Dayna Sharp, LCSW
Calming Techniques for Kids
When kids experience anxiety or anger in a BIG way, it can be hard for them to understand what's happening, to control their behavior and to calm themselves this down. This is partly because when children experience feelings intensely, it can activate their central nervous system--taking them from their somewhat rational selves to a place of sheer emotion. Teaching kids calming techniques can help them regain control, so that they can begin to understand what those experiences are and what to do with them.
Creating a Daily Practice: Taking Good Care of Your Body
Kids learn to take a shower or bath, to keep their fingernails trim and clean, to brush their teeth and see a dentist. Similarly, taking good care of their emotional wellness is equally important. There are many exercises that kids can do every day that help plant seeds of emotional self-care and with daily practice, can reduce overall stress levels, reducing both frequency and intensity of nervous system activation, ie. "meltdowns". Here are some things you and your child can do:
1. Sleep. There have been several studies that link insufficient sleep with behavioral problems in kids. Sleep is important! Make sure that your child is getting enough, interrupted quality sleep every night.
2. Exercise. Activities like running, jumping, skipping, hula-hooping, swimming, dancing, can help in lots of ways. First, the body releases endorphins that help maintain emotional balance. Second, movement helps build a healthy brain, encouraging learning and cognitive flexibility--the ability to "shift gears" in thought. Getting exercise everyday can set your child's stage for emotional health and wellness.
3. Nutrition. Ensure that your child is eating a balance of foods, indulging in "junk food" in moderation. Sugars and dyes can increase activity levels and impulsivity, and also lead to a "crash" feeling, leaving kids tired, cranky, and vulnerable to "lose it".
4. Down Time. This can look different for different kids. It could mean a nap, or a time to read, or a time to listen to soothing music. Activities like yoga (animal poses are a favorite!) can be a fun way to calm down as a family! Check out this yoga resource for more ideas!
5. Calm Breathing. Obviously we all breathe throughout the day, but a slow, deep, intentional breathing practice serves as a "brake" for our central nervous system--it literally stops and slows activation. This kind of breathing works best in the moment when your child practices regularly, so find ways to incorporate it into your day! It can be meaningful to incorporate this practice into your routine, so maybe before school, after school and before bed. Do this with your child, so it's something that your family just does--just like brushing your teeth. There are LOTS of ways to do Calm Breathing, it's a matter of finding what works for your child. This is a fantastic resource on Calm Breathing--if there are too many choices, just remember to pick 2-4 options that feel like a good fit and stick with them. I particularly like the belly breathing (Hoberman Sphere), the Square breathing (especially if you can make a square from nail files, or use textured paint to make a square on posterboard. This way, kids can run their finger along the square, keeping them in the present and focused on their breath), and the Imagination breathing--envisioning colors going in and out. Maybe "red" is for anger, going out and "peaceful" is a light blue, going in to the body.
6. Create Anxiety-busters. Make things like "worry stones" or have a "worry box" where kids can write their worries, and they can "held" for them throughout the day. You might also make a glitter jar, that can help kids take some time to settle their thoughts and calm their worries.
Tips for "In the Moment"
1. Say What You See. "It seems like you're feeling frustrated. Can we take some time so you can take care of your feelings?", is something you might say. By now, your child knows what this means, because you've been practicing! They can choose what they'd like to do , or if they're too distressed, you can choose for them.
2. Engage. Is your child able to engage in Calming Activities with you? If so, go for it!
Go through the yoga sequence listed above. Do the "Thunderstorm" together, where you sit together on the floor, and start making rain sounds by tapping your fingers on the floor, increasingly making the "rain" louder, until you are banging your hands on the floor making thunder, clapping your hands making lightening. Make it get loud! Then, when all the angst has been released, slowly go back to a heavy rain, a light rain. Lie down on the floor, and make a sprinkle with your fingertips, until all the rain is gone and there's nothing left but quiet. Lie here and enjoy the peace for a moment. Let your child know that the quiet feels good, but it can't be quiet all the time. Let them know you are proud of them for taking good care of their anger.
3. Give Space. If your child is too activated to engage with you, let them take some space. Let them know that they seem angry or distressed and that they need some space where they can Calm Down. Set up a Calm Down area in your home, so that they can practice their Calm breathing (square breathing), use sensory objects like their worry stones, worry box, or Calming Glitter Jar, play relaxing music, read books about feelings, feel comfort from a weighted blanket, etc. When your child is quieter, make sure to reconnect, check in with how they are feeling, let them know they did a great job taking good care of their feelings, and see if you can problem solve so they don't have to get SO distressed next time.
How Therapy Helps
Offering your child some of the Calming tips I've listed above can really go a long way. But no parent can give everything to their child by themselves. We don't give our kids professional teeth cleanings, or haircuts, or teach them karate--and parents don't have to be the sole teacher of emotional self care either. Setting your child up with a therapist offers them a relationship with someone who really understands feelings, who "gets" the minds of children, so that they can better understand themselves and feel more in control of themselves. A good therapist can also help your child to organize the coping skills and new vocabulary they are learning so that they become habits, and ultimately part of their everyday relationship with themselves and others.
At Creating Space Counseling and Wellness, I enjoy working with kids and their families, to teach them new coping skills, to offer different ways of thinking about their feelings, to help them recognize their experience, to be able to problem solve and to help organize it all into a lifestyle that feels good--and sustainable.
Call today to schedule an appointment! 856-281-1664