I’ve just been invited into a project designed to support children’s mental health by resetting how their school day begins.
This kind of work makes my heart sing, because it’s so often NOT bold changes that are most impactful, but simple shifts; re-thinking how we approach ‘what happens anyway’…
The golden windows of opportunity around beginnings are often missed because they are typically fraught with stress, anxiety and chaos.
As the parent of a small child, I know only too well the conflict that can erupt simply from trying to leave the house, as arriving on time takes on a life-or-death quality.
Navigating idiot drivers, relentless red lights and no parking spaces often marks the start of our day at work.
And when we work directly with children, both of these worlds can collide as starting on time, establishing order and, very possibly, settling children whose day has already got off to a bad start does nothing to help matters.
And it’s for these very reasons that beginnings deserve so much of our attention!
It is one of those counter-intuitive truths that we don’t halt ‘productivity’; in whatever shape or form that takes; by giving space and time to the start of the day, but increase it, especially where children are concerned.
While they may be composed and ‘managing’ on the outside, most kids won’t have yet mastered the self-regulation skills to dust off a bad start and just ‘crack on’.
Their brain chemistry is still likely to be in flux, affecting how learning-ready they are.
How do ‘good beginnings’ make all the difference?
Firstly, they set the tone for the rest of the day, for what’s going to happen and for what to expect.
How many times do we have a ‘bad day’ because it started badly?
Bad things aren’t more likely to happen because the day starts badly.
Bad things are more likely to happen because our nervous system just hasn’t had the opportunity to recover, meaning that, neurologically and biochemically, our resilience is depleted.
So when more stress comes at it, it’s a downward spiral, reinforced by the belief that often comes up here; “Today’s a bad day!”
So what are these simple shifts and adjustments that can make all the difference, not to how the day starts, but how it continues?
How do we-and the children we work with-get to the end of the day feeling today was a good day, or at least satisfactory?
Here are three ways we can all help;
Five or ten minutes establishing connection is time well spent.
Welcome every child (and adult), ideally using their name, making a point to acknowledge those who’ve slipped by unnoticed if you were distracted by something or someone else.
Use a ritual; a game or activity that integrates everyone, especially those who struggle to find that sense of belonging.
“You are wanted and accepted, and I’m pleased that you’re here”…
When you receive that message; you feel and believe it,;activity in the ‘survival brain’ – which is stimulated by stress – is moderated. A
burst of oxytocin – our connecting hormone – helps the brain tune in and charge up.
Movement and Fun!
The challenges associated with beginnings mean that adrenaline levels are likely to be elevated, across the board.
It will be seriously spiking in those children who’ve had a truly unpleasant start to the day. And you might not know who they are, because some of those kids will now be utterly relieved to be with you.
A burst of fun or movement; a walk or run, a game, a quick rendition of heads-shoulders-knees-and-toes, even a few stretches; will give dopamine a boost, which has two huge benefits!
For a start, this feel-good hormone helps flush adrenaline from the system, making a ‘flight-flight-freeze’ response less likely.
Secondly, it speeds up neural connectivity, turbo-charging learning readiness.
For this very reason, don’t wait for the end of the day for the fun!
In the form of ‘mirror neurons’, human brains possess a mechanism for emitting our electro-magnetic energy into the space, and for patterning on others’ energy too.
In other words, our states of mind are contagious. This attunement – or not – explains why it’s so easy for one distressed child to lead to whole group disintegration, or why you can bring order from chaos just by holding the space well.
And neuroscientific research is showing that intent is the most powerful component in facilitating this, so mindfully set your intention before you even get started.
The beginning of the day might be challenging, but hold on to those intentions.
And if things fall apart, don’t let that determine the rest of the day. It’s never too late to start the beginning again.
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