Lollipop Men and Smiling


For a few years now, my school runs have been punctuated by a brief meeting with Tony. He is the lollipop man who every day, greets parents and children with a friendly greeting and a bright smile. He has watched little ones grow from pushchair to walking, takes the time to recognise and remember everyone and is unfailingly cheerful.

Some days I’m sure Tony doesn’t feel like smiling.  Some days I certainly don’t. Days that are biting cold or drizzly, days when I’m late, flustered and the toast has landed the wrong way up. But saying ‘Good Morning’ to Tony forces me to smile. Admittedly this isn’t always genuine – I’m a polite people pleaser after all, but on hard mornings, this is often the first smile of the day (sorry family!).

When you smile, it sends a message to your brain. A message saying that all is well. Countless research has found that smiling actually increases happiness. Your brain can’t actually tell if it’s a real or fake smile and a smile can start to release feel good chemicals – making you feel more positive. More information on this can be found here. As well as the direct neural feedback, in the real world you also get the added advantage of social feedback. Smiles are infectious. So even if you don’t feel much happier, the people around you are more likely to smile, and that can improve your mood as well. Win Win!


And its those little moments of positive connections that can make all the difference.

Last week I went to do a Relax Kids session in a local school. At the end of the day, I experienced crossing the road with another lollipop man. I was upset that no one seemed to thank him! I made sure I gave him my best Polyanna smile and a warm ‘Thank you’. He didn’t respond. I wondered which came first – the chicken or the egg. I wondered if he was grumpy and the parents stopped bothering trying to have any positive interaction, or if he hated his job because he had a load of rude parents who never said thank you. Either way, I’m sure there was some mirroring going on.

We’ve all done it; mirroring a partner’s bad mood or getting caught up in a moaning spiral at work. I have a few friends who I actively seek out because their positivity is infectious. Time spent with them is energising and smiley and I always come away feeling better. I try to remember that I can control how I’m feeling by choosing to act in a certain way – both physically and behaviourally – not only my feelings, but the people around me will reinforce them.

Its obvious which lollipop man enjoys his job the most. Positive connections with others must make Tony’s job so much more enjoyable. AND he gets LOADS of presents and a huge collection at Christmas and the end of the school year!

In our Relax Kids sessions we do lots of fun things to teach how we can draw attention to our bodies and see the impact making changes can affect our feelings. We learn that our brains will notice when we have our heads held high and shoulders back – and make us feel more confident. Smiles and laughter are contagious and make us feel good and of course, learning ways to control and notice how we feel underpin a lot of our work. The more we practice, the more we strengthen those positive neural pathways and the better we get.




Those who know me will probably remember the time I had a spa experience in Turkey that made me cry.

After a relaxing  session in the hamman, the lovely Turkish lady who didn’t speak English, dried me off. She patted me down with a soft towel, gently stroking my face so tenderly it reminded me of my mum. I felt so nurtured and cared for, I embarrassingly started welling up. I luckily managed to control my instinct to simply start sobbing and nuzzle my face in her chest. As a mother, who cuddles. kisses, strokes hair and pats dry a lot, I realised that I needed some of that care myself. And I missed my mum.

Touch is a powerful thing. It is a universal communication that transcends language. Physical affection that is wanted causes the release of oxytocin. It helps to nurture feelings of trust and connectedness and it also reduces cortisol (the stress hormone). Twenty seconds of affectionate touching (hugging, back rubs, gentle stroking) is enough to trigger the release of oxytocin. In fact, touch is one of the most critical components of the human experience, with the ability to significantly impact your physical, emotional and mental health. It makes me so sad when I hear about so many elderly people, both living alone and in care homes. One of the things that they miss most is touch Hopefully caregivers, nurses and relatives are aware of this.

I saw a recent article about how in schools, teachers withholding touch to their pupils can be damaging. It goes so far to say that it may even be a form of child abuse. You can read the article here. In an increasing litigious society, staff who work in schools have been concerned that comforting children who they have fallen over, even putting a comforting arm around a shoulder when they have become upset, can leave them open to accusations. I hope that we are now moving away from this.

In Relax Kids, step 4 of our 7 step programme is massage. Ideally we get the children to do peer massage, to develop their empathetic skills and develop a connection with others. It is an important and enjoyable stage in preparing the body and mind for relaxation. It has the following benefits;

  • Lowers stress levels and relieves tiredness
  • Helps relax muscles and calms the nerves
  • Promotes better social contact, respect and communication
  • Improves circulation and stimulates lymphatic system

BUT some children don’t like to be touched. I understand that. I have a friend who would find the idea of going for a massage the opposite of relaxing – she would hate it! Of course we respect children who do not want to take part, we teach them self massage techniques or give them some of our massage balls to experiment with. We always teach children to ask for consent too. Knowing that you are in control of who, what and how you are touched is very important. Some children who are on the austitic spectrum, especially those with sensory issues, need a lot of preparation, allowing them as much control as possible.

