As a Psychologist I have found that the core of so many difficulties is helping kids to first recognize their emotions and second teaching them to relax their bodies. Whether a child is anxious, angry, sad, embarrassed etc. there is no point trying to talk to them and expect their behaviour to change if they are lost in the emotion. Quite literally they can not hear you let alone problem solve and make choices.
Adults expect that kids should know what their emotions are. But the truth is, just like learning to walk and talk, emotions need to be learnt. Children will need you to label this for them initially. You may need to say, "your arms look really tight, you are frowning, you look angry". In doing this you are linking what their body is doing with the emotion. They will soon learn the physical cues of emotions which ultimately will help them to regulate them.
So when our bodies are overwhelmed with emotion we need to bring calm and relaxation. The most important part of relaxation is to regulate your breathing. When we slow our breathing and keep it in rhythm, the body will follow.That is easier said than done with kids. It is unlikely that they are just going to do a meditation or other typical relaxations. The trick is to make it fun!!!!!
1. The paper boat.
Belly breathing can be harder than it sounds. By placing something on the belly it is easier to focus on breathing from the diaphragm. It doesn't have to be a paper boat. it can be anything, even just having your child put their hands on their stomach (just below the rib cage) will help. The idea is that when you breathe in, the stomach should go up, and when you breath out it should go down. This is why I like the boat as it is like a boat going up and down on the waves, but it really doesn't matter. This way of breathing is the basis of all relaxation. It helps to start this while laying down, but as they get better they will be able to do it anywhere, sitting up, and without the boat.
This is a fun craft anyway. There are heaps of sites with free templates to make them. To be able to spin the pinwheel you have to use long slow breathes the same as in a meditation or controlled relaxation. Plus watching the pinwheel spin adds a mindfulness quality in that the child will stay in the moment, watching it spin rather than listening to the thoughts spinning through their head.
Similar to the pinwheel, you need to use long slow breathes to blow bubbles. Too fast and hard and they will just pop. Long slow breathes and while they watch the bubbles float away, so will the heavy emotions that triggered the reaction.
Trampolines are great for so many things. Occupational Therapists will tell you they are great for kids to build strength and coordination. But I love them for relaxation. As a child bounces in rhythm, their breathing will follow. It's hard to bounce really fast so eventually they will be doing long slow breathes with every bounce. Trampolines have the added benefit of helping the child release all the physical tension that may have occurred with a 'fight or flight" response. If they have been angry or anxious, their muscles would have been fired up ready to go. The physical activity of the bouncing will help their body release this.
5. blow out the candles
Not real candles. That would be a bit difficult and possibly dangerous. Have your child hold their hands up and pretend that their fingers are candles. Have the, SLOWLY blow across them all in one breath. They will want to do it fast but try to encourage them to do it slowly. Do it several times. This strategy is great for kids who like the sensation of the blowing on their hands, it can be very relaxing.
6. Tight and floppy
You can call this one whatever you like. Tight/floppy, robot/rag doll, tower/jellyfish, it doesn't matter the idea is that we tighten our muscles and then release them with every breath. Make it a game, every time you go tight you have your child take in a big breath and hold it while they squeeze their muscles as tight as they can. Hold this for a few seconds and then release the muscles with a slow out breath. Like the trampoline this will also has the advantage of releasing the physical tension that big emotions can bring.
Imagination is a powerful tool to help manage our emotions. It can be helpful to have this one worked out ahead of time. So when your child is happy and calm have them talk about their favorite place. It could have been a holiday, or somewhere special, or it could be just somewhere that they enjoy being. More often than not when I ask children this question the answer is the beach. Even where I live, where the beach is a good 6 hour drive away, children usually say the beach, sometimes the river. It helps to have this place already set in their imagination. Try drawing it first and maybe put it up in their room or somewhere they can be reminded of it.
When they need to use it to calm have them think of their 5 senses. For this example I will use the beach.What can they hear? Can they hear the waves crashing? It helps to match their breathing to the waves slowly going in and out. What does it feel like? Can they feel the sun and the sand on their skin? What does it smell like? Can they smell the ocean, sunscreen? What can they see? Can they see the waves, the water the birds? What can they taste? Can they taste the salt in the air?
8. Glitter bottle
These are great and really easy to make. There are heaps of websites for these but basically you mix glitter glue, glitter and a drop of food colouring in a jar of warm water. Make sure you secure the lid well. Once you have already made this your child can use it when they need it. Have them shake the bottle as hard as they can, then do their belly breathing while the glitter is swirling around. Once all the glitter has settled to the bottom they should be pretty calm. Watching the glitter is quite mesmerizing and helps them focus on relaxing rather than their emotion driven thoughts.
As with the theme of today, it is all about breathing. Blowing balloons can be a great way to do long slow breaths. You can also add that when they blow into the balloon they are blowing in all the worries or difficult feelings. As they breath in the breathe in calm feelings. Then have fun with it. You can let the balloon go and watch all thoughts difficult feelings flay all over the room. Or you could tie it up and hit to and bounce it around, or even pop it. Whatever will work for your child.
10. You know your child best
In the end there is nobody that knows your child like you do. Trust that you know how to calm them. As long as you are meeting your child where they are with understanding that they are struggling with emotions, you are what they need.