If your house is anything like mine right now, emotions are at an all-time high. Between social distancing, a clumsy attempt at homeschooling that we didn’t sign up for, and the endless refrain of “I’m bored” coming from our hostages, errr, kids, it’s a tough new space we’re all navigating here.
The reality is that the coming weeks are going to be hard on all of us. We are all going to need time outs and breathing room, and it’s going to take some creativity to find it.
For the last four months, one of my children has been attending play therapy to work through some anxiety. This has been a Godsend in many ways. But I’m super thankful for the cool down and regulation techniques we’ve learned together in this season of uncertainty. So today, I thought I’d share some of our favorites with you.
Quick note: Depending on your child’s age and emotional maturity, some of these techniques will be somewhat of a dance between the two of you. In other words, you may need to participate and model these for children under six, even after they’ve learned them. When my four-year-old, for example, needs a cool-down, we sit together. I will start one of the strategies below, and when he’s ready, he joins me.
Smell The Flower, Blow Out the Candle
This is an oldie, but goodie. Start by making a fist, and ask your child to smell the flowers. (If flowers aren’t his thing, tell him to smell the pizza, the cookie, whatever is in your hand. You get the idea.) This encourages the child to take a deep breath in through the nose.
Then, hold up one finger on the other hand and ask the child to blow out the candle. This encourages him to blow out through the mouth. Both of these actions naturally slow the heart rate and encourage circulation. I do this with my child at least 5-10 times for the most calming effect.
This is a technique that originated with Karyn Purvis, an expert on counseling children from trauma, but this works for all kids (and adults, too!). Take the index finger and place it between the nose and upper lip, creating a “mustache.” Simply asking a child to do this will likely snap them out of their fit because it seems silly at first, but there’s a science behind it. Once they’ve made their mustache, encourage the child to take at least five deep breaths in through the nose and out the mouth.
Seated Pull Up
Sometimes, kids just need a place to direct some tension. In this case, you can ask your child to do a seated “pull up.” Sit in a chair with two feet on the ground and hold each side of the chair near your hips. Sit up very straight and pull up, as if you’re attempting to lift the chair. Hold for three to five seconds and release. Repeat as many times as needed. This is great for older kids especially if they need a discreet calming technique to employ during school.
There are so many easy ways to make deep breathing fun. Get out that Play-doh and practice making food. After your child has patted out a pizza or molded a cookie, encourage them to smell it before putting it in a pretend oven. Grab a balloon and ask your child to blow it up. Buy a pinwheel at the dollar store and ask your child to make it spin. Put some feathers on the table and ask your child to blow them across the table with a straw. The options here are endless.
The Shock Factor
So, this isn’t really a calming technique, but I’m throwing it in here at the end because it helps when one of my kids is intensely melting down. Sometimes, a child is too enraged or out of control to be able to use a calming technique. These are the moments when their brains are literally in fight/flight/freeze and nothing you say will snap them out of it.
What I’ve learned is best in this moment is employing some shock factor. I literally lay down on the ground in the middle of the room. (Maybe don’t try this in public.) A simple, out of the ordinary action like that will snap your child out of the fit and one of two things will happen: they’ll either laugh at you or go silent.
Either way, at that point, you’ve won.
Now, they’ve stopped the fit long enough that they can move into the brain space where a deep breathing technique can work effectively. At this point, employ one of the strategies above. (Credit for this technique goes to Daniel Siegel, author of No-Drama Discipline. I highly recommend this book!)
At the End of the Day…
Here’s the bottom line—we’re all in unprecedented territory here. ALL OF US. Anxiety is through the roof, and we are all going to need to give ourselves and our children heaps of grace this year. Nobody asked for this, but it’s our reality right now. Don’t be afraid to model cool downs for your kids. It’s okay to show your children that you have a wide range of emotions, too.
Take a break when you need it, apologize when you’ve snapped, and, most importantly, remember that this too shall pass.