I remember one boy who struggled with his relationship with another child in particular. It took a few sessions, but gradually over a few weeks he moved from a reluctant self massage to observer, to participating in a massage train to paired peer massage with the other child. I watched carefully as he checked if his touch was too hard or too soft and drew gentle lion footprints and butterfly wings on the other child’s back. That connection was just as valuable for both children and I honestly believe that this gentle physical connection was their biggest aide in restoring their relationship.





Me, mindfulness, my mobile phone and FOMO

FOMO, in case you don’t know, is Fear Of Missing Out. And I think that’s what I would get when I don’t have my phone to hand. It started creeping up on me, this need to keep checking my phone, over the last couple of years.

It looked a little bit like this;

  • going out with a friend, keeping my phone on the table and checking it. For no particular reason.
  • reaching for my phone whenever I had to wait; at the dentist, for my takeaway, in the supermarket queue, when my kids were coming out of school.
  • doing work at home in the evening, important work – with a deadline, but also joining in chats about my favourite crisps from the 1980s on Twitter.
  • reading a bedtime story and checking if the Boots online sale had started at the same time.

I had to do something about it.

Through my growing self development and my learning and development of mindfulness I’ve been able to live a little differently. I’ve previously been very smug about my mindful moments and meditation but wasn’t able to take a step back and look at the bigger picture.

Mindfulness involves being actively engaged in your surroundings. This means participating in an event or whatever you are doing and being aware of what is happening around you, whether it be on the bus, at a café, or in a queue. It’s also about being able to sit with and accept whatever emotions come up. It’s the ability to sit with that initial uncomfortable feeling of perhaps not knowing what to do without the crutch of your phone and recognise it and realise that it will pass and that you don’t need to escape it.

The worst thing is that my kids saw me with my phone far too much. I’m already concerned about their screen time, both now and in their future. I don’t want their brains to be overstimulated and overloaded, chasing images and them being unable to just be happy sitting – sitting in their own skin, their own thoughts and in their own interesting boredom. I need to be their role model and teacher.

So this is what I am doing….

Making a decision to NEVER check my phone when I am talking to, having a drink with or out with a friend. It is incredibly rude and there is no excuse.

Waiting and being alone. And being OK with this. THIS IS THE BEST BIT! I now love waiting. Well that’s not always true, I don’t want to go over the top, but I do appreciate the time since deciding to use it as opportunity to be a bit more mindful. So, at the dentist I just sit, have a couple of moments to just check in with how I’m feeling, be aware of my environment and relax. Its a little treat to just have this few minutes with absolutely nothing to do.  The first few times I did this it felt a bit odd. I sometimes noticed that I was alone in actually not looking at my phone. I felt a bit ‘exposed’ without the barrier of being engaged in something, open to anything or anyone. But now I look and listen; at my surroundings, the sky, the traffic, the people (admittedly people watching is my favourite but I need to try to do it more discreetly, especially now I am not using my phone as a cover). I feel; the breeze against my face, the rhythm of my breath, my shoulders relax. I think (about how I am feeling, about my beautiful family, about the creative ideas I have (hmmmm, still working on this one) and I watch these thoughts pass.

Talking to more people. I need a connection with others. Since I’ve not reached for my phone in the supermarket queue or when picking up the children from school, I’ve talked to more people. Yesterday I complimented a woman on her boots in Tescos and we ended up sharing shoe inspiration and laughing together. I  chatted to a new parent in the playground and discovered a shared interest in flooring (admittedly mine only fleeting, hers career based).  Now,  I’m fully aware that some people get out their phones so they don’t have to talk to people. On public transport for example, it gives the signal that you’re busy and therefore shouldn’t be disturbed. But an openness to engage with others can start chance encounters, magical stories and just fuel that need for human connection. Even a smile can make a difference (and you can’t do that when your head is down looking at your phone).

Putting my phone away or turning it off at times. I started off with an hour after I get up and an hour before I got to bed. This was a tricky one at first. I would do it, but then have a look at my tablet or laptop therefore completely defeating the object. So what I did was actually put them away. In a drawer. This was good – out of site, out of mind. I felt a great sense of freedom. So I put them all in a bag and chucked them in Trittiford Lake.  Only joking about the last bit – I’m not mad. But some days I leave my phone at home (ok mostly accidentally, but I can cope and often feel that same sense of freedom).

Having a good start to the day. I’m trying, to make sure that, as much as possible, I develop a morning ritual that makes a positive start to the day. Admittedly this is work in progress. I’m not checking my phone but haven’t quite got to the stage of yoga, stretching, meditation and preparing a healthy breakfast. I’m at a happy medium at the moment. I am happy to cuddle my little boy when he creeps into our bed at ridiculous o clock, I have a couple of minutes to positively affirm the day ahead and I do one sun salutation before toast and coffee. Small steps and all that.

Reading. When I go for a coffee or to lunch alone, I really enjoy sitting and reading a book or a newspaper. But I notice that I’m sitting and reading. And I notice that this is making me happy. And if its a week day when people are working, I feel especially lucky to be able to sit in a warm coffee shop, just sitting and reading and feeling happy. And noticing it.

It feels good. Fancy joining me?