Leanne Jones is teaching children how to overcome their anxiety.  File photo.
Leanne Jones is teaching children how to overcome their anxiety. File photo.

‘I see four-year-olds who hate themselves’

A FORMER teacher is holding group sessions for children across Brisbane to help them deal with their anxiety issues.

Leanne Jones created KalmKids - a 10 week course for children - after confronting her own issues with anxiety.

"I had always been someone that worried about what other people would think of me. I would wake up in the middle of the night and stress about some unknown outcome. It was affecting my life, my health and even my relationships, and I knew I needed to turn it around," she said.

Ms Jones started practising yoga, deep breathing and meditation, then thought she might be able to combine that with her experience as a teacher to help children too.

"I feel there needs to be something proactive to help children deal with anxiety early in their life, so that they're able to deal with these emotions when they come across them."

Ms Jones conducts workshops at Deagon, Ashgrove, Sherwood, Tingalpa and Sunnybank, and said people would be surprised at the levels of anxiety experienced by young children.

"The worst is that self-hatred - that really mean dialogue to self - and I see it at all ages, even four and five-year-olds. They think 'I'm dumb, I'm stupid'. I think it comes from comparison - looking around at others and thinking 'I'm not like that so I must not be as good'," she said.

"I see problems with friendships, bullying, and perceived pressure - whether they think it's coming from an external source or whether they're putting it on themselves, parental separation, comparing themselves to others, and perfectionism."

If left unchecked, Ms Jones said childhood feelings of stress can lead to even more serious problems later in life.

Creator of KalmKids Leanne Jones.
Creator of KalmKids Leanne Jones.

"It can be a lifetime of anxiety leading to depression," she said.

She said anxiety can present in children as shyness, clinging to their parents, crying, not wanting to go to school, nervousness, refusing to talk about what's upsetting them, or not knowing what's upsetting them, and aggression.

"I see children who are as young as four, but those four-year-olds can be very articulate," she said.

Ms Jones said she listens to what children and parents tell her before teaching the child a range of strategies to help them feel empowered and in control.

"We do deep breathing exercises which we know from research can calm down that fight or flight response," she said.

"Then we have a sharing circle so the kids get to talk about what's bothering them. Later in the course, they can talk about how they're using their strategies, and I find that that's really powerful - kids airing their concerns in a really safe environment. It's with other children, myself and my assistant where there's no judgment."

Ms Jones also leads children through guided visualisation, journaling and gratitude - and said the results can be instantaneous.

"Some children respond so quickly. They take the deep breathing on board and implement it straight up," she said.

"I've had children come back after the first session and say 'I was in a situation and I was so stressed, but I remembered that you said deep breathing would help me so I did it and I was calm'. As soon as I do the very first deep breathing exercise, they can feel that response straight away. Even the energy in the room comes right down to calm. It's really amazing."

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