Stress management and self-regulation have been coming up a lot lately in my sessions, both with kids and adults. A great metaphor that I’ve stumbled on is that practicing calm is like taking vitamins. This counteracts the often-popular idea that you don’t need to practice calming yourself and/or stress management (whether that’s deep breathing, meditation, mindfulness, or something else) if you’re feeling good, and only need to do it when you’re stressed. I disagree – if we practice calm when we feel good, then we can more easily integrate those experiences, and have easier access to them when we’re upset.
I find this especially true for young children – have you ever tried to calm a child in the midst of a tantrum or another unregulated moment by saying “just breathe”? Chances are, it probably didn’t work too well, or at all. I’ve used the vitamin metaphor with young kids to good effect (their ability to process it will probably depend on their verbal abilities) – we take vitamins to help us not get sick, and we practice calm to help us not get upset. Of course, you can stretch the metaphor further to say that sometimes we do get sick and vitamins will probably help us get better faster – just like sometimes we do get upset and having practiced calm will help us move through it faster.
It’s very important for young children to have experiences where they felt they could calm themselves, or calm alongside someone else (often called co-regulation) so they can begin to develop resiliency and social-emotional learning skills at a young age. Practicing calm is a way to help kids begin to fill their “toolbox” of coping skills at an early age. And it’s never too early to start!
Here are 3 simple ways you can start to practice calm with your young child today.
- Breathing. Make it fun though! The exhale can sound like an animal (lion roar, perhaps) or the wind or like the hissing of a balloon slowly deflating (you can even do it with a balloon for the added visual and sensory aspect).
- Singing. Do you sing with your young child? Take a song they love and play around with it – slow it down, sing it softly. Think of using the song as a way to connect with them, and model how singing can help calm our bodies. Make sure you’re breathing as you sing, and there are pauses between phrases and words.
- Sounds. I believe that children are never too young to cultivate the ability to pause and be mindful. So start young – ask your child to name 2 sounds they hear, or 2 colors they see, or guess what that noise is down the hall. Mindful listening really allows for a poised awareness, which becomes integrated into the body and the memory very easily.
I hope these ideas are helpful – please leave me a comment below, and share other ideas you may have, I’d love to hear from you! Click here if you’d like to schedule a free 20 minute phone call to discuss if individual or family sessions or parent coaching may help your child develop into a calmer, more resilient child.
Also, this blog post is part of a blog hop about raising resilient children, in honor of Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week. Visit this link for more great posts from other mental health professionals.