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iFootpath Insight: Empowering Children through Walking

There’s no doubt that walking with our children offers lots of potential benefits to their physical and emotional health, but wouldn’t it be nice to know how to maximise this potential? In this month’s guest blog, we are delighted to get real insight and detailed advice from NLP Therapist, Debbie Kinghorn. Debbie has more than 15 years of experience in psychology, coaching and communications and specialises in helping children and their parents with anxiety, bullying and confidence building. Discover Debbie’s simple methods and top tips to empower your children before, during and after a walk…

 

We’re all aware of the physical benefits of walking, we’re regularly given the fact and figures of the number of steps per day or how to get our heart rate peaking. There are so many emotional and sometimes unexpected benefits to walking too, especially for our children, here are some of my favourites…

nlp family walking coverBefore your walk….

Utilise this opportunity to plan the walk together. iFootpath has a great website which provides the opportunity to search for walks in a specific area and gives useful details such as the difficulty, length of the walk and historical/local interest information. Ask your children to search through the listed walks and find ones they would like to do. Then as a family you can help narrow the search down. Participating in the decision-making process is a great way to get even the most reluctant of walkers to don their boots.

To get your walk on the right foot (so to speak), this a great opportunity to help children understand the importance of planning ahead and taking responsibility for their own actions.  If you’re a regular walking family, or you’re planning to be with the use of iFootpath, then help your child work out what they need to get ready for a walk - e.g. coat, boots, snack, drink etc. If they struggle to remember, help them create a list they can refer back to before each walk. If they’re still quite young, their list can be created using pictures cut from magazines or photos. Also, to help time management and create a bias towards success, be clear about what time you’re planning to leave and what time they need to be at the front door, with all their belongings. If everyone gets themselves ready, it isn’t down to one person to take up the strain, so you too can leave the house looking forward to the outdoor experience.

 

During your walk…

Children model our behaviour; if you’re going out stressed, talking about work, constantly on your phone and not taking time out to enjoy the beautiful environment, then your children are very likely to model this behaviour. Prepare to have fun, forget about work and live in the moment. If you have younger children, you may want to turn the modelling dynamic on its head and model them for a while. As your child stops to look at flowers, birds and creepy crawlies, stop and take a look too.  Children are so much better at mindfulness (the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something) than us, so take a leaf out of their book, simply ‘be’ as you walk along, notice the sun, wind or rain on your skin. Take a moment to swizzle in the middle of the forest and take time out to just enjoy the freedom from life's ‘grown up’ constraints. Walks are the perfect time to connect with each other and with the outside world, so release your inner child and run free.

family outingAs already mentioned, iFootpath gives helpful information on each walk to help you choose the best walk for all members of your family. Sometimes your walks may push some family members a little harder than they would like. They get tired, the climb is a bit too much of a challenge or they get ‘bored’.  This is another great learning opportunity; the life skill of breaking things down into more manageable goals (in NLP we refer to this as ‘chunking down’). Use the waypoints, a tree or hills as mini goals.  Help them to celebrate when they’ve reached each small milestone (30 second dance parties are great for this) or play a quick game before you set off on the next stretch of the walk.

Being out and about in nature is a great opportunity to talk about lifecycles. Children often experience death for the first time when it’s a pet or family member. So, take the opportunity to prepare them. Talk about leaves dying during the autumn. If you see a dead animal, chat about what happened, wonder together what kind of life it had and how its other family members may be feeling. Give them the opportunity to express how they feel about death, as it’s probably very different to your perspective, and ask questions to help them get over difficult thoughts.  If you’re a story teller, this is the perfect opportunity for a woodland creature story. You could even build on the work of Kenneth Grahame and put on your own version of the tales of the river bank (the later years). 

nlp tree climbingProvide lots of opportunities in your walk for children to go off the footpath and explore. Climbing trees, rocks and building dens are all fantastic experiences and again provide the opportunity for your children to gain confidence in an activity whilst under supervision. If they’re new to tree climbing, show them how to do it safely (if you’re still able to shimmy up a tree), or give them verbal guidance and encouragement from the safety of the ground. 

Anchoring is a technique we use a lot in NLP. It’s the act of associating an action or object with a specific emotion. For example, you may have anchored an item of clothing with a time you did something really well (e.g. the concept of lucky pants) or when you hear a certain song on the radio, it transports you back to a very specific time and place in your life. Both the pants and the song in these examples are anchors.  When you’re out walking there are some fantastic opportunities to anchor some relaxed feelings, e.g. when we stand in a clearing on a sunny day with our eyes closed, or the feelings of pride and accomplishment when we’ve climbed a huge hill.  The outside worl­­d offers up a fantastic sensory smorgasbord. The more sensory information we take on board, the more we’re able to recall the memory later. Many of my fondest childhood memories are of being out walking or exploring with my parents and they’re generally triggered by a smell or a photo from a specific moment in time. You may also want to take this opportunity to practice grounding (a type of anchoring); grounding is great for helping children concentrate, feel centred and more relaxed.

(For more information on the anchoring and grounding techniques, visit Debbie’s online community, The Confidence Builder Club).

For sullen teens or reluctant talkers, walking can be a great opportunity for them to open up and share feelings or experiences with you. Walking often provides this opportunity because:

  • You’re walking side by side (it can be intimidating to share your inner thoughts when someone is looking at you intently).
  • You’re probably walking in time with each other (physically building rapport).
  • They know they have your full attention; when at home, life activities can get in the way of active listening (listening with your full attention) and during your walk you’re a captive audience.

So, use your time wisely and really listen. Don’t underestimate the power of silence either, do a bit of silent walking too, show them it’s okay to walk in comfortable silence. These silent times provide the opportunity for active young minds to slow down, for thoughts to gather and to make sense of our thoughts and feelings.  Periods of silence can often trigger the best morsels of insight into your child’s mind.

 

Going home…

nlp mother and son leavesTake the outside in – take little bits of your trip back with you.  Maybe a leaf, pine cone or similar.  These serve as a reminder (another type of anchor) of your trip out and the fun you shared. Give your children the opportunity to put your memento somewhere safe or on display at home.  Younger children may also want to reflect on their day with a picture too.  Wherever possible, give them this opportunity to capture the moment and add it to their great walking memories.

The journey home is a lovely opportunity to reflect on your time together.  While you’re in the car or on the train, ask everyone to give their 3 best things about the walk.  It’s another great way to reflect on the day and to commit the best parts to memory.  You may also be surprised at the suggestions made, sometimes it can be the smallest or most innocuous things that made the day special.  Remember not to challenge this, everyone’s perspective of their day is unique to them and will be based around their own values, beliefs, likes, dislikes etc.  

 

The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.”

                                                                                                                                                      ― Eleanor Roosevelt

About Debbie…

DK Profile Pic smallDebbie offers an online community for parents committed to developing confidence in their children, as well as 1:1 sessions and workshops to help children and young people with anxiety and bullying. Visit Debbie’s web resources for more information…

http://www.confidencebuilderclub.com/

http://childtherapyderbyshire.nlp4kids.org/

 

 

29 April 2018

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