as stimulate their imagination. I bring out a story for every occasion now. Stories can be used to inspire, to carry children away to magical lands, to give a sense of history – how life used to be like – or to tell of a simpler way of life and how it is possible to live without all the material comforts they take for granted. They love getting inside the life of a child in a story; for them it’s another form of role-play. I make up tales of forest-dwelling children who love to swim in woodland streams, climb like monkeys and catch falling leaves to make a wish. Or show them a book of photos of rainforest tribes and tell them stories of how they live. Or I base a new story on one I heard as a child that stuck in my mind.

A Story For Everyone

Whatever the occasion, there is always a story that is just right. You might find it at the library, on Amazon, in your memories, or adapt an old tale to fit your child’s current issues. There are some stories that are real treasures, and others that are completely valueless and only written to sell another product (Disney springs to mind). You will discover favourites that really work for your child. I am building a library of wonderful inspirational stories. I try to buy only those books which I’m sure contain something valuable, beautiful or useful that I want to share with the children. But one thing’s for sure – there’s much more to a story than meets the eye! 

If you found this post interesting and would like to learn more about hypnosis and trance, please see my posts “The Power of Music” and “Time to Dream”  for more info!