I made eye contact with the child I was working with, the obvious emotional overwhelm clear across her face. Curled up into a small ball, small shoulders hunched, she had shoved herself into the smallest corner of the room.
I set a timer, quietly asked her to choose her “just right strategy” by the time the timer ran out and stepped back.
Slowly, the child’s body language shifted. She sat up. Looking at me, she pointed to a deep breathing exercise and to a stress ball choice. I nodded and handed her the squeeze ball as we went through what we call a “bubble breath.”
A few minutes later, she was ready to return to class, smiling and calm.
In the climate under which we are living, there are significant undercurrents of stress that children are able to detect and feel themselves.
It is important to recognize that children may be experiencing large and overwhelming emotions.
Providing them with concrete exercises (from a physical and cognitive perspective) and allowing them to choose their “just-right” support can help ensure that they can self-regulate on an as-needed basis as independently as possible.
Here are a few examples of related self-regulation strategies:
Close your eyes. Now, I want you to create a box where you are going to put away all of your worries, anything that you are afraid of, and lock it so that not even one tiny worry can escape. What does your Worry Box look like? Is it colorful? Is it smooth or rough? Have it in your mind? Now, put every single drop of anything that’s worrying you right now into your Worry Box. Make sure to get it all! Now, carefully close the lid and lock it tightly. There we go. Now, those worries are locked away and can’t bother us; we don’t have to think about them anymore. They’re gone!
Imagine you have a wand of bubbles. When you breathe out, be careful not to pop it!
- Place one flat palm on your heart, one flat palm on your belly.
- Breathe in through your nose and hold your breath for five seconds.
- Breathe out a large “bubble” through pursed lips, blow out and hold for five seconds.
I often tell kids that I work with: “Put all of your yucky feelings into your finger. Pull and keep pulling until you pull the feeling right out of your body! Pull really hard until you want to stop.”
Give it a try, I bet this becomes one of your favorites.
- Put one hand palm up, one hand palm down (both facing each other).
- Touch fingertips together (except thumbs) and pull them apart as hard as you can.
- Hold for as long as your body needs to (five to ten seconds, at least).
Feel Where Your Body Is
When we feel a strong Fast and Emotional or Fast and Wiggly (overly active) feeling, and begin to enter fight-or-flight, it can be difficult to feel all the different parts of our body. Doing this exercise correctly is very calming, because it tells each of the joints of our body where they are through giving your body deep pressure and relaxes our nervous system.
- Cross your hands over your shoulders and gently squeeze.
- Quietly say to yourself, “Here are my shoulders.”
- Move down to your elbows—cross your hands over your elbows and gently squeeze. Quietly say to yourself, “Here are my elbows.”
- Move down to your wrists—cross your hands over your wrists and gently squeeze. Quietly say to yourself, “Here are my wrists.”
- Move down to your right hand—go to each finger and gently squeeze with your left hand. Quietly say to yourself, “Here is my pinky. Here is my ring finger. Here is my middle finger. Here is my pointer. Here is my thumb.”
- Move down to your left hand—go to each finger and gently squeeze with your right hand. Quietly say to yourself, “Here is my pinky. Here is my ring finger. Here is my middle finger. Here is my pointer. Here is my thumb.”
- Move down to your hips—cross your hands over your hips and gently squeeze. Quietly say to yourself, “Here are my hips.”
- Move down to your knees—cross your hands over your knees and gently squeeze. Quietly say to yourself, “Here are my knees.”
- Move down to your ankles— your hands over your ankles and gently squeeze. Quietly say to yourself, “Here are my ankles.”
- Move down to your feet—cross your hands over your feet and gently squeeze. Quietly say to yourself, “Here are my feet.”
The Journal In My Mind
Sometimes, when there’s a lot going on in life, and our days are pretty busy, the only time our mind has time to think is at night. This becomes a problem when we can’t control how long we are thinking, what we are thinking about, and how to refocus our minds.
The Journal in Your Mind is a personal journal in your mind where you can write or sketch down any thoughts that are bothering you and that may be keeping you awake. I’d like you to create the journal now. What color is the cover of your journal? What color are the pages? What are you using to write or draw with—a pencil? A pen? Or are you using a crayon, marker, or colored pencil? Now, draw or write anything on your mind that may be bothering you and keeping you awake (or awake later). Close the cover of the journal when you’re done—now those thoughts are gone and away, unless you open the journal and want to think about them another time.
Think of something that happened recently that may have made you feel frustrated, worried, angry or scared. Show a silent thumbs up when you have that moment in your mind. OK, great!
Let’s practice saying a few mantras:
- “Oh well, maybe next time!”
- “No big deal!”
- “I can try again another time!”
- “I am awesome no matter what!”
- “I am loved!”
- “I am safe.”
Which is your favorite?
The more you integrate these strategies into daily life, the easier it will be for your children to automatically utilize them on an as-needed basis. Try them out for yourselves as well — they really do work. Sending love.