A Podcast to Help Your Kids Stay Calm
Getting mellow with Peace Out Podcast’s Chanel Tsang
There’s something about bedtime that revs the imagination into overdrive. It happens to me, and it happens to my son. The difference is that I can write something down or file thoughts away as I lay down, but for my son, the pistons just keep firing until a couple hours later, we’re trying to figure out how to get him to sleep. Enter Peace Out Podcast, the show from Bedtime FM that combines storytelling and mindfulness/relaxation techniques to help give kids the tools to wind down. My kid now listens to it every night before bed, and my wife has taken to using it when she can’t sleep, too.
Peace Out is the second show from Rob Griffiths’ Bedtime FM, which produces the popular Story Time show, as well. Its second season launched today, so I chatted a bit with Chanel about her background, how she puts together the stories to help kids relax, and what we can expect in the new season.
Can you tell me a little bit about how you started the show? How did you get in touch with Rob at Bedtime FM, etc.?
My kids had been listening to Bedtime FM’s Story Time podcast for a while before I followed their Facebook page. One day I was scrolling through my Facebook feed and I saw that Rob, the founder and narrator, put out a request for volunteers to help with the show. I was grateful that he gave me the opportunity to give back and help out with Story Time, looking for unique stories to be read on the show and doing a bit of reading myself. It was fun, and the best part was that I got major bonus points from my daughters for being part of their favourite podcast!
A few months in, I was putting together some resources for work about self-regulation and social-emotional skills for children. I started thinking that it might be helpful for parents and teachers to have stories focused on relaxation available to help teach their children about calming down. Sometimes we tell kids to “just calm down,” but what does that mean? What does calm look like? What does it feel like?
I nervously asked Rob what he thought and thankfully he was all for it! So we’ve been working together on creating Peace Out for the past year now; me writing and recording the stories in Canada and Rob editing and producing them in the U.K. until it’s ready to be shared with anyone around the world!
Yours is one of those shows where I think, “I could never do that.” It’s a unique set of skills to be able to do the relaxations, etc., you do in every show. What’s your background in that area?
I work in a family resource program. Families with children from birth to age six come to play and learn in our centre and the adults get connected to community resources and parent education as well as to other families in their neighbourhood. It’s the best job, I love my work!
Part of that work is to help children and their families with the transition to full-day kindergarten. Some assume this means only working on letters and numbers, and, while those are important, our main focus is social-emotional skills, the skills that children need to succeed in school and in life. Social-emotional skills include things like empathy, knowing how to ask for help, making friends (and keeping them), sharing and taking turns, calming themselves down, etc.
I’ve also always enjoyed yoga, especially hot yoga. (Recently I did goat yoga with baby pygmy goats which was very adorable and fun!) This year I started to practice daily mindfulness meditation. In one of our stories called “Belly Breathing,” my daughter and I talk about our mild asthma and being mindful and aware about our breathing since it’s the most important thing we do every day! All these things have informed what I do for Peace Out.
There’s something very “new age” about the show, but also something very “old school,” in the sense that it’s very much a direct address to the audience. There’s essentially no gap between you and the kids. It reminds me of some of the old-time radio that would speak directly to listeners. Was that part of the idea at all?
I absolutely LOVE how you described Peace Out just now! And I have to admit, the idea that I’m speaking directly to the kids listening didn’t occur to me! I guess it’s just natural for me to talk directly with children because that’s what I do every day at work, which is such a joy and an honour. One of my favourite things to do is to get down to a child’s level and have a conversation with them, even if it’s a few words with a toddler before they run off, because, if my youngest daughter has taught me anything, it’s that children want to be taken seriously! Also, as I’m sure most reading this will know, kids say some of the most interesting and hilarious and bluntly insightful things ever.
I think another part of this directness is that I feel that we’re in this together. Some parts of our stories are inspired by mindfulness, or the practice of focusing on the present moment in a non-judgmental way. Mindfulness has been around for a very long time, but it seems that it’s only recently been gaining traction in schools and with educators and pretty much everywhere else, which is amazing because I truly believe that it’s really a valuable practice for everyone! I’m new to it and still learning, right alongside the kids! I’m happy that we’re all journeying together.
I have to say that my son listens to your show every night before bed, to help him wind down. Do you hear from parents about how your show is used, practically?
I love that! And I have to tell you that my oldest daughter loves your show and was excited that I was working with you on this, Jonathan!
Yes, we’re so grateful to hear from parents and teachers about how they use Peace Out at home and in the classroom. We hear how it’s used right before bed to help unwind, like with your family. We had an amazing review from a school therapist who works with children who’ve experienced trauma and children with special needs. We’ve had teachers send us photos of their class listening to a story together with the lights out and pillows on the floor.
This is one of the many things I love about podcasts — all you need to do is listen so you can close your eyes and let your imagination take over.
This is one of the many things I love about podcasts — all you need to do is listen so you can close your eyes and let your imagination take over. I try to write each Peace Out story so that most of it can be done with your eyes closed most of the time. I think the podcast medium works so well for what we’re trying to do because there’s less distraction and stimulation when your eyes are closed, which helps kids focus on their breathing and how their minds and bodies are feeling at the moment.
We even have messages from adults who like listening to our podcast — with or without the kids!
A lot of the stories are about picturing yourself going somewhere. To the moon, underwater, etc. What is it about that sort of “journey of the mind” (if I may) that is effective in helping kids become calm?
In our “A Trip to the Moon” story we talk about the cool, calm quiet of the moon and how due to the moon’s atmosphere (I’m a former teacher so I try to inject some science into each story!) the surface will remain undisturbed for a very, very long time. We ended that story by imagining ourselves tracing our names into the moon’s surface, claiming a little space for ourselves. We talk about knowing that our names will stay there for our whole lives, and that we can use our imagination to “go” to that special spot on the moon whenever we’re feeling frustrated, scared, anxious, or stressed out.
Imagination is a superpower! Your imagination can take you anywhere and let you do amazing things. Visualizing going somewhere else can allow us to take a pause from what’s happening at the moment that may be stressful or upsetting. Imagining that you’re walking on the moon or swinging from a trapeze for a few minutes can be fun and relaxing, and when you’re ready to get back to real life, you’ll likely feel more prepared, or at least calm enough, to begin to deal with whatever’s going on. We try to include some different ideas and strategies to help calm down, like the “Calm Down Countdown,” that children can use to help themselves when they are feeling stressed out or upset.
And the best part about visualization is that you can do this anywhere, anytime!
Season 2 starts today! What should listeners expect?
More adventure! At the end of Season 1 we asked listeners to vote for an animal that would be part of each Season 2 story and they chose the red panda! So we’re going to follow Kaala the Red Panda’s adventure to find an ancient hidden treasure (the name “kaala” is what the Limbus people in eastern Nepal call red pandas). This season, we are also focusing on emotions. Each story will talk about a different emotion, using Kaala as an example, and break them down by describing what the emotion is, what it feels like, and different ways kids can manage them.
We really want to help kids manage those big emotions by giving them easy-to-remember strategies they can pull out on their own whenever they’re confronted by emotional challenges!