Clammy hands. Racing heart. Clenched stomach. If I could give my children one gift for their lifetime, it would be to manage stress. I wish they could learn techniques so that they could be confident and grounded in any situation. In our society, parents are continually bombarded with the current health buzz. We are so careful about not eating unpasturized cheese while pregnant. We ditch the carpet lest our kids are affected by off-gassing, and we work incessantly to make sure there are no parabens in our shampoo, nitrites in our meat and dust in our pillows. Doing the right things for our children can not only be time-consuming but stressful as well. And we’ve also heard the buzz about the long-term health consequences of stress. What better gift could we bestow on any human being than the gift of a healthy coping mechanism? Child and youth clinical counsellor Michele Kambolis is the Vice Chair of the BC Mental Health Foundation, and saw the need for a program for children to learn the coping skills for stressful situations thoughout their lives. Enter CHI Kids. It needs more than a drumroll.
Launched in June 2010 in response to what Kambolis was seeing in her psychology practice, CHI Kids teaches children “happiness tools” to deal with the stresses of everyday life, as well as the angst that upsets children during extraordinary circumstances. Supported by research showing that early engagement and access to targeted support programs can prevent or reduce mental illness, Kambolis designed a not-for-profit program around evidence-based cognitive behavioural and positive psychology techniques.
“Some would say children are normally happy, why do they need skills?” said Kambolis. “Our children have more pressure on them than ever, not only to succeed at school and in sports, but more often, daily life where hurried schedules, divorce and bullying are the reality. By teaching these skills at this point in time and focusing on early childhood mental health, we can reduce the potential for mental health challenges in later life.”
Designed for all children, the program is proving particularly effective with children experiencing higher levels of stress and anxiety. The one-hour class begins with science based muscle relaxation, negative thought stopping, simple yoga movements and breathing techniques. Story time, art and time on the CHI Kids carpet – a magic carpet for many – make up the remainder of a structured but relaxed hour. Older children learn biofeedback and create their own DJ-style relaxation CD.
Kambolis explains that the part of the brain called the amygdala sometimes tricks us into believing that we are in danger when really we are not. It’s like a snowglobe. You must figure out how to settle the amygdala (or the snow within) down. Not all kids have serious problems but any child can be in need of skills to learn how to relax and cope. Parents have credited the program with opening up dialogue between parent and child. Results have been extraordinary, and children are managing daily issues with greater confidence. The health-care community is actively making referrals, recognizing CHI Kids as a stand-alone skills program as well as a compliment to therapy programs.
Here’s a common parental reaction to the program:
“CHI kids has given my 8 year old daughter a very special and meaningful “club” of her own. My daughter, who suffers from anxiety, has a place where she can go, with other little girls and boys who are just like her, to practice all of the amazing tools she has within herself. It’s one thing for me, as a mother to work with her on techniques, such as square breathing and powerful mindfulness, but to do it in within a group of her peers is very powerful. The weekly sessions reinforce what she knows, and help her to develop these new tools as habits. It’s reassuring and fun for her to do it in a group of other wonderful children who are benefiting from the same techniques. The CHI kids instructors are warm, loving and bring the kids together in a way that make them feel really special. Over the year that Natalie has been taking the course, I have seen her confidence, happiness and skill base rise immensely – an amazing progress that hadn’t been achieved until this. Natalie is an amazing CHI kid – as she calls herself – as a result of this one-of-a-kind class (and I’ve searched for them over the years) and our whole family has benefited.”
Wow. And I thought theatre school was helpful – but it took 10 years, buckets of money, and an extra therapist to deal with the aftermath of Chekhov. CHI Kids would have been so much more efficient. Hopefully the program can be spread to children everywhere. We would like to help facilitate this and UrbanMommies will be donating a portion of all advertising proceeds to CHI Kids. If you wish to donate, you can do so at www.bcmhf.ca and select CHI Kids. The cost of the program is $320 for a series of 8 classes for children aged 5-13. And the cost to society if our children continue down pathways that lead to mental illness? Hmm.
Sacred Space Studio
3574 West 4th Avenue
To register: 604-689-9116 *After February 21st